In The Crucible, how does conflict divide and unite the people who encounter it?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This will be an interesting approach to the question because Miller does not depict conflict in an ordinary way.  This is not the depiction where the community recognizes the pain intrinsic to conflict and unifies over it.  This is a much different depiction of conflict presented, one in which there is a sense of resolution or reconciliation, but not one entirely expected.

From the most fundamental of viewpoints, conflict divides the community.  The erection of boundaries of divisions between who is a witch and who isn't, between who stands accused and gives names, and who doesn't helps to divide the community.  This becomes a widening conflict, an increasing social net in which individuals must make conscious choices.  These choices include being able to withstand "the crucible" of accusation and showing loyalty or capitulating to a notion of self- interest, one that saves oneself, but represents "breaking charity" and the severance of bonds between members of the community.  This is where different people react differently to conflict.  People like Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey withstand the test of conformity and suffer death because of it.  People like Abigail and her gaggle of girls make accusations and benefit greatly from the conflict that they have caused.  People like John Proctor have to make critical choices about who they are and in what they believe.  In the end, conflict is not the central issue, but rather how people react to the conflict.

The ending presents this to us. In the ending, the malevolent forces that have capitulated to the conflict win.  They do not rise above conflict, rather becoming a victim to it.  It is those who are able to withstand "the crucible" that conflict presents where unity is seen.  The Proctors, Giles Corey, and Rebecca Nurse end up being examples of individuals who stood by their own convictions during conflict, and while they die, there is a certain unity, a restoration of "charity" that is evident in their death.  In this way, Miller shows that individual action in the face of conflict, even without deliberate social cohesiveness, can possess socially cohesive bonds.

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