How does Miller portray the women in his play?
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In a word, complexly. To expand on that, Miller makes a point of showing an entire array of possible female characters in this play, ranging from sane to insane, and morally dark to good.
Goody Rebecca Nurse, for example, embodies goodness, and her very presence sparks John Proctor to take a more principled stand.
By contrast, Goody Sarah Good is wild and crazy. Both women are accused of being witches, but that says more about the town than these women.
The same sort of split can be seen in the younger girls. Abigail is sexually aware, and aware of the powers of temptation; Susanna, by contrast, is pretty much a follower, and while she takes part in the accusations, wouldn't have started such a thing herself. (A number of the younger girls seem to operate as a pack, but so does the adult town.)
The range of females in this play is incredible.
We have Abigail Williams, who is entirely self-centered and will get what she wants, no matter what.
We have Tituba who is unhappy in the New World and longs to go back to Barbados. In spite of her lack of formal education, she is bright and figures out how to tell the people what they want to hear.
Elizabeth Proctor, John tells us, never lies. And yet she is willing to perjure herself to save John's life. She values honesty above all else and so she will not intervene after John has torn up his confession "He hath his goodness now..."
Rebecca Nurse is a wise and saintly woman. She is familiar with the world (for example, she understands the problems brought about by bringing Rev. Hale into the community and she suggests that Betty will come out of her trance when she tires of it)and yet she seems to be untouched by the problems around her. She holds fast to her beliefs and her steadfastness inspires John Proctor to do the right thing.
Anne Putnam is mentally unstable. She has never completely recovered from the loss of her children at childbirth - and blames Rebecca Nurse for it. When Nurse suggests it might be God's will - Putnam recoils as though she has been slapped.
Mary Warren is becoming a woman and has to make a very adult decision about whether or not she should tell the truth about what she knows. Although an adult in years, we find she is not able to successfully stand against Abigail.
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