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What are the internal and external conflicts in The Crucible by Arthur Miller? 

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farigs | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 12, 2013 at 5:10 PM via web

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What are the internal and external conflicts in The Crucible by Arthur Miller? 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 12, 2013 at 7:27 PM (Answer #1)

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In one way, there are too many conflicts in Arthur Miller's The Crucible; in another way, there are not enough. If there had been more conflict between the court and the girls, things may have ended differently for the twenty-some people who died during the Salem Witch Trials. Alas, that did not happen.

The external conflicts in this play include all three kinds: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. society.

The man vs. man conflicts are many. The girls who call out the names of people innocent of witchcraft are in direct conflict with their neighbors and fellow citizens. People like Parris and Putnam are in the same kind of conflict with their neighbors and congregation, as they want to get more land and save their reputations (such as they are). Both they and the girls (primarily Abigail) are using the court to punish and get rid of their enemies.

As the fear intensifies, the people of Salem are then in conflict with one another, quick to accuse someone else before an accusation can be leveled against them. They cheer at the hangings, at the deaths of their fellow citizens. 

More specifically, Parris is in conflict with Proctor and Giles Corey because they question his authority; these two men are in conflict with Parris because they do not think he is a true man of God. Abigail is in conflict with Elizabeth Proctor because she wants to steal her husband; she is also in conflict with Tituba because Tituba could tell the truth about what they did in the forest and against Marry Warren once Mary tries to tell the court the girls are lying. There are countless other examples of man vs. man conflicts because that is the mood of Salem during this trying time; there is a notable lack of conflict between Danforth and the girls. 

The only significant man vs. nature conflict is the war against witchcraft, which could be considered a kind of nature.

The man vs. society conflicts are many, and most of them center around the court, a social (and political and religious) institution. The court is in conflict with those who tell the truth because it consistently believes lies. This would include Proctor, Corey, and Hale, among others.

A few other societal conflicts include John and Abigail, who committed adultery (both a sin and a crime in this Puritan world), and Tituba, who comes from a culture in which witchcraft is perfectly acceptable.

The inner conflicts are fewer; however, we do know of several. Elizabeth is in conflict with her own heart when it comes to her husband; she resolves it by letting him die, as he wishes. John Proctor wants to live his life but is tormented by the reality that, to do so, he must give up his name and everything that means to him and will one day mean to his children. Proctor resolves his conflict by refusing to sign a false confession.

"I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs."

Hale's inner conflict is between believing that witchcraft is a real and evil thing and wondering if what is happening in Salem is true witchcraft; he concludes that it is not and quits the court. Abigail appears to have no inner conflict at all, and the same is true of Danforth. Though they each have a moment of wavering, it does not rise to the level of conflict. 

The man vs. God conflicts are many and complicated for these Puritans.

This town and this story are replete with conflict of every kind. 

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