Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
The Crucible draws on a long tradition of American writing. When the Puritans settled in the New World, they imagined themselves bringing the light of religion and civilization into a dark land ruled by the devil. The woods quickly became a symbol of ever-present temptation. The devil was always lurking just outside of the community, waiting to prey on those who wandered away from the light. Miller picks up on that belief by having Abigail and her friends go into the woods to dance and play at being witches. Those interested in these themes should read William Bradford’s History of Plimmoth Plantation (1630-1651), which discusses how and why the Pilgrims came to America, or Mary Rowlandson’s 1682 account of being tested by the devil while she was held captive in the wilderness.
The Crucible owes perhaps its greatest debt to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne also drew on Puritan culture as a setting for allegories that placed the individual in conflict with society. Young Goodman Brown (in the 1835 short story of that name) discovers in the woods that everyone in town, despite an outward purity, is a worshipper of the devil. In Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hester Prynne stands alone against society (as Proctor does in The Crucible), while Arthur Dimmesdale (like Mary Warren) lacks the fortitude to confess his sins publicly.
The theme of individualism in conflict with society can be...
(The entire section is 372 words.)
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