Explain the dramatic meaning of Arthur Miller's The Crucible and how it affects the enjoyment and understanding of the audience.

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Crucible is a play that explores the complexities of honesty and deception. Characters in this play participate in deception in different ways and for different reasons, sometimes unaware of their own lies; sometimes painfully aware of the necessity of lying.

The dramatic meaning of the play, to use your term, is concerned with the social pressures that create the complexities surrounding honesty and deception.

The truth, in The Crucible, can be both collectively defined and individually defined. It is the disconnection between public and privately held views that creates much of the play's tension, pitting the power of the group against the individual.

To cite some examples from the text, we can see the variety of reasons that the characters engage in lies and deception:

  • First, Mercy Lewis lies to change her social position. She knows she is lying, and sees her advantage in it:

She quickly follows Abigail in her accusations and finds a power and confidence in accusation which contrasts with her usually fearful demeanor.

  • In the character of Betty Parris, we are presented with a character who may not even know that she is lying:

It is not revealed whether her illness is feigned or if it is a genuine physical response to a traumatic situation, but it is clear that she is easily influenced and deeply affected by her experiences.

  • Pressured and pushed beyond his limits by the town, John Proctor also lies and offers a false confession in order to save his wife from humiliation. Then he recants and tells the truth.

The pressure of the group to force individuals into agreement with publically held views is at work in each of these examples. The danger of this dynamic is obvious as people are punished literally and severely when they stand against the group.

This, it should be pointed out, is just one way to interpret the themes of this work and its dramatic meaning.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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