The basic situation treated in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible affects the understanding and enjoyment of the audience in a number of ways. Miller’s play shows how easily innocent people can be falsely accused of crimes and also how difficult it is to defend oneself in such situations. The play thus deals with archetypal human situations, such as the conflict between right and wrong, the opposition between truth and falsehood, and, in particular, the clash between justice and justice.
The basic situation the play depicts is one to which most human beings can relate. Most people can imagine finding themselves falsely accused of wrongdoing. Most people also have a strong interest in distinguishing right from wrong and justice from injustice. Miller’s play, in other words, presents few problems of understanding. Most people are easily able to follow the plot of the work and discern its themes and significance. The fact that the play is easily understood, combined with the fact that the play deals with fundamental human conflicts, contributes to the interest The Crucible creates and the pleasure it gives.
Consider, for example, the very opening lines of Act II, scene 2:
HATHORNE: Now, Martha Corey, there is abundant evidence in our hands to show that you have given yourself to the reading of fortunes. Do you deny it?
MARTHA: I am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is.
HATHORNE: How do you know then that you are not a witch?
MARTHA: If I were I would know it.
HATHORNE: Why do you hurt these children?
MARTHA: I do not hurt them. I scorn it!
COREY: I have evidence for the court!
DANFORTH: You will keep your seat!
COREY: Thomas Putnam is reachin’ out for land!
DANFORTH: Remove that man, Marshal!
COREY: You’re hearing lies, lies!
HATHORNE: Arrest him, Excellency!
COREY: I have evidence, why will you not hear my evidence! They’ll be hangin’ my wife-
This brief situation affects the understanding and enjoyment of the audience in the following ways:
- It is an archetypal courtroom situation. Most people are intensely interested in trials, a fact which helps account for the popularity of books, movies, and televisions series that deal with crimes and end in trials. Trials provoke our curiosity (we wonder what will happen) and appeal to our sense of suspense. Most people want justice to prevail in trials, and yet most people also know that this does not always happen. Therefore trials are almost inherently suspenseful, and, the more that depends on the outcome of the trial, the more suspenseful a trial can seem.
- In the passage quoted above, there is an enormous amount of conflict, and situations involving conflict are almost inherently interesting. They make us wonder if the conflict can be contained, if the “right” side will prevail, if force will be necessary, and if the conflict may spin out of control and cause even further conflict.
- In the passage quoted above, the situation is highly emotional, and human beings often have an intense interest in strong emotions – their own and those of others.
In short, in The Crucible Miller creates situations that are easy to understand and that give us enjoyment because they keep us intensely interested.