How does Arthur Miller use characterization to develop or advance the theme of "false accusation" in The Crucible?
In you argument, you will need to present many pieces of evidence in the form of dialogue from the play, stage directions, and miller’s commentary to ensure that you have supported your claim.
Miller makes it clear that people are willing to lie and falsely accuse their neighbors to gain some benefit from doing so, or to exact revenge. The best example is Abigail, who decides to falsely accuse Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor, with whom Abigail had a brief affair. When John breaks off the relationship, Abigail is hurt and vows to get even. In the courtroom, Proctor claims Abigail is lying, calling her a "whore" and saying "She means to dance with me on my wife's grave."
The historical period depicted in the play was known for having a large population of young women who worked as servants whose prospects for marriage were far from desirable. No doubt Abigail thought removing Elizabeth from the picture by accusing her of witchcraft would allow her to be with John Proctor. False accusations abounded during the Salem Witch Trials, and many of them were motivated over greed or property disputes, as well as marital infidelity.
Characterization refers to the manner in which an author or playwright presents a character through his or her motives, mannerisms, actions, and dialogue. In certain instances, as in The Crucible, the writer may also provide background information.
In this play, Arthur Miller paints a picture of characters who seem to be driven by fear, hysteria, vengeance, or profit in making false accusations. Tituba, Reverend Parris's slave, is a good example of someone who is so afraid that she starts accusing others in order to save herself from severe retribution, not only spiritually but also physically. When it is discovered that she led the unholy shenanigans in the forest, she is threatened and later "confesses" that she had been misled by others from the village, as the following excerpt indicates.
Hale: You most certainly do, and you will free her from it now! When did you compact with the Devil?
Tituba: I don't compact with no Devil!
Parris: You will confess yourself or I will take you out and whip you to your death, Tituba!
Putnam: This woman must be hanged! She must be taken and hanged!
Tituba, terrified, falls to her knees: No, no, don't hang Tituba! I tell him I don't desire to work for him, sir...
Tituba, frightened by the coming process: Mister Reverend, I do believe somebody else be witchin' these children...
TiTUBA, in a fury: ... And then he come one stormy night to me, and he say, Look! I have white people belong to me. And I look -- and there was Goody Good.
Parris: Sarah Good!
Tituba, rocking and weeping: Aye, sir, and Goody Osburn...
Once Tituba starts accusing other people, Abigail Williams, Reverend Parris's niece, and Betty, Parris's daughter, are encouraged and join in by falsely naming others they claim to have seen with the devil.
Abigail: I want to open myself! They turn to her, startled. She is enraptured, as though in a pearly light. I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil! As she is speaking, Betty is rising from the bed, a fever in her eyes, and picks up the chant.
Betty, staring too: I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!
Parris: She speaks! He rushes to embrace Betty. She speaks!
Hale: Glory to God! It is broken, they are free!
Betty, calling out hysterically and with great relief: I saw Martha Bellows with the Devil!
And so the litany continues. The girls are lying, as they believe that is the road to redemption. In their restrictive society, contact with the devil is an abomination worthy of the severest punishment. The girls have been dancing in the forest and know they can be absolved by blaming others, so that is what they do, freely. Miller states that it was a great relief for the girls that they could so easily free themselves.
Later in the play, however, the accusations develop a more sinister purpose. Abigail uses it in an attempt to take revenge on, and get rid of, John Proctor's wife, Elizabeth. She had worked as the couple's maid and had an affair with John. Elizabeth suspected their relationship and summarily dismissed her. Falsely accusing Elizabeth of witchcraft is the ideal revenge for Abigail's humiliation, and she believes she might win John back if Elizabeth is out of the picture.
In Act ll, Abigail feigns an attack by Elizabeth in which she claims that she had stuck a needle in her belly by using a voodoo doll. Upon investigation, a doll with a needle stuck in its stomach is indeed found at the Proctor house, and Elizabeth is arrested. Even though Mary Warren, the Proctor's new servant, later confesses that she was the one who made the doll and stuck the needle into it for safekeeping, the accusation holds.
In the following excerpt, the arresting officer, Cheever, explains the reason for a warrant having been issued against Elizabeth.
Cheever, wide-eyed, trembling: The girl, the Williams girl, Abi-gail Williams, sir. She sat to dinner in Reverend Parris's house tonight, and without word nor warnin' she falls to the floor. Like a struck beast, he says, and screamed a scream that a bull would weep to hear. And he goes to save her, and, stuck two inches in the flesh of her belly, he draw a needle out. And demandin' of her how she come to be so stabbed, she -- to Proctor now -- testify it -were your wife's familiar spirit pushed it in.
Reverend Parris, also has ulterior motives in accusing Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor of witchcraft. He believes that the two are managing a faction against him. They want him ousted from the pulpit. It is against Proctor, specifically, that the reverend launches his attack. Proctor has consistently and openly criticized Parris for his materialism, and the reverend resents his assertions. He goes out of his way to ensure John's removal by meddling in the court's affairs, much to the irritation of the presiding officer, Deputy-governor Danforth.
In his notes, Arthur Miller says the following of the reverend:
Parris was in his middle forties. In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side. In meeting, he felt insulted if someone rose to shut the door without first asking his permission. He was a widower with no interest in children, or talent with them.
Clearly, the reverend was a bad person. He also used the accusations to absolve himself of the guilt for inadvertently allowing his slave, niece, and daughter to participate in occult practices. He was afraid that suspicion would fall on him and, through his allegations, distracted the court's attention away from him.
Finally, Thomas and Anne Putnam used the accusations to feed their greed and punish their enemies. Mrs. Putnam especially hated Rebecca Nurse and blamed her for the deaths of her babies at birth or in their infancy. She resented the fact that Rebecca had successfully raised many children while she lost so many. The Putnams were also jealous of the success the Nurses had achieved in the village. Rebecca was widely respected, and she and her husband regularly challenged the Putnams in their claims to property or authority. If the Nurses were out of the way, they would prosper.
Furthermore, Giles Corey accused them of using their daughter, Ruth, to accuse George Jacobs of witchcraft in an effort to get his property. Mr. Putnam also resented John Proctor's accusations that he was greedy for land and that he had claimed property that was not his. In his notes, Miller states the following about Thomas:
A word about Thomas Putnam. He was a man with many grievances, at least one of which appears justified...
...He undoubtedly felt it poor payment that the village should so blatantly disregard his candi-date for one of its more important offices, especially since he regarded himself as the intellectual superior of most of the people around him.
His vindictive nature was demonstrated long before the witchcraft began...
...So it is not surprising to find that so many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam, or that his name is so often found as a witness corroborating the supernatural testimony.
In the end, it is tragically ironic that none of the accusers were ever punished and that so many innocent people died because of their malice.