How does Arthur Miller use the setting to create mood in act 1 of The Crucible?

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In many printed versions of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, the description of the setting for act 1 is simple and straightforward:

A small upper bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem, Massachusetts, in the spring of the year 1692.

There is a narrow window at...

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In many printed versions of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, the description of the setting for act 1 is simple and straightforward:

A small upper bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem, Massachusetts, in the spring of the year 1692.

There is a narrow window at the left. Through its leaded panes the morning sunlight streams. A candle still burns near the bed, which is at the right. A chest, a chair, and a small table are the other furnishings. At the back a door opens on the landing of the stairway to the ground floor. The room gives an air of clean spareness. The roof rafters are exposed, and the wood colors are raw and unmellowed.

This is a description of the set designed by Boris Aronson for the original Broadway production of The Crucible, which opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on January 22, 1953.

Aronson's set design might well have been based on Miller's own ideas, but Miller reportedly wasn't altogether pleased with the set design, which he described as seeming unstable, with a sense of mystery and unexpectedness—terms that most readers might think are entirely appropriate to the play.

Miller also had creative differences with the director, Jed Harris, who staged the play in a fairly conventional, realistic manner that Miller thought was too cold and classical.

A year later, Miller reworked the play and added a scene between John Proctor and Abigail Williams. He also changed the set design from the realistic sets designed by Aronson to a more expressionistic setting, which is described in considerable detail in the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. acting version of the play.

In this version, instead of the bedroom depicted in Aronson's set design, Miller opted for minimal furniture and set pieces that simply suggest the bedroom setting, rather than recreating the Parris bedroom fully and realistically.

The only backdrop in all scenes of the play is of black curtains at the back and sides of the stage...In front of the curtains is a misty bluish lighting effect...This makes the black backdrop less stark and produces a sheet of light to appear as the back wall of the set. The mood must be of high mystery, impending revelation.

The new set design, though entirely different in style, nevertheless imparts many of the same feelings as the Aronson set design, but with a greater sense of mystery and a greater awareness of the "wilderness beyond" the walls of light and the black curtains.

There is also an increased sense of the isolation of the village of Salem as a whole and of the individual characters caught up in the events of the play.

A play is meant to be performed, not simply read. The written description of the set can give the reader a general idea of the mood of the play, but the full emotional effect of the act 1 set of The Crucible—whether it's Aronson's realistic recreation of a Salem village bedroom in 1692, or Miller's timeless, expressionistic light-and-curtains design—can only be experienced in person, during the performance of the play.

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While setting establishes the time and place of a literary work, it often serves to generate a certain mood. In Act I of The Crucible, the setting establishes an atmosphere that is rustic, stark, limited, harsh, raw, leaden, and dark.

With this setting of Act I, playwright Arthur Miller creates his objective correlative, a situation composed of a set of objects that establishes a mood, a mood which reflects the tenor of Puritanism. In this harsh setting, then, the curtain rises to reveal the Reverend Parris kneeling beside the bed of his daughter Betty. Outside this stark room lies the edge of wilderness, an area that is "full of mystery" for the Puritans of Salem, who "believed that the virgin forest was the Devil's last preserve."

In such an environment, then, there is an underlying fear and inflexibility that is generated. In the Overture to Act I, author Arthur Miller writes,

It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces.

Moreover, with such a stark, harsh room and a threatening environment outside, it is not difficult for the reader and the audience to give credibility to the occurrences in the action of the plot as they, too, are rigid and foreboding. 

 

 

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Arthur describes the room as spare and raw. There seems to be a chest, a chair, and a small table in addition to the bed that Betty Parris occupies. Wood colors fill the room.

This setting creates an empty or barren feeling in the reader. This mood mirrors what the reader begins to experience in the relationships between the Puritans, but particularly between the members of the Parris household.

The setting also includes a narrow window and a candle burning near the bed. These small instances of light give off the ambiance of intimacy in many situations, but in this situation, combined with the barren and empty feeling, they portray the feeling that there is little hope, or little purity in this situation.

The rafters are "exposed" according to the stage directions. This further develops the simplicity with which the Puritans lived. It feels like anything that is not essential is not there.

Mood is the feeling created in a reader. The setting that opens to the reader feels cold, dark, empty, and simple.

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