How does Miller use characterization in The Crucible?

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Arthur Miller develops the characters in two ways, through dialogue and through stage directions and related supplementary text. Although the audience viewing the play will not have access to those written descriptions, that text will shape the actors’ and director’s interpretation and presentation of the characters. Miller faced a particular...

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Arthur Miller develops the characters in two ways, through dialogue and through stage directions and related supplementary text. Although the audience viewing the play will not have access to those written descriptions, that text will shape the actors’ and director’s interpretation and presentation of the characters. Miller faced a particular challenge with The Crucible in basing it on actual historical events and making “characters” in the fictional play primarily people who actually lived in 17th-century Massachusetts.

During his research, Miller was struck by the moral quandaries in which many people found themselves. While taking a pro-Christianity, anti-Satanic stance seemed like it might be a clear decision, even in the time of the trails that was not always the case. The ambiguities of people’s descriptions of the devils that possessed them intrigued the playwright.

Much of the play’s tension derives from having two opposing sets of characters, the Proctors and the accusing girls; the link between them is Abigail Williams. Even in the heroic Proctors, however, the moral ambiguity that captivated Miller is present. Although Elizabeth is probably the most virtuous character in the play, she lies to protect her husband, which makes him look like a liar. John, finding his deep-seated integrity at the end, refuses to admit to things he did not do, but also sacrifices himself to save his wife and unborn child.

Most of the individual girls only are onstage for a few minutes at a time, but their interactions and conspiracy have a strong dramatic impact. Miller still manages to make each girl’s personality come through. Mary Warren is susceptible to manipulation, for example, while Tituba accuses others because she knows that, as a slave, she is the most vulnerable. The character of Abigail Williams, who manages to bend not only the girls but the powerful judges to her will, is frightening because she is believable. Trapped by her own lies, she embroiders on them and draws others into the web of deception. Miller takes the time to develop a backstory for Abigail, however, so the audience is encouraged to sympathize, and perhaps even empathize, with her as a lonely orphan and confused teenager.

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Characterization is, simply, the art by which an author creates a character. The author needs to be aware of how much to divulge about a character, when to divulge the information, and to provide either direct or indirect characterization.

That being said, Arthur Miller, in The Crucible, provides wonderful characterizations of those depicted in the play.

Perhaps the most intriguing character in the play is Abigail Williams. Abigail is the force responsible for putting the witch hysteria into action. She, by far, is the most deceiving and morally unjust character in the play. Miller provides perfect details which support her role as one of the true villains of the play.

Another character so perfectly characterized is Elizabeth Proctor. Elizabeth embodies the character of the true God-fearing Puritan. While there is only one place in the play where her good nature falters, it does so to protect the man that she loves.

Therefore, Miller uses characterization to provide the reader, or watcher, of the play with a very deep understanding of the characters and their role in the play's action. Not one character is questionable regarding their impact on the outcome of the play's end. Each is characterized so perfectly that one cannot question how the hysteria broke out and the reasons the accusations began to fly.

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