How is the oppression of women presented in The Crucible by Arthur Miller?

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The persecution of women and girls for the fictitious charge of witchcraft is itself a prime illustration of the oppression of women in this patriarchal society. To be sure, men in Salem can also be arraigned on charges of witchcraft, but it's mainly women who bear the brunt of the terrible witch-craze that has descended on this small town like a plague of locusts.

It says something about the lack of power and opportunity available to women in this part of the world that one of their number, Abigail Williams, can only really get to exercise some measure of control over her life by going around and falsely accusing others of being witches. For the first time in her life, Abigail is in control. She's the one who holds the power of life and death in her hands, a role traditionally accorded to a (male) tyrant. In exerting that control, Abigail is unconsciously subverting and undermining the patriarchy, albeit through sacrificing the lives of innocent women.

It is ironic indeed that the male judges of the court should be so in thrall to a young woman and hang on every lying word she utters. Even more extraordinary is the fact that a woman of such low reputation should be the animating spirit behind a moral crusade, most of whose victims are themselves women whose behavior goes against the established norms of the Calvinist patriarchy.

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How does Arthur Miller present female characters in The Crucible?

Arthur Miller’s female characters in the play The Crucibleare portrayed by using direct and indirect characterization and the actions of the character.  The direct characterization includes information provided by a narrator and the person himself; indirect characterization includes what other people say about the character; and the actions speak for themselves.

The two characters that best represent the female side of the play include Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor.  Both were based on historical figures in the actual time period.

Abigail Williams

Serving as the antagonist of the trials, Abigail uses her ability to maneuver people and situations.  When Tituba tells the girls her stories about the devil and magic, Abigail is the first to go into the forest and dance for the devil.  The girls are caught by Reverend Parris, and Abigail quickly blames Tituba for leading the girls off the path of righteousness down the lane to the devil.  Tituba is quickly imprisoned. 

Abigail seems to have no conscience and angrily points the finger at hundreds of citizens.  In addition, the girls have mastered the frenzied fits which happened frequently during the trials.

Revenge becomes Abigail’s desire. Elizabeth Proctor discovers the affair that her husband and Abigail were having. Elizabeth sends Abigail out into the world alone and even speaks badly of her in the village. When Abigail meets privately with Proctor, he rejects her as well.  This seals the fate of the family.  Abigail will not be set aside without consequences. 

Finally, when the hysteria begins to die down, Abigail is clever enough to know when to remove herself.  She...

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steals money from the weak Reverend Parris and takes along one of the girls, and disappears, never to be heard from again.   

Abigail serves her purpose as an evil and destructive force.  On her behalf, the audience was reminded that as a child she did see both of her parents killed by Indians.  Yet, she was old enough to know the difference between wrong and right.

Elizabeth Proctor

Elizabeth represents the typical Puritan wife of the times. She was hard working, patient, religious, subservient, and honest.  When she discovers her husband with Abigail, Elizabeth turns her back on her husband. Despite his best efforts, she refuses to forgive him.  Furthermore, she despises Abigail and believes that surely someone will see that she was pretending. 

Elizabeth establishes herself as a good woman when she tells her first lie for her husband in court. She denies that John and Abigail have an affair.  This was a good thing but at the wrong time.  It sends John to jail and eventually to the gallows.  After spending a lot of time in jail, Elizabeth discovers that she is pregnant and that saves her life.  She also has had time to ponder her marriage.  Her conclusion is that she sent John into Abigail’s arms because she was unduly cold to her husband. 

When they next meet again instead of begging him to confess, Elizabeth forgives John and tells him to do what he thinks is right. 

ELIZABETH: Do what you will. But let none be your judge. There be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is! Forgive me, forgive me, John--I never knew such goodness in the world! She covers her face, weeping

Another woman might have stopped him and made him confess to save the family.  Elizabeth leaves it John to decide what he will do.

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