Is the theme 'Justice is better determined in a court of law' present in The Crucible?

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The topic of justice as determined in the courts is central to The Crucible. Arthur Miller presents information that could be used to support both pro and con positions in regard to whether it is “better determined.” That is because Miller is very critical of corruption and hypocrisy. That criticism, however, need not mean that Miller thinks there is any mechanism superior to a court trial in carrying out justice.

As the number of witchcraft accusations mushrooms, a decision is made to formally evaluate the guilt of those accused: it become a matter for the courts. Clerk Cheever and Marshall Herrick serve warrants and bring the accused to trial; every day, more townspeople are accusing the others, using witchcraft for all manner of problems and hoping for vengeance on their enemies. The presiding judges, including Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth, seem disposed toward accepting the guilt of all those accused. One key problem here is that the accusers are girls and young women, and the judges seem to have difficulty believing that that these young people are capable of making up such evil stories.

The judges are in principle dedicated to the propriety of the court; Judge Hathorne, for example, demands proper rules of evidence be followed. The quality of the “evidence,” however, is highly questionable. A doll, or “poppet,” is alleged to show proof of intended harm through a needle stuck in its belly—even as it becomes clear that Abigail had mutilated herself. Shrieking about seeing a bird in the rafters, Abigail throws the court into disarray and, as she gains control over the judges, effectively turns the proceedings into a farce. The judges consider those who do not follow the rules of evidence, such as Giles Corey, to be in almost as much trouble as the accused. And those opposing the validity of the charges, notably Francis Nurse, are found in contempt.

The situation disintegrates further as Judge Danforth, apparently worrying that things are getting out of hand, aggressively asserts his authority, denying the accused legal representation by attorneys—if they were innocent, they would not need defending, he rationalizes. Finally, in carrying out justice through hanging those found guilty, Danforth reveals that his concern for appearances outweighs any compassion he might feel. When the Reverend Hale asks him to postpone the last group of hangings, Danforth refuses because news of the postponement might indicate doubt of all the verdicts, including those for which people had already been put to death. He wants the larger public to equate civil law with religion and righteousness, what he calls “God’s law.”

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There are two opposing views here.  One view suggests that Arthur Miller is states just is best left to the court, as opposed to the public.  The other view is that Miller portrays the failures of the court system.

In supporting the court system, Miller shows the hysteria of the town.  Revered  Hale is the minister of the court, trying to find honesty, but the town's hysteria, and the girls (particularly Abigail) hinder the his cause.  The court tries to allow the accused townspeople to defend themselves.  However, the hysteria of the people has led to dishonesty and perjury, preventing Hale's efforts.  Remove the town from the courtroom and justice would be better served.

The other side goes as follows:  The court of law fails to provide justice, being too concerned with appearance.  In this argument, the judges are to blame for their desperation to "solve the case".  They cajole and bully the accused into signing documents they themselves know to be untrue.  The court is at the mercy of the townspeople, and the townspeople worked into a frenzy at the court's slightest decision.  Never is this more clear than in the last act, when Hale admits that things in Salem got out of control, but works to convince Proctor to sign a confession.  His reasoning is this: the townspeople won't let it be otherwise.  Therefore, the court has no real power.

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