Arthur Miller’s social drama The Crucible presents several types and instances of irony in the process of character development. For example, in act 3, the playwright demonstrates how the protagonist John Proctor is capable of violating his own values and how his wife Elizabeth alters her personality to her...
Arthur Miller’s social drama The Crucible presents several types and instances of irony in the process of character development. For example, in act 3, the playwright demonstrates how the protagonist John Proctor is capable of violating his own values and how his wife Elizabeth alters her personality to her husband’s detriment.
John is the central character of the play. He is a strong-willed and principled man committed to his values and ethics. One of his greatest hatreds is that of hypocrisy. Early in the play, despite his strong sense of ethics, John has an affair with Abigail Williams (which makes him a hypocrite). Thereafter, when the Reverend Hale makes his rounds questioning townspeople about their Christian beliefs, John is asked to recite the Ten Commandments. In his response, he leaves out adultery.
In act 3, Miller employs the literary device of situational irony to further develop John’s character for his audience. Situational irony occurs when a literary character gets a result that is very different than what is expected. John admits to his adultery in court because he wants to expose Abigail as a liar by revealing her motives for her false testimony. Instead, due to his honesty about the adultery, he is condemned to death for being in league with the devil:
Proctor, breathless and in agony: It is a whore!
Danforth, dumfounded: You charge—?
Abigail: Mr. Danforth, he is lying!
Proctor: Mark her! Now she’ll suck a scream to stab me with, but—
Danforth: You will prove this! This will not pass!
Proctor, trembling, his life collapsing about him: I have known her, sir. I have known her.
John Proctor’s character has changed. He is not a perfect man, despite his strong ethics. One of his weaknesses has been exposed. Ironically, he expects to expose Abigail but convicts himself in the process.
In the same scene in act 3, Miller uses dramatic irony to further develop Elizabeth’s character. At the outset of the play, she is a very cold and judgmental woman. She has always been a model Christian. Even in court, her husband testifies that:
In her life, sir, she have never lied. There are them that cannot sing, and them that cannot weep—my wife cannot lie. I have paid much to learn it, sir.
However, through the literary device of irony, the author heightens the dramatic tension in the courtroom scene. When Elizabeth testifies at John’s trial, she lies in court hoping to save her husband’s life. She shows herself to be sensitive and caring, but she is unaware that John has already admitted his adultery and her lie condemns him to death:
Danforth, reaches out and holds her face, then: Look at me! To your own knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery? ... Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher!
Elizabeth, faintly: No, sir.
Danforth: Remove her, Marshal.
Proctor: Elizabeth, tell the truth!
Danforth: She has spoken. Remove her!
Proctor, crying out: Elizabeth, I have confessed it!
Elizabeth: Oh, God! The door closes behind her.
Proctor: She only thought to save my name!
Arthur Miller effectively uses the tool of irony in several different ways as a method of dramatizing to his audience the changes in the development of his characters in The Crucible.