In The Crucible, how is the theme of alienation significant?
Miller's work features characters that are alienated on both social and individual levels. Proctor represents such a description. On one hand, Proctor is alienated on a social level because of his stand on the church. Not wishing to support Reverend Parris because of his hypocrisy, Proctor finds himself alienated from the central social structure of Salem. This is seen in Hale's mentioning of his poor attendance record at church and Proctor having to defend it. More importantly, Proctor is alienated on a personal level. His affair with Abigail causes him to be estranged from himself, as well as from his wife. Initially, we see him having difficulty being with Elizabeth because of the guilt of his affair. When he adds spice to the broth, it is a moment where "spice" is needed in his own life, something from which he stands outside, peering in. For her part, Elizabeth is alienated because she is incapable of seeing past the relationship and the hurt it has caused both to her and the marriage. Over the course of the drama, this alienation is repaired, but it is there, and part of the theme. Abigail is fairly alienated and estranged, as well. Seeing her parents murdered as a child, she is alienated from the realm of human emotion and authenticity. She is incapable of feeling true and real emotions, for everything in Abigail is calculated and determined. She feels alienated from the Salem community, towards which she holds nothing but contempt in the stirring and increasing intensity of her accusations. When she flees Salem to become a prostitute in Boston, it is a physical representation of the alienation she feels from both her community and herself.
Alienation is a significant theme explored throughout the play and emphasizes the austere community's focus on conformity, which distances and chastises independent individuals, who challenge social norms. In the play, John Proctor feels alienated from the community of Salem because he lives relatively far away from town, does not regularly attend Sunday services, and does not initially take part in the growing hysteria concerning witchcraft. John Proctor also feels alienated in his own home because of his wife's cold, callous demeanor.
John Proctor's sin of adultery further alienates from his religious, morally upright neighbors. After Elizabeth is arrested and accused of witchcraft, John Proctor decides to challenge the corrupt court of Salem. By challenging the corrupt court, John Proctor further alienates himself from a society that fully supports Salem's court. Unfortunately, Elizabeth lies about John's affair to protect him, which, ironically, dooms her husband. John is once again further alienated when he is thrown in jail.
Reverend Hale also feels alienated after he quits the court and attempts to convince the prisoners to plead guilty to save their lives. The epitome of John's alienation is portrayed in his decision to sign his name to the confession. By signing his name, John alienates himself from his austere neighbors and conforms to the corrupt court. Fortunately, John retains his independence by tearing up his confession. Overall, alienation, in the Crucible, is a product of those select community members who challenge the majority by making independent, unpopular decisions.
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