What are some examples of characters in a quest for power in The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and how does this compare to McCarthyism? 

What are some examples of characters in a quest for power in The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and how does this compare to McCarthyism?

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It is often said that when a man possesses power, he will seek to preserve or increase it. This is certainly true in the case of several characters in The Crucible as well as Senator Joseph McCarthy.

The Reverend Samuel Parris has some power as the pastor of Salem. It is true that as a member of the theocracy he outranks the common men of Salem. However, he is insecure because he knows that he is rather unpopular with members of his congregation, and he fears that he will be removed from his post. By attempting to take the lead in the witchcraft investigation, he hopes to increase his reputation within the community.

The magistrates, Danforth and Hathorne, are the highest ranking men in the play, and they wield their authority remorselessly. Even when the testimony in the trials becomes absurd, they refuse to halt the trials for fear of looking incompetent. To do so, they fear, would compromise the very idea of a theocratic government and perhaps bring an end to the "city on a hill" idea that underpins the Puritan colonies.

Thomas Putnam enjoys his reputation as a powerful man because of the extent of his landholding. He seeks to increase that power by adding to his acreage, even if it means falsely accusing his brethren so that their land is forfeited.

The girls, especially Abigail Williams, have been powerless before they make their accusations. Their rise to power is dizzying, and they make full and reckless use of it. For Abigail, it only comes to an end when she overreaches and attempts to take down the most powerful by accusing members of the theocracy.

Senator McCarthy, not unlike Parris, had some power as a senator, but he also had many critics and political rivals. His attempt to sully the reputations of those who opposed him by linking them to communist doctrine ultimately backfired, and instead of increasing his political power, brought it to an abrupt and ignominious end.

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Many characters in Arthur Miller's The Crucible have a fierce desire for power, though not all of them are looking for power in the traditional sense.

The Reverend Parris is thoroughly obsessed with maintaining power because he is a coward. Before the incident with the girls in the forest, we know that he was consistently preaching hellfire and brimstone, demanding more money and things (such as fancy candlesticks), and generally acting as if he deserved more, All of these things are a play for power and control over the very people over whom he was supposed to be a shepherd. 

Once the witchcraft talk begins, Parris is deathly afraid people will blame him and then will remove him from his position. Everything he does from the time the play begins, then, is part of a desperate attempt to keep his position. He does this by deflecting blame onto others, feeding suspicions and doubts, and outright lying.

Another person desperate for power in this play is Abigail. For her, the power she wields over the girls and the court is all for one goal: to get John Proctor back. She lies, she gets others to lie, and she threatens, all in an attempt to achieve her goal. The fact that her actions have life-and-death consequences for others does not ever seem to register with her; all she selfishly cares about is what she wants and how best to get it.

Finally, the judges are quite concerned about power; Danforth, especially, is motivated by his desire to maintain the standing and authority of his court. Note his speech in act four of the play:

Now hear me, and beguile yourselves no more. I will not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement. Them that will not confess will hang. Twelve are already executed; the names of these seven are given out, and the village expects to see them die this morning. Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God's law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this--I should hang ten thousand that dares to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.

This is a man who believes he is God's chosen judge but is also consumed with his own legacy in these proceedings. He may not want to make God's voice sound like whimpering, but he is surely just as interested in making sure no one can call him weak.

All of these descriptions fit, at least in parts, the primary players in McCarthyism. Though they claimed to have a righteous cause, many of them were simply trying to deflect attention from their own lives or to destroy other people's lives when they had the power to do so. Miller's point, of course, is that the witch trials were not a one-time occurrence but a reflection of the human condition which has not changed in more than three hundred years. 

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