What does the opening narrative section do for the play The Crucible?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening narrative of The Crucible sets the atmosphere and tone for the drama as well as an explication of the setting. Miller's explanation of the milieu of the Puritan community as one held together in a theology which demands strict adherence to its rules presents the reason that the colony of Massachusetts survived when others did not. However, the self-denial and "hard-handed justice" of the Puritans also takes a toll upon people. For, the repressions upon individuals who must at all times lead an exemplary life cause people to lose a sense of proportion and the balance between order and freedom breaks. Miller explains,

The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.

Miller goes on to explain that the witch-hunt was also a "long-overdue opportunity" for members of the Puritan community to express their guilt under a guise of the preternatural. For, there is a need in every human being to, as Hawthorne wrote, "Be true! Be true!"

Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible's charitable injunctions...Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat....

Thus, in the opening narrative Arthur Miller provides an explanation of a human condition for hysteria, one that can be repeated when conditions are right for it whether it be in Colonial America or the America of the 1950s with McCarthy's hunt for Communists.

Wiggin42 | Student

The opening narrative also provides the context and frames the following story. Keep in mind that the Crucible is a play and was often performed. The exposition narratives provided directors with more optional material to work with. It also gives actors insight on their character's motivation, flaws, and psychology. The expository material is filled with characterization that can make the play productions more lifelike. 

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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