To what extent does the conflict in "The Crucible" create heroes and villains?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the strengths of Arthur Miller's work lies in the presence of distinct protagonists and antagonists, yet within each contains shards of humanity that seem to be universal.  In constructing characters in this manner, the conflicts presented in The Crucible are ones where the human aspects, both benign and malignant, are evoked in multiple settings.  For example, one can clearly cite Reverend Parris and Abigail Williams as antagonists, or villainous characters.  However, the need to be socially accepted in both is an element in our own senses of identity, only taken to a specific degree.  Parris values his social prestige and is driven by public perception.  While we may find it easy to criticize him and there is little doubt that his actions are despicable, he also reflects a great deal of modern individuals, especially political leaders who seek to be enamored with public perception.  Abigail is the cause of so much pain and suffering.  Her accusations and concoctions lead to the events where individuals are falsely incriminated, justice subverted and death.  Yet, Miller's depiction of her is one where we see that her emotional neediness is what drives us.  Unaware of the hollowness within her, Abigail is lost and confuses attention, regardless of positive or negative, with affection.  Being the center of controversy, seeking an affair with John Proctor and eventually wanting to be his wife are actions she undertakes with a very sad drive to want to "be loved."  While no one would suggest that Abigail receive a critical "free pass," for her actions, it is undeniable that within Abigail's psyche, the reader sees their own flaws and frailties as a human being, elements that might drive them to unspeakable ends, such as Abigail.  At the same time, the heroic characters are not presented without some level of sobriety.  John Proctor can be seen as a hero of the play.  He dies for his beliefs and remains committed to the truth.  However, his affair with Abigail essentially set the entire series of accusations in motion.  His heroic state is slightly tempered with the reality that he fell victim to breaking his vows and coveted outside of his marriage.  This is a uniquely human and mortal frailty that Miller exposes in Proctor's heroic condition.  Elizabeth is devoted to her husband, to the point where she lies for him.  A trait that is found objectionable in many other characters, namely deception, is one that seems quite understandable and evokes empathy in Elizabeth, contributing to Miller's conception of heroes that are not singular in their composition, but rather complex and intricate.  In fact, one finds the most vailant of heroic characters in the play as the social  outcasts and pariahs, the individuals made to suffer.  Giles Corey's dying demand of "more weight," creates the sensation of a pure hero who is sentenced to die.  The accusation and imprisonment of Sarah Good, whom the town derides as insane, indicates a certain valor in being unappreciated and glory in being socially different from all else.  The conflict in Miller's play creates heroes out of outcasts, sadness in the villains, and a sense of loss of when the result of society is a loss of fairness and openness.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict in The Crucible does create opportunities for heroes and villains.  For example, between the accusers and the accused, heroes and villains are created.  Abigail Williams, the chief accuser becomes a villain by the end of the play, particularly because she abandons her commitment, having lied and manipulated the court, when she realizes that the prize she wanted out of the whole process is now unattainable.

That prize of course if John Proctor, who by virtue of his courageous death at the end of the play becomes a hero.  Another hero who emerges as a martyr in the play is Rebecca Nurse, who is falsely accused by Ann Putnam, who is a bitter, jealous woman, angry at having lost so many of her babies to infant death.

Elizabeth Proctor emerges as a hero or martry as well, because of the sacrificial nature of her suffering.  She has done nothing wrong, but becomes the main target of Abigail Williams who wants to get rid of her.

"Elizabeth, like [George Bernard] Shaw's St Joan [in his play of that name], has learnt through suffering that 'God's most precious gift is not rife at any price, but the life of spiritual freedom and moral integrity."

Giles Corey is heroic in his refusal to plead to the charges brought against him, he dies rather than admit or deny his involvement in witchcraft in order to protect his property for his family.  Being accused is the same as being found guilty in this particular situation in Salem.

Reverend Hale comes into Salem believing that he is a hero who is capable of diagnosing and casting out witches, but he is humbled by the events in the town, becoming a symbol for the hypocritical nature of the accusations made in the name of God.  Reverend Hale comes to realize that the witch trials are being used by the townspeople to exact revenge or pursue personal vendettas, they have nothing to do with the actual presence of witches, however, the presence of evil is real in the actions of those who use the events to punish their neighbors.