What is Giles Corey's role in the play The Crucible?What is Giles Corey's role in the play The Crucible?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with mrs-campbell.  Giles Corey is one of my favorite characters in the play, mostly because he's both a "character" and a man of character.

He does serve as comic relief, though that is not what we most remember him for after the final curtain is drawn or page is turned.  He is hard of hearing, so he's easiy offended when he hears people incorrectly (which apparently happened between him and John Proctor, someone Giles has much respect for otherwise).  He's also a very litigious kind of guy--when someone has wronged him, he surely wants his day in court.  He's older, so he's not afraid to speak his mind...and he does.  (My students always love the "fart" line, and it makes Giles seem kind of hip and cool.)

While those things are true, Giles is also a rather sweet and naive guy.  His cursing (see "fart" above) is pretty tame for a grown man--even a Puritan man.  He innocently assumes that one of his small court cases would be remembered and spoken of among the important judges in the area. Giles is uncomfortable with his wife always reading, but that's only because he isn't really a reader and is a little intimidated by it. Arthur Miller tells us Giles is a relatively new convert and doesn't know his memorized prayers, which is another endearing quality--who hasn't struggled to memorize something new?  Once Corey realizes his questions have caused his younger wife Martha to be "somewhat mentioned" in court, then accused and sentenced as a witch, he is mortified.  Again, we can all relate to saying or doing something which inadvertantly gets someone else in trouble.  We can relate to him.

Finally, Giles dies a noble death.  Unlike the others, who of course didn't deserve their fates, he got to choose to confess and live or remain silent and die--as he was dying.  He had been a bit of a laughingstock throughout at least the later years of his life, but his last line leaves an indelible impression on an audience.  "More weight."  Simple but heroic words, but with them he is able to save his childrens' inheritance. 

In all of this discussion about a play and a character, let's not lose sight of the fact that Giles Corey was a real person who really did die by being pressed with giant stones.  Miller did his homework, and the basic facts about the man are true.  When I take students to Boston for a senior trip, we always make a trip to Salem.  After we wander around the old cemetery, I take them to the adjacent memorial to the 20 people who died in this awful time.  Without fail, they stop the longest at the stone marker for Giles Corey.  There's just something about this old curmudgeon with which an audience connects. 

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One role that Giles plays is that of the comic relief.  I don't know if you have noticed, but The Crucible is a pretty heavy, dark, serious and depressing play.  There isn't much lightness or humor.  However, Giles, with his sarcastic and rather caustic "grumpy old man" demeanor, adds a bit of comedy and laughter.  He says funny things ("A fart on Thomas Putnam, that is what I say to that!"), has a quirky perspective on things (thinking his wife is casting spells because she reads books that "stop his prayers"), sues people for trivial reasons, imagines himself an expert in the law, and has a feisty temper that is amusing.  All of these elements add a light-hearted comedic relief to an otherwise very serious play.

Another role that Coery plays is that of an unlikely hero.  He displays amazing integrity in the courtroom by not revealing a witness' name, and is arrested for it.  He could have just told the name, but kept quiet and went to jail in the witness' place.  Then, he died rather than reveal the man's name.  That is a heroic, brave, and somewhat surprising thing for him to have done.  He died displaying his characteristic sense of humor, by saying "More weight" to the men stacking rocks on him.  So, he plays the role of unexpected hero; it's impossible not to admire him for his integrity.

One last role that Corey plays is a tool for Miller to reveal some of the more insidious intentions of the Putnam family.  Corey presents information that Thomas Putnam "is killing his neighbors for their land" by prompting his daughter to accuse his neighbors of being witches so that they will be arrested, and he can buy up their forfeited land.  This juicy bit of information reveals the Putnams as bloodthirsty connivers willing to kill neighbors to get more acres.  Corey presents that information, and protects the man who gave it to him.

I hope those thoughts helped; good luck!

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous post is entirely accurate.  I would like to take Corey's role to a political application.  In my mind, Corey operates as the pervasive and shrill voice of dissent.  Corey's penchant for straight talk and expressing dissent with what is happening is typical of the voices that clamor against the norm in a liberally democratic setting.  Corey is living proof of Mill's idea of the "tyranny of the majority."  Corey represents that voice in the political discourse that might be discarded and dismissed as a "crank," but one that is vital because it represents a check against the majority which might not be acting in the public's interest.  I tend to think of Corey as what Ralph Nader used to represent in terms of his fight against big business and what the late Howard Zinn represents to consensus historians.  Like them, Corey will not hold his tongue when he sees wrong being practiced.  Poltiical orders that preach openness in discussion need the Giles Coreys to be able to keep these structures honest and transparent in their dealings with the public. When Corey cries, "More weight," it is a symbolic statement that no matter what is done, his voice will not be silenced, his narrative will not be ignored, and his experience cannot be erased.  In this light, Corey's role in the play and in a democratic setting is powerfully vital.  This acquires even more significance when cast amidst the historical backdrop of the HUAC hearings.  When people "named names," Miller and others like him were the Giles Coreys of their day demanding that McCarthy and those along with him apologize for what they are doing in the name of democracy.

cdwest eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Giles Corey is an interesting character in The Crucible for a few different reasons.  First of all, he is important because he unintentionally sets up his wife to be arrested when he asks Rev. Hale about the significance of her reading books and his inability to remember his prayers.  This is important because it goes to show how easily someone could be accused of being a witch during this time, and how every single word uttered could mean death to those in the community.  He is a comical character,  He is old, and probably needs a five second delay button, because he does not edit his thoughts.  He is known for suing his neighbors over silly things, but his determination and follow through allows him to win many of the cases.  He is important because he refuses (in real life and in the play) to give the accusers information despite the extreme torture he is under.  He suffers such that his family would not  He is a wonderful addition to the play because he can be viewed from many points of view by the reader; crazy, humorous, courageous, and ultimately heroic.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Giles Corey is one of my favorite characters in this play.  Time and again, when challenged or confronted, even by authority, he refuses to back down, defiantly standing his ground even unto his death.  His confrontations with Mr. Putnam, his admission to arguing repeatedly in court for damages, and his death scene all point to this consistent defiance on his part, and makes him a fun and likable character.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Giles Corey also demonstrates that John Proctor is not the lone voice of dissent in Salem. When Proctor goes to court to press Mary Warren to confess, he does not go alone. Corey is also present and is brave enough to speak his mind before the court authorities, knowing the risk he is taking.

hadil1 | Student

Thank you all.. you really helped