What is the main theme of The Crucible and what does it mean?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that with a text like Miller's The Crucible, different themes can be seen and different meanings to those themes can be attached.  I would suggest that one of the strongest themes in the text is how politics is a part of the daily lives of the individual.  The drama sticks to this idea from start to finish.

Politics in terms of power and control is a part of the world in which we live. This is a theme that is seen in the girls wanting to go out to the woods and dance, thereby displaying their power to flout the law and conventions of Salem.  It is seen in the manufacturing of witches and demons, yet another way in which power and political control is exerted.  It is seen in the role of the church, as well.  Reverend Parris is concerned with losing his power and control over others that is afforded to him as head of the Salem church.  It is seen in how Putnam wishes to control more land, thereby taking advantage of those who are accused.  It is seen in how Mrs. Putnam turns to the supernatural in order to have some power and control over the death that has stalked her children and her own life.  It is evident in how Danforth and Hathorne control their courtroom and display some evidence, while keeping other forms of it silent.  It is seen in how Abigail constructs accusation after accusation in order to keep control over her world and covet Proctor.  The theme of power through politics is an essential one in Miller's text.

The meaning of the theme in terms of its relevance is one area where the drama is a powerful one.  In the final analysis, Miller suggests two realities from this theme. The first is that power is a part of the world in which we live. It does not do an individual any good to pretend that it does not exist.  Proctor tries to evade this responsibility, his responsibility, and fails.  Giles Corey makes the fatal error of speaking without an eye to the political structure. Individuals must be mindful of those ensnared in politics and the level of meaning this carries in their own world is significant.  However, Miller also suggests that while the world around us is filled with political creatures and those who act for political gain, honorable human beings do not have to succumb to it.  Miller delivers a path for individuals to understand truly liberating notions of the good, one that transcends politics.  Proctor finds his voice, his "name, and acts in accordance to it and in doing so goes beyond the world of politics that envelops him.  Elizabeth recognizes her husband's "goodness" and is beyond the taint of political control.  When Corey demands for "more weight," it becomes a statement that no matter what political control and manipulation may wish, individuals can be free of such an entangled web. In these ways, Miller's theme and its meaning are timeless and powerful reminders of who we are and how we can live our lives.

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