What are the major elements of writing style that Miller uses in The Crucible?

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

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Miller's use of style is an essential component the drives The Crucible.  Style and technique are essential in understanding the work's thematic meaning.  One example can be seen in the stage directions.  In traditional theatre productions, the stage directions are terse.  In The Crucible, Miller's use of stage directions is deliberate.  The stage directions act as another form of narrative voice.  The stage directions help to develop characterizations and enhance the reader's understanding of the characters. Sometimes, the stage directions help to provide historical background that the reader lacks upon entering the drama in the midst of ongoing action. For example, the stage directions in the opening of Act I help to establish the emotional climate and social culture of Salem. This demonstration of style allows Miller to talk about how children are viewed, the perception that Salem has towards "the other," as well how Salem, itself, was such a self- tormented community that it became fertile soil for the witchcraft accusations to take hold:

No one can really know what their lives were like. They had no novelists - and would not have permitted anyone to read a novel if one were handy. Their creed forbade anything re-sembling a theater or “vain enjoyment.” They did not celebrate Christmas, and a holiday from work meant only that they must concentrate even more upon prayer. 

Miller's use of stage directions helps to illuminate additional dimensions to both setting and characters.  This helps to reader understand the work on both literary and philosophical levels, contributing to a more profound read of the drama.

Miller's use of dialogue is another distinguishing element of style.  Miller challenges the traditional notion that the Puritan community lacked emotion.  On the contrary, Miller's use of dialogue suggests that there was a mass of emotional complexity percolating, making the parsing of truth during the witchcraft trials more difficult. Miller injects sensory details that bring out the raging cauldron of emotions within characters.  Abigail comparing John's sexual prowess to a stallion's sweat, the seasoning of the broth on the stove top to open Act II, Proctor's invocation of fire with "black hearts" and "we will all burn together," along with Corey's cry of "More weight" are examples of how the dialogue is constructed through both emotions and sensory details that enable the modern reader to cross time and enter into the context of Salem. The use of emotions in dialogue also enhances the "crucible" element where one is enclosed in a condition with strong objects and intense heat energy. Miller's employment of emotional language and sensory detail in dialogue helps to illuminate how these characters emerge from their such a trial. 

Another aspect of the style in The Crucible is Miller's use of history. Miller creates a interdisciplinary work. He does not seek to create a work that is solely history or one that is only literary. He wishes to take aspects of both and compose a work that is philosophically profound.  This is evident in his style. He takes pains to recreate the way that the Salem people talk to one another, but also clearly states that "This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian." Miller's style that allows him to embrace different realms of study in creating a work of ethics and philosophy is significant to The Crucible.

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