What is a major theme of The Crucible, and how would audience members or readers recognize this theme in the play?
The previous post did a very stellar job in its exploration. I would like to suggest a variation on it, in asserting that a major theme in Miller's work is the assertion of voice regardless of the context. Miller's upbringing was one where he was taught at an early age and throughout his life of the notion of freedom of speech and assertion of one's voice in any and all contexts. Miller's writings and his belief system throughout his works help to emphasize this. One of the fundamental precepts in both his life and his work was that individuals should never lose the ability to speak their mind in any and all conditions. When Miller writes The Crucible, he is writing it at a time in American History where people felt silenced by the hunt for Communists and fear of the dialectical other. Miller was quick to point out that although circumstances may be bleak and results might not be guaranteed, the ability to speak one's mind and advocate for their own voice is an absolute good. Characters such as John and Elizabeth Proctor recognize this when they both stand true to their beliefs, risking life in the process. When John Proctor demands to speak the truth because of "his name," one realizes that his belief and faith in freedom is one that transcends political expediency and daily reality. In the assertion of his voice, Proctor becomes extraordinary despite being so very ordinary. Giles Corey is another example, for the defense of his family's name and his own commitment to the truth is reason enough to demand "more weight." Readers woudl recognize this theme quite quickly as Miller creates a line of conduct between characters who speak and assert their own voice regardless of social reaction or peer judgment. Often times, these individuals do so at great cost to themselves and their family, confirming that the right to free speech and individual expression are independent goods devoid of all else. At the same time, these individuals stand in stark contrast to others who either care more for public perception or are hypocritical in their professed desire for truth so long as it results in consolidation of their own power or to serve their own agenda. In creating the dichotomy in such a manner, Miller forces the audience to choose a side, a belief system, and in the process demands America to do the same.
1. While The Crucible, like most literary works, possesses several themes, you could make a strong argument that Miller's main subject in this masterpiece is power. All the other themes in the play can be traced back to power, and the various conflicts present within the play arise because of characters' relationship with power/authority. For example, the young Puritans girls (as history and Miller show) possessed no power. They received no formal education, had no choice in their future, and gained very little positive attention from anyone. Mary Warren, a servant to the Proctors, even has to obey John and Elizabeth as if they are her parents, and they have the authority to beat her (see Act 2). Many historians and Miller argue that the girls' false accusations and the resulting hysteria are a consequence of the girls' seeking attention and power. Similarly, landowners like the Putnams start to accuse other landowners of witchcraft so that they can gain their property and, thus, additional power. Finally, the judges--even after they know that the girls are lying--refuse to reverse their rulings because they do not want to hinder their authority. This is why they see all questions to the court, such as Proctor, Nurse, and Corey's petition, as a threat to their power.
2. In regards to readers interpreting or recognizing this theme, I think that it is most obvious in the judges' and Rev. Parris's conversations/actions and in the background notes that Miller provides before and throughout the play.