What themes are present in The Crucible by Arthur Miller that make it a universal and enduring play?
What themes make it so the play relates to everyone around the world and keeps it from never dying off?
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One theme is hysteria - people experiencing unmanageable fear and/or emotional excess. The Crucible shows us that when a crisis hits a group of people, the people will respond by freaking out and taking things to the absolute end of the line, as seen in the multiple accusations of witchcraft. The accusations are hysterical because several innocent people are brought into the fray without reason. Another theme is intolerance - the idea that any ideas and/or beliefs outside the majority will be squashed due to the fear of conflicting ideologies. It is religious intolerance, in part, that leads to the hangings.
Where to begin for this one? It is so difficult for me to narrow down the greatness of Miller's work to a handful of resonant themes, but for sake of space, I have to do so. The most reverberating theme of Miller's work, in my opinion, is the idea that political structures without institutional checks can prove to be disastrous. One need only examine history to see such elements. Most tyrannies which have committed the greatest of injustices have done so because of the lack of checks and limitations. Salem's theocracy is no different. The empowerment of specific individuals over the presumption of innocence and the rights of the accused proves to be one of the legacies of the play. No social and political order can survive effectively without some level of checks and balances, limitations and boundaries. Building off of this would be that if individuals do not take active and defiant roles against the abuses of power, things will only worsen. Miller carves out his characters of John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, and Giles Corey as examples of moral fortitude and courage to assume active stances in defense of their own names in what is seen as right. They have the opportunity to remain silent and sheepishly confess to sins that have not been done, but they don't. These ordinary people become pillars of extraordinary moral fiber and prove to us that regardless of situation, everyone has some level of choice and power. This becomes another powerful theme of the work. The last theme which is timeless rests on the idea of exclusion and isolation, and the tyranny of the majority. Miller's work speaks to the power of how individuals must always possess freedom. The instances of social authority being wrong, of individuals succumbing to peer pressure, and the idea of the majority can become tyrannical proves the need for individuals to exercise voice and have their narratives heard and authenticated. In any setting and time, this is compelling as it is testament to the endurance of the human spirit.
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