In The Crucible, which character conforms outwardly while questioning inwardly?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of what makes Miller's work fairly intense and dramatic is that characters have to end up making conscious choices between what is being presented as truth and what they feel truth to be.  Characters in this configuration have little opportunity to feel one way, but act in another because the dramatic tension is so intensely thick.

This is probably why characters who conform outwardly are probably those who directly benefit from the power that comes with conformity.  Cheever, Danforth, Hathorne, Putnam, Parris, and Abigail with her crew all conform and derive power from this.  There is little in way of feeling opposite of their conformist status because of the power they benefit from conforming. In this, there is no disconnect between what they display and what they internall experience.  By the same analysis, the characters who do not conform legitimately do so in opposition of what is being done.  John Proctor, Giles Corey, and Rebecca Nurse are all examples of how characters who display defiance and dissent actually feel this.

We do find two slight exceptions where there is some ambiguity in acting and feeling.  The first would be Elizabeth's lie in court.  She conforms with what she thinks is "the right thing to say."  She does display some stammering and some heavy discomfort with having to say that her husband is guilty of adultery.  She ends up conforming with what she thinks is best and her lie is something she ends up regretting, for she does not know that her conformity has actually done damage to her husband.  When John yells across the courtroom that he already confessed, this feeling of regret is apparent.  Her questioning of her conformity is not something that is inwardly felt, for it is externally articulated.  Yet, she could be seen as an example of conforming with a sense of regret.

I would say that Hale could be seen as another close example of someone whose conformity is come to seen with regret.  Yet, the problem here is that Hale's conformity is believed.  He arrives to Salem "like a bridegroom," convinced that he is going to do good.  He does not question his conformity.  Over the course of his interactions at Salem, most noticeably at the trial, he does recognize that something is not right.  Yet, he does not harbor this, for once he sees it, like Elizabeth, he speaks out against it, much to the displeasure of Danforth and the court.  In this, there is a regret of conformity, but itis not one that is harbored inward.  Like Elizabeth, when Hale recognizes wrong and recognizes what he sees as injustice, he speaks out against it and does not keep it locked within.

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The Crucible

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