Common sense in ‘The Crucible’
The Crucible – How does Miller make vivid the triumph of superstition over reason and common sense? In ‘The Crucible’, Miller creates an atmosphere in Salem where hysteria rules the village while reason and common sense are put aside. The superstitions of a few young teenage girls are taken seriously by the largely Christian village; to the point of a broken theocracy and where all reason is lost.
In Act III, there are many dramatic scenes in the courtroom which show the power of the girls’ overbearing superstitions.
At the beginning of the play, Mary Warren joined in with the other girls in the forest with their hysteria and witchcraft. However, she converts to Proctor’s side and in court says “It were pretence, sir” to Danforth. She tries to save Proctor by turning in the girls and admitting that Abigail had been telling lies. This comes to no avail and then Abigail, with the other girls, puts on an act and starts copying Mary Warren as if Mary had bewitched her.
Mary gives in and turns on Proctor saying “You’re the Devil’s Man!” Mary tried to have reason and common sense by defying the girls but the way she gave in to their act of hysteria shows how superstition triumphs over reason and common sense.
As mentioned previously, Mary Warren initially testifies against Abigail and the other girls in Act III. To this point, Danforth was fully behind Abigail and believed her but now questions her to tell the truth. Abigail forcefully confronts him and says angrily, “I have been hurt, Mr Danforth…To be mistrusted, denied, questioned like a -“. Miller describes Danforth’s retorts as ‘weakening’ in the stage directions and Abigail presses on to further threaten Danforth in the words “Let you beware, Mr Danforth…”.
With most other people in the play, Danforth simply dismisses their stories but he is incapable of a rational argument against Abigail. Danforth is meant to be a man of reason and common sense; he is a judge after all but Abigail’s manipulation of him causes him to lose all reason and he lets her continue to wreck havoc. Abigail is the source of all the superstitions in ‘The Crucible’ so her control over Danforth signifies the triumph of superstition over good reason and common sense.
Throughout the play, John Proctor is a respectful man; the only one with a sense of reason and not fooled by the witchcraft hysteria. In Act IV, Proctor chooses to die instead of giving away his good name to witchcraft. After choosing to die he says “…I see some goodness in John Proctor.” If he had confessed, he would have lost his common sense and given in to false superstitions. In this way, Proctor not only keeps his name but doesn’t let superstitions get the better of him; one of the few parts of the play where reason and common sense prevail. Salem is a community filled with hardworking people who have good reason and sense about them. A few lies and superstitions cause all their lives to crumble down and good values vanish. The one man not fooled by the witchcraft nonsense, John Proctor, keeps common sense alive in Salem but is hanged to die; leaving the village ruled by superstition.
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