Human Emotional Reactions in Arthur Miller’s Novel ‘The Crucible’
Studies have shown that emotional reactions are almost impossible to ignore; it is almost as if it is automatic, when stressed, or pressured, humans naturally have a negative reaction, therefore, they lash out and get angry or frustrated. In Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ times of social repression bring out the worst in humans, this is demonstrated through the pressure and tests the characters are put under, their actions, as well as the outcomes. Miller argues in his novel that this was in fact a time of repression seeing as people were wielding the accusation to vent their frustrations, this is can be seen through the character of Thomas Putnam.
Firstly, it is quite clear that Putnam is a wealthy and greedy man, as it is stated in the book. “ Thomas Putnam was the eldest son of the richest man in the village.” (Miller, 15) He uses the trials and accuses others during this time only to attain wealth and have vengeance on his neighbours by buying their land. In act three of the novel, Giles Corey states that “Thomas Putnam is reaching out for land.” (84) He states that he had heard an ‘honest man’ say that Putnam encouraged his daughter to ‘cry witch’ so that he would be able to obtain the land he believes is rightfully his. This being said, Thomas uses the frustration of the unfairness of his grandfathers will to wrongfully blame others of witchcraft. Secondly, the greed and envy has brought out the vile inside of him, he angers and threatens Giles so much that Giles wants to kill him, leading Giles to his death. (Giles) “ If Jacobs hangs for witch he forfeit up his property – that’s the law! And there is none but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece. This man is killing his neighbours for land!” (Danforth) “But proof, sir proof…” “ (Emphatically) The proof is there! – I have it from an honest man who heard Putnam say it! The day his daughter cried out on Jacobs, he said she’d given him a fair gift of land.” “Danforth is a grave man in his sixties, of some humour, and sophistication, that does not however, interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause.”
The infamous Danforth is not introduced until Act three, we immediately know what kind of person he is and how egocentric he can be. “Do you know who I am, Mr. Nurse?” Readers get the sense that Danforth believes that only he matters, and that he believes only he has all the answers to their problems, he behaves with pride and arrogance and nothing but. For example in act three of the play, he asks Giles Corey this question: “ Do you take it upon yourself to determine what this court shall believe and what this court shall set aside?” (85) suggesting that Giles does not have the authority or power to make decisions in court, which ultimately silences him. Danforth’s worst side comes to show when he fears others will question his power and his authority in court, he says: “ Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve, or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this – I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.” Danforth would rather hang the lives of innocent people rather than bruise his ego, he is put under pressure when he must decide between admitting a mistake and killing seven people, he goes with the latter.
Finally, the character of Abigail Williams, the cause of the witch trials, she holds most of the responsibility for the outcomes of the play and the lives that were ended. She hopes for nothing but the love and affection of John Proctor, she is the epitome of what a Puritan woman should not be. When Parris discovers her and the other girls in the woods alongside Tituba, he questions her, she covers up the truth as she does not want her affair with Proctor to be discovered. This anger towards Goody Proctor is shown when she accuses her of witchcraft, she is embarrassed that Proctor no longer has feelings for her and rejects her. “ She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore’s vengeance, and you must see it now.” (102) The pressure of John Proctor’s appreciation almost causes Elizabeth her life, Abigail’s bad side is known from the very first act in the novel, when she threatens the group of girls of what they should and should not say. It is also evident in the very last act of the play as she steals her uncle’s money and runs, not knowing she it her fault John Proctor is dead.
The playwright, Arthur Miller, shows in many instances in his novel, that times of societal constraint causes the worst in humans to come out, as mentioned, this is shown through a variety of characters, the circumstances they had been put under, their actions and which lead to the death of 20 people. It has been said that there is a way to not lash out when under pressure, to stay calm and under control, to not let emotions get in the way and cloud our judgement. To do this, feeling safe and secure is necessary, but first one must create positive thoughts, if only the characters in the play had put positive thoughts into their heads rather than envy, greed, or pride, the deaths could have very well been avoided. Learning to put things into perspective is key, build self-esteem, avoid negative people, and finally, learn how to be grateful. Being grateful can not only reduce stress but it also creates a better mood as well as leaving someone feeling physically and mentally healthier.
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