The “Weights” of the World: A Central Motif in ‘The Crucible’
Arthur Miller confronts the “weight of truth,” “weight of authority,” and the “weight of law” in The Crucible. This play expresses the different complications that come along with having to bear each “weight.” Many characters in the play conform to the demands of the church by accepting their accusations of being witches; however, Miller demonstrates both sides of this conflict by having some characters refuse to submit to the church which ultimately leads to them being put to death by the “weight of law.” This act of bravery demonstrated by few characters expresses the difficulty that comes along with agreeing to lies and going against one’s personal values and beliefs. The characters in the play were all weighed down by something. Some people experienced much more weight than others. Some people were even crushed. Every character in the story experienced one or more of these “weights, ” and each would eventually succumb to one of these “weights of the world.”
Throughout the play, Miller uses the word weight figuratively numerous times. One of the clearest instances when Miller does this is when Mr. Hale arrives. Hale carries six books: Hale: Pray you, someone take these! Parris, delighted: Mr. Hale! Oh! It’s good to see you again! Taking some books: My, they’re heavy! Hale, setting down his books: They must be; they are weighted with authority. (36) It is at this moment that Miller connects the literal heaviness of the books to the figurative meaning of the “weight of authority” of which the books contain. Hale arrives in Salem with the goal of discovering the truth of the proposed powers of Satan that have overtaken the youth of Salem. Arthur Miller directly incorporates the “weight of truth” as a major theme of the play in the very first scene. Reverend Parris pleads with Abigail for her to tell him the truth about the events that occurred within the woods once he discovers Betty’s sleeping fit: Now tell me true, Abigail. And I pray you feel the weight of truth upon you, for now my ministry’s at stake, my ministry and perhaps your cousin’s life. Whatever abomination you have done, give me all of it now, for I dare not be take unaware when I go before them down there. (11) Again, the use of the term “weight of truth” here is used to describe the literal situation and it is also used figuratively to encompass “all of its figurative meanings: seriousness, heaviness, gravity, importance, burden, pressure, influence – all of which are connected to religion and law, the foundations upon which the theocracy of Salem village is built.” (Marino 489) By doing this, Miller sets the stage for the rest of the play. Miller establishes the tone for the word “truth” as the literal thing that everyone is trying to find, but is obscured by the differences between governing with law and governing with religion. The previous paragraph leads to another conflict within the play. This conflict is the difficulties and complications that come along with governing through religion and law at the same time.
All trials and legal cases should be investigated in a logical and scientific perspective. Mr. Hale and a few of the citizens of Salem look at the situation from a logical viewpoint. It is this select few that discover the truth of the witch accusations, the truth that Abigail and the other girls are lying and that there are no witches or any signs of Satan in Salem. By looking at this from a logical perspective, Mr. Hale separates himself from the other head members of the court. As Stephen Marino states, “Hale and his texts, weighted so heavily with the authority of religion, become at odds with the civil authority of the law, and irony in this theocracy where Church and State law are intertwined.” (Marino 490) Religion has no place within the judicial or legislative system of a country. This only leads to the same difficulties that Miller portrays in The Crucible. In Everson vs. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing (No. 52) Mr. Justice Black of the supreme court stated: “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” (par 24) It is in Salem that this “wall” is crumbled to nothing but a pile of rocks. Miller often intertwines the three “weights.” Miller orchestrates the play in such a way that the “weight” is distributed equally among the more prominent characters. It is set up so that the people that are being accused by the girls, and some may argue the girls themselves, must face the challenges that come along with carrying the “weight of truth” or the “weight of law”, and the members of the court that must carry out the rulings are faced with the “weight of authority”. This weight is best professed through Mr. Cheever when he went to arrest Mrs. Elizabeth Proctor: You know yourself I must do as I’m told. You surely know that, Giles. And I’d as lief you’d not be sending me to Hell. I like not the sound of it, I tell you; I like not the sound of it. He fears Proctor, but starts to reach inside his coat. Now believe me, Proctor, how heavy be the law, all its tonnage I do carry on my back tonight. He takes out a warrant. I have a warrant for your wife. (72) It is in this scene that Hale realizes that the court is acting without his knowledge or authority. Hale, being an outsider, discovers the truth about John Proctor and the falseness of Abigail’s. This is the moment when Hale’s “weight of truth” becomes significantly greater than his “weight of authority.”
What is the difference between heaviness and weight? If one is discussing these words figuratively then how does one differentiate between the two? When someone experiences “weight,” it is something that is manageable. It may not be easy, but manageable nonetheless. For example, the expression “weighing on one’s mind” means that the mentioned person is thinking about something, something that they just can’t seem to get off of their mind. On the other hand, the term “heavy” is something that is unrestricted. It can be crushing. Another example, the expression “heavy on one’s mind” portrays the feeling that the person cannot think of anything else. They are most likely overthinking the situation and causing themselves mental torment. They are causing themselves physical pain. Whatever is on their mind is crushing them. Notice the above quote in the previous paragraph. Notice how the word “weighty” did not appear. Instead, Miller used the word “heavy.” Stephen Marino described the significance of this by stating, “Thus, describing the law as “heavy,” as opposed to “weighty,” removes the religious association and endows it [the law] with the power to suppress, pressure, and crush whoever opposes it, accurately foreshadowing what will happen to Giles Corey, Rebecca Nurse, and John Proctor.” (Marino 492) This is the problem with having a court that functions completely off of religion. The girls in the play that were caught dancing in the woods use the theocracy of their society to their advantage numerous times by enacting the old practice of scapegoating. Neslihan YÄ±lmaz Demirkaya describes scapegoating as “an age-old practice that singles out an individual as responsible for the guilt and shame of a community, whereby members of that community project their guilty conscience on to that single individual.” (Demirkaya 124) These girls immediately point their finger at Satan and say that they were forced to obey him by witches. These girls, however young, expertly use the governing system in Salem to their advantage by stating that they “saw” certain people with Satan and doing other unholy deeds.
Moreover, these girls “deliberately and cynically give false evidence, or incite others to do so, for their own personal gain or gratification.” (Welland 60) One of these girls (perhaps more, though not directly stated in the play), Mary Warren, was burdened by the “weight of truth” and was compelled to set free her guilty conscience by making her plea to the court. Mary’s proclamation that the girls were lying and pretending leads to the first accusation against that accusers. The court had blindly trusted the girls up until Mary’s confession. Before her confession, John Proctor mentioned that the girls had been untruthful the entire time when his wife was arrested on account of attempted murder on Abigail Williams. Proctor exclaimed: Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem — vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! (77) Proctor points out that the accusers are nothing more than children playing with adult toys. They don’t understand the significance of their lies, but they are lies all the same. Proctor’s exclamation that vengeance writes the law is significant because it is but another problem that occurs when a court does not proceed with the understanding of logic and science. The people who carried the “weight of authority” would place the “weight of law” upon the citizens of Salem. This “weight of law” that the theocracy possessed holds as much power as the court. It is the power that court held. The court would crush its victims with the “weight of law.” As Proctor stated, this weight became driven by vengeance.
Perhaps the most significant quote in the entire play can be linked back to Mr. Giles Corey. Giles was the first to say that the witch claims were a hoax. He claimed that he had a witness who claimed that Mr. Thomas Putnam was convincing some of the girls to accuse his neighbors of witchcraft so that he can purchase their forfeited land. The court demands that Giles reveals the name of his witness. Giles refuses. This is when the court shows their complete and unrestricted authority. They torture Giles for the information. Elizabeth must tell John about his death: Elizabeth, quietly, factually: He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay. Elizabeth: Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay. With a tender smile for the old man: They say he give them but two words. “More weight,” he says. And died. Proctor, numbed — a thread to weave into his agony: “More weight.” Elizabeth: Aye. It were a fearsome man, Giles Corey. These last words of Giles connect the literal and figurative meaning of the word “weight.” The literal sense of this line is quite simple to grasp. He asked for more weight so that he could die a Christian in the law so that his children could keep his land. However, the figurative meaning is much more significant. The heavy stones, notice the use of the word heavy here, represent the unlimited power, control, seriousness, cruelty, and hardness of a theocracy. Giles would not submit to the “weight of truth” that he carried, just as he would not submit to the “weight of law” placed upon him by the court, but by refusing to submit, he was ultimately crushed by this weight.
There was no escape for anyone in Salem. One could feel the relief from the “weight of law” by confessing to the accusations, but in turn feel the “weight of truth”; one could deny the allegations and in turn feel the relief from the “weight of truth,” but die from the “weight of law”; or one was on the court and was burdened with the “weight of authority.” There was no escape from the “weights of the world.”
1. Marino, Stephen. “Arthur Miller’s “Weight of Truth” in the Crucible.” Modern Drama, vol. 38, no. 4, Winter95, pp. 488-495. EBSCOhost, libprxy.muw.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9602020634&site=ehost-live 2. Demirkaya, Neslihan YÄ±lmaz. “Scapegoating Non-Conforming Identities: Witchcraft Hysteria in Arthur Miller’s the Crucible and Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom.” Journal of History, Culture & Art Research / Tarih Kültür Ve Sanat Arastirmalari Dergisi, vol. 4, no. 2, June 2015, pp. 123-135. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7596/taksad.v4i2.444. 3. Welland, D. S. R. (1983). Miller, the Playwright. London: Methuen. “Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing.” LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
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