Module C: The Crucible Part 1 – Dos and Don’ts

Posted on August 11, 2017 by Patrick Condliffe

What are the dos and don’ts of studying The Crucible for Module C?

Module C is the Study of Representation and Text. This Module is concerned with how composers represent ideas in their texts. To get a Band 6 response for Module C you have to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) and connect it to the requirements of the Module. Often students don’t understand how the text relates to the Module; what the concerns of the text are; or what the Module asks them to do.

In this post, we will give an essential overview of Miller’s The Crucible and its themes and then explore how to connect it to Module C with some handy dos and don’ts.

What is The Crucible?

Plot:

Miller’s four act play is a tragedy that represents the beginning of the Salem Witch-Trials of 1693 and the consequences they had on the town’s community and political structure. All of the characters in the text are historical figures. However, Miller has taken artistic license to combine several historical figures into one of the texts’ characters (for example, there were more many girls in the original trial, but Miller has combined them for dramatic purpose).

The play’s protagonist is John proctor who attempts to stop the Salem Witch Trials after his wife, Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft by their former maid, Abigail. To complicate matters, Proctor has had an affair with Abigail and he is keeping it a secret to protect his reputation. As the town’s reverend, Parris, and the Deputy Governor of the Province, Danforth, and their allies begin trying townspeople for Witchcraft, Proctor challenges their authority to halt the trials. He fails and is hung.

Central to the narrative is the political structure of the town. Salem was a theocracy – a village that was run as a collective under the guidance of their spiritual leader, Reverend Parris. This means that Parris answered to the provinces governor and judges, including Judge Hathorne and Danforth. Danforth is the most powerful figure in the text.

Genre:

You must make note of the text’s genre in your responses, this is an important part of the composer’s representation. Miller’s The Crucible is a tragedy set during the Salem Witch-Trials of 1692-93.

Tragedies depict the downfall of the protagonist due to a central flaw, or hamartia, that they possess. Tragedies result in the death of the protagonist, and sometimes others.

In The Crucible, the common flaw is pride (a concern with reputation). For example, many of the characters are overly concerned with their own reputations, or those of their neighbours, leading to the collapse of the Salem community and the deaths of many of its members.

  • Do: Refer to the text as a tragedy rather than a play.
    Eg, “Miller’s 1953 tragedy represents the events of Salem that led its inhabitants to turn on one another.”
  • Do: Explain what your understanding of a tragedy is. You need to discuss how form and genre can develop meaning.
    Eg. “The Crucible adheres to the conventions of tragedy where the heroic protagonist’s hamartia – Proctor’s pride – leads to their downfall.”

 

  • Don’t: Refer to The Crucible as just a ‘play’ or ‘drama’.
  • Don’t: Call The Crucible a ‘tragedy’ in your essay without explaining why it is a ‘tragedy’.

 

Form:

It is important to discuss the text’s form.

The Crucible is a four-act tragedy interspersed with essays that define the setting and characters. These compositional choices shape the meaning that the audience can draw from the text. This means that your study of The Crucible is limited by Miller’s decision to include historical essays as part of the script. This casts a narrow perspective on the text’s action.

Miller uses the essays to carefully shape your perspective of the characters. Some plays leave the characterisation of the characters ambiguous. This allows the actors and directors to develop a particular reading of them and the text (i.e. they can focus on a specific flaw or behaviour). Miller’s use of essays and detailed stage directions demonstrates that he wants to use a very rigid perspective on his characters.

  • Do: Refer to Miller’s essays. They contain crucial information and evidence for your responses.
    For example, ‘When Miller notes that “[Proctor] is a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own vision of decent conduct,” he is characterising Proctor and foreshadowing his tragic flaw.
  • Do: Refer to stage directions.
    For example, ‘Miller’s uses the stage direction that “Mary Warren, utterly confounded, and becoming overwhelmed by Abigail’s – and the girls’ – utter conviction, starts to whimper, hands half-raised, powerless, and all the girls begin whimpering exactly as she does,” to convey the power of fear and peer pressure to compel individuals to tragically turn on those whom would protect them.’

 

  • Don’t: Ignore Miller’s essays as if they are not part of the text.
  • Don’t: Ignore the stage-directions. Stage directions are part of the process of representing action on the stage. This Module is Representation and Text. So, all aspects of representation are relevant to your response.

 

Understanding the Representation of People and Politics in The Crucible

Miller has chosen to represent the historical events of Salem, Massachusetts 1692 and comment on the events of America during the House Un-American Committee Hearings. What does this mean?

  • The Crucible depicts a community’s social and governmental collapse as its becomes crippled by accusations, paranoia, and tyrannical rule.
  • However, while Miller makes the connection to HUAC, he has stated the play is not purely a representation of America under the Cold War “witch-hunts.” Instead it is a critique that “fits anywhere” where democracy unravels.
    Thus, we can say that ‘Miller represents the emergence of tyranny in any system of government.’
  • It will help you understand this if you watch the following short interview, where Miller explains the key concerns he is exploring in The Crucible:
Video: Interview with Arthur Miller (Copyright the Inge Centre. Video produced at the William Inge Center for the Arts at Independence Community College, interviews with playwrights produced and directed by Mike Wood, digital management production and publication by Tony Wood and Midwest Computer Solutions LLC with assistance from Greg Blackman. www.ingecenter.org)

 

What is Meant by Representation:

The key word that recurs in this Module is “representations.” It is important to be clear that this is not a contextual study, but a study of how the events are represented.

While the event or people being represented is of interest, your key focus needs to be on the process of representation.

This means discussing:

  • the “how” – i.e. how has the composer represented their concerns in the text
  • and not the “what” – i.e. focusing in detail on what is being represented and its context.

 

Understanding the Elective Outline:

To better understand how to approach the Miller’s representation, let’s examine the key phrases from the People and Politics outline:

In this elective, students explore and evaluate various representations of people and politics in their prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing.

They consider the ways in which texts represent individual, shared or competing political perspectives, ideas, events or situations.

Students analyse representations of people’s political motivations and actions, as well as the impact political acts may have on individual lives or society more broadly.

Module Rubric: Module C – Elective 1 People and Politics. (Source: BOSTES)

 

Let’s unpack these concepts:

  1. Explore and evaluate various representations of people and politics – This means that you need to consider how Miller is representing his concerns. You also need to explore and discuss the effectiveness of Miller’s representations. Ask yourself – are they compelling?
  2. Consider the ways in which texts represent individual, shared or competing political perspectives, ideas, events or situations – Each text contains a myriad of different views and perspectives. In The Crucible you need to look at the various characters and their positions on political issues. You then need to make note of, and discuss, how Miller has represented this.
  3. Analyse representations of people’s political motivations and actions, as well as the impact political acts may have on individual lives or society – You must  figure out what is motivating the characters. For example, Proctor is driven by reputation; while Parris is driven by fear of losing power; and Abigail by fear of the consequences of her actions.

A good idea is to structure your notes into a table where you can compile these ideas and the evidence you feel supports them:

Character
Motivation/ Perspective
Example
Technique
Explanation
Connection to Module
Abigail
Self-Preservation
Power
“If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back!
[DANFORTH seems unsteady.]
Imperative Tone
Stage Direction
Abigail responds to the accusation that she has had an affair with Proctor by refusing to answer Danforth’s question: is this accusation true?

Her imperative Tone is important because she is challenging the power of Danforth, the most important and powerful man in Salem.

The stage direction indicates that she has power of Danforth. Not only has she protected her self-interest, she has manipulated Danforth.

Miller represents the collapse of the community in Salem by focusing on the inversion of power occurring in the court.

It is ironic that Abigail, a young girl, has the power to manipulate the Deputy Governor of the Province.

Table: Suggested Format for Study Notes

 

  • Do: Ask yourself, “How is Miller representing this issue or event?”
  • Do: Connect the plot to the themes that Miller is exploring.
    For example, ‘Miller represents the events in Salem to show how people can submit to dangerous or corrupt political perspectives to protect themselves and their loved ones. The events of The Crucible convey how neighbours and friends can be compelled to turn on and betray one another.’
  • Do: Make connection to the concern being represented and broader issues of politic is that Miller is exploring.
    For example, ‘Miller’s tragedy reflects aspects of his context and the HUAC hearings his friends were prosecuted at, but its plot and themes represent the ease with which any community can be destroyed by fear and self-interest transcending any specific context.’

 

  • Don’t: Ask yourself only, “What or who is Miller representing here?”
  • Don’t: Recount the plot.
  • Don’t: Get sidetracked discussing the Salem Witch trials and the context of 17th Century New England.
  • Don’t: Focus on the connection to the HUAC hearings.

 

Considering Perspectives:

You must discuss the various perspectives Miller has depicted and how he was represented them.

To do this:

  • You need to consider how Miller depicts the varying perspectives of the girls, the judges, and the villagers.
  • You need to comment on the representation of the characters’ motivations and the consequences these have on their actions and on the community.
  • You must remember that you are not trying to discuss the representation of the Salem Witch-Trials or the HUAC hearings, but Miller’s representation of social and governmental collapse.
    For example, one of the key ideas in the text is that The Crucible represents how tyranny emerges in society and the consequences this has on the community.

 

  • Do: Explore the various perspectives shared by the various characters in the text. As part of your study notes create a table that compares the various political positions of the characters in the text and how their views change or remain the same throughout the action of the play:
Character
Character
Change?
Mary Warren
Initially she believes in Abigail’s plan to gain authority and power in the town and assists Abigail to incriminate Elizabeth Proctor. She undergoes a change of heart and sees that the trials are not harmless “sport” but damaging to individuals and the community. However, her fear of Abigail and the solidarity of the others leads her to recant and incriminate Proctor.
                              Reverend Hale
Hale considers himself to be a pious man who is destined to root out evil from towns in New England. He truly believes in the crimes he investigates. Having seen the damage that the Witch-Trials have had on the town by dividing the community he changes his perspective. He urges Proctor to confess on the grounds of saving his life, rather than to act in a moral or Christian manner.
Table: Comparison of Characters and Motivations

 

  • Don’t: Discuss the text as Miller’s perspective on the HUAC commission. This is not a Module A response.
  • Don’t: Treat the perspectives of the girls or of the townsfolk as being unified. There are important distinctions between the views of, say, the Putnams and Parris that mark them as being motivated by different things.
    For example, the Putnams want to increase their holdings (this is the perspective suggested by Proctor). While Parris’ perspective of witchcraft is driven by a desire to protect his reputation and position in the town.

 

What now?

        1. Reread The Crucible and analyse it in the manner outlined above.
        2. Create tables and populate them with examples in the manner we have discussed.
        3. Write practise essays to some past HSC questions. You can find them here.
        4. Get feedback on your essay from your peers, or use on of the BOSTES marking rubrics that are in their HSC exam packs. All Matrix English Students receive detailed feedback on their essays using marking rubrics designed to help them achieve Band 6 results.
        5. Use your feedback to write a new and improved essay. Attempt a variety of questions.

 

Want to take your English skills to the next level?

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 


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