Encountering Conflict in The Crucible

Through our study of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible you will become aware of Arthur Miller’s links to Salem and the witch hunts and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. However, the text explores more than just the conflict between the ‘accusers’ and the ‘accused’. Think about the different types of conflict seen in the play. The idea that ‘ignorance’ fuels conflict is apt, as ignorance is masked behind the Law and God. To study the play successfully you need to think conceptually about conflict, how conflict can manifest itself and the factors that can ‘shape’ our responses to conflict.

The fear that lies at the heart of the townspeople is based on a religious fundamentalism in which God is seen as the determiner of one’s life. The presence of God implies the presence of the Devil and the townspeople of Salem see His workings in the young and vulnerable girls ‘who danced in the woods’.

John Proctor is also condemned because of his ‘weakness’. The idea that conflict can be ‘fuelled’ by ignorance has a particular link to the play as Proctor cries ‘A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face…For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud – God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, will we’ll burn together!’

It is ironic that Reverend Parris says ‘I am not blind; there is a faction and a party’ as his greed and self-interest put him in conflict with his position as minister. He is morally weak and openly divisive. He is a hypocrite and a coward – not qualities linked to a good ‘man of God’. The conflict comes, not from within but because he manipulates the townspeople into believing that piety equals obedience, ‘There is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning!’

Again, it is essential that an understanding of ‘ignorance’ is clear within your writing. This play presents ‘ignorance’ as faith and belief – a belief that God ‘will watch over us’. Then there is the ‘ignorance’ of youth – that presented by the young girls, including Abigail. Hale says to Tituba, ‘You are God’s instrument put in our hands to discover the Devils’ agents among us.’ The fear of retribution that stems from a lack of knowledge and maturity allows the elders to manipulate the young girls.

Adapted from The Age.


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