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Moral Conflict in the The Crucible

Moral conflict in The Crucible. Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, is a great portrayal of humans and their struggles. This

play takes place in the 1690’s in Salem, a small Puritan community based on a rigid social

system, where an outbreak of rumors claiming witchcraft contaminated the small village. The

witch hysteria was initiated by a group of young girls (headed by Abigail Williams,) who were

afraid of being accused of swaying from the strict regulations. This caused conflict among the

people of the community and ultimately resulted in absolute chaos. I am going to write about

three of the main characters, Reverend Hale, John Proctor and Mary Warren, who have some of

the most intense internal and external struggles in the play.

Reverend Hale’s battle is initiated by his personal commitment to God. In Act I, the

Reverend is described as an eager-eyed intellectual pondering the invisible world. Hale seeks

witches and gets them to confess, so god can bless them and rid them of the devil. An example of

this is when he said to Betty, “In nomine Domini Sabaoth sui filiique ite ad infernos,” which

means: In the name of the lord of hosts and his son get thee to the lower world. This shows

Reverend Hale’s views on witchery. He is a deeply religious man who was unrelenting in his

quest for the devil. Originally, Hale believed that there was witchcraft in the town and wanted to

drive it out. However as the play develops, Hale witnesses sincere and respectable townspeople

being sentenced and hanged. Hale tries to gain a perspective on those accused, by going to their

houses and putting questions to them, about their nature and religious behavior. He soon learns

that the court proceedings, lead by Judge Danforth were sending innocent people to their death,

in the name of Christianity. Here begins the Reverend’s inner turmoil. With scrutiny, he looks at

himself and tries to figure out which way to go. Should he continue with what he is doing and

listen to Judge Danforth or should he listen to his conscience? He does try a feeble attempt to

talk to Danforth and explain how the unjust the court actions are, but again, his inner struggle

pulls him back to a more moderate stand. Hale then decides to persuade the wrongly accused to

confess witchcraft. At least this will save them from death by hanging. He preaches perjury to

the people, even though this is also against their religion. Hale’s principles were ridden with guilt

and sadness because of his struggle with himself. Not only does Hale question himself, and

Danforth, but he questions his religion. Near the end of Act IV, Hale tells Elizabeth that

following religion is not worth it if religion can justify the death of so many innocent people

without credible evidence. This is the ultimate reproach, and Hale ends up leaving after the

hangings, with the weight of 19 innocent people (including the good names of Rebecca Nurse,

Martha Corey and John Proctor,) dead, which rests somewhat on his shoulders.

John Proctor a farmer and village commoner is similarly faced with an inner turmoil. He,

as well as Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse became very prominent people and were respected in

Salem. Because of his role in the court cases, John gained respect. John also earns the respect of

the older members of the community, with his involvement of building the Salem church “I

nailed the roof upon the church, I hung the door.” John Proctor is considered an honest man, but

few know that he is guilty of adultery with his former teenage servant, Abigail Williams. This

compromises his honesty in the eyes of his wife, Elizabeth. This also causes John to view

himself as a sinner and as someone unworthy of the respect he is given, especially when John

searches himself at the end of the play, crying “What is John Proctor?” Even though he gives

great importance to his public appearance, John Proctor has a very low view of himself and his

worth as a human being, which affects many of his decisions in the outcome of the play. “I

cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. I am not that man. My honesty is broke

Elizabeth; I am no good man.” He was fully aware of his immoral actions and the enormity of

the problem. Once he though this problem has vanished, it came back to slap him in the face.

Abigail decided to call John’s wife Elizabeth, a witch, which in turn spurs conflict and anger

among the townspeople. Proctor then gets involved in these witch trials and claims to be with the

devil. His inner struggle is whether or not to tell the truth or fake a confession to save his own

life. He is confused as to which way to go and his main obstacles are firstly his pride and

secondly not being a party to implicating his innocent friends for similar crimes. He would rather

confess than die as a martyr for honesty. However, as John confesses, he will not allow Judge

Danforth to make it an official document. As Danforth asks him why, John answers with a cry,

"How may I live without my name? Have given you my soul; leave me my name.” John feels

strongly about having a good name and not dying with a bad one. Proctor weighs both sides of

his internal conflict and realizes that he cannot live with another lie, having seen the

consequences of living with the lie of adultery with Abigail Williams. Therefore, he sentences

himself to be hanged and at least passes his "good" name and some pride to his children. John

sacrificed his own life to avoid living in a lie. John believed that he could have redemption for all

his sinful acts in life by dying for his principles. It is this righteous death, that leaves John

Proctor as the ‘hero’ of the story, as he chooses his perception of good over the condemnation

from the village.

Mary Warren had a very crucial role in the play. Mary’s actions allowed for people to be

arrested and charged with witchcraft. Mary Warren was the Proctor family's servant. She

replaced her former friend Abigail Williams, who was fired by Elizabeth Proctor, for committing

adultery with her husband, John. Mary was 17 years old and was very afraid of being charged

with witchcraft. Furthermore, Mary Warren was a young girl evidently stricken with terror and

inner conflict. Initially in this play, her character is perceived as a quiet and shy person, with her

initial intentions to do good and justice, as an “official of the court.” She does kind deeds in the

play, such as when she made Elizabeth Proctor a doll, during the court proceedings. As the plot

thickens, Mary is shown as naïve and easily swayed by Abigail. She ends up getting caught up in

all the commotion and pandemonium of the town. She goes along with all the girls of the town

and lays blame on innocent people of witchery. She amazes herself with the power she can hold

when she points a finger towards the accused. Inside she knows that her actions are wrong and

cruel but she is too weak to be her own person. This guilt manifests itself in a physical way, as

Mary has no other release, “My insides are all shuddery, I am in the proceedings all day sir.”

Mary decides to speak out against Abigail and the others for their false accusations and said that

she " tried to kill me many times". Yet as she does this heroic act, Abigail pretends that Mary is

also a witch using the doll (that Mary gave to Elizabeth,) against her. Mary is now faced with yet

another grueling internal conflict: to do what she knows is right and probably die for it, or to

return to her old ways. Mary succumbs to Abigail’s "hypnosis " and accuses John Proctor of

forcing her to lie. The alliance of Mary with the girls, leads to Mary accusing Proctor of being a

witch. This is primarily because when questioned, Mary Warren’s character is one of a deer

caught in the headlights, and she must find someone else to blame, to ensure her escape. This is

also a subconscious retaliation to the abuse from John in previous acts “Pay, pray, hurt me not

Mr Proctor.” John is abusive toward Mary, in a way that lets him take his anger for Abigail

Williams out on Mary. She has no idea that this rage, revenge and alliance with the girls, will

condemn Proctor, and send him to his death in the gallows.

In conclusion, Arthur Miller’s play was one that was based on several pivotal characters,

such as those of Mary Warren, John Proctor, and Reverend Hale. All of these characters, as I

have previously stated, had their own inner moral conflict. Mary’s was the decision to ally with

Proctor or the girls, with which in the end, she chose the girls, and sent Proctor to his death. John

Proctor’s conflict was to either confess to charges that he wasn’t guilty of, or to die, as a martyr,

but with his good name. Hale’s conflict was in watching Danforth hang those that he knew were

innocent of witchery, and not being powerful enough to stop it. Not only were these characters

pivotal in their individual roles, but together, their lives are intertwined, so conspiring to the final

outcome of the play. John Proctor and Mary Warren trigger each other off. Proctor takes out his

anger after fights with Elizabeth, on Mary. The outcome of these attacks, manifest themselves

both emotionally(in Mary’s pent up frustration at being a good Christian girl,) and

physically(When Mary cannot attend court for a while, due to her ‘sickness’.) Proctor’s physical

and emotional treatment of women in general, but especially Mary, terrifies her into submission.

This, coupled with the menacing prospect of punishment from Abigail, is the reason that Mary

cracks, and accuses John as a witch. Reverend Hale and Proctor also affect each other greatly.

The ludicrous accusations and finally the arrest of John Proctor, are key factors in changing

Hale’s opinions of the Salem witch trials and question the sincerity and power of Judge

Danforth. John’s ever growing respect for Hale, due to the fact that he knows they are both

fighting the same battle, causes him to almost be swayed by Hale’s and Elizabeth’s pleas for his

life, instead of his name. It takes him to the point of almost confessing to Danforth. Only when

John must put his sins in writing, to be hung on the church door, does he tear up his confession,

choosing religious piety and his name, over his weighty life. Mary Warren and Hale don’t really

cross paths significantly in the play, but one’s actions affect the other. Hale’s initial

persistence in finding out the cause of the girls’ illnesses in Salem causes Tituba to confess, to

save her life. This has a knock on affect, and soon all of the girls are crying witch about many of

the women in the town. This turns into a hysterical witch-hunt, in which the girls must lie to

cover up previous lies. Because of the magnitude of the previous lies, the girls would do

anything to keep their personal lives a secret, and so Mary would not have felt the need to

condemn John to witchery to save herself. The actions of Mary Warren, causing John Proctor to

hang, affect Hale’s life dramatically, making him question all that he has held dear (himself, the

fairness of the judicial system and his religion.) This was probably the most dramatic point in

Hale’s life, and he soul searches himself to the point of leaving Salem promptly after Proctor’s

hanging. So, this shows that all of these pivotal characters had a good deal of influence in the

way the play turned out individually, but more importantly, their individual actions

affected the others’ actions, both creating and enhancing the obvious moral conflicts in The


Miller, Arthur- The Crucible

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