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Module 1: Themes in The Crucible by Miller

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Authority and the individual

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XSIQ
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English - Authority and the individual

Authority and the individual

Authority and the individual is one of Miller's main concerns and is
explored through many characters. He has claimed that much of the impetus
for writing this play came about from wanting to explore what happens when
an 'individual hands his conscience over to the state'. Much of the
conflict in _The Crucible_ is centred around the individual who breaks away
from the 'accepted' authority. As Salem was a theocracy, authority belonged
to the church and its representatives. Hence in _The Crucible_ those
characters related to the church and the law are authority figures.

In his commentary in Act One Miller attributes the witch-hunt and its
ensuing hysteria to the individual breaking with authority. He describes
the witch-hunt as a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among
all classes when the balance began to turn to greater freedom for
individuals.

John Proctor is the most obvious individual in the play and this is seen
immediately from his entrance in Act One. Proctor's adultery is an act of
defiance against the church and the state. This authority demands that he
remain faithful to his wife and as Proctor respects this authority,
feelings of guilt and shame consume him. Other signs of Proctor dissenting
from authority include him ploughing his fields on Sunday, not going to
church, disliking his minister and rejecting religious doctrines. Proctor
comes to question authority, "I LIKE NOT THE SMELL OF THE AUTHORITY", when
he realises there is no place for the individual in it. Although Abigail
Williams repeatedly professes to 'being with God', and doing God's work she
is the one character who most obviously has little respect for authority.
She patronises her uncle, breaks with accepted standards of behaviour
(dancing, having sexual intercourse while unmarried, laughing in church)
and makes demands of those who represent 'justice'. Her actions are the
catalyst for the tragedy that strikes Salem.

Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse also break with authority. Giles interrupts
the court advocating the rights of the individual and is arrested as a
result. Along with Rebecca Nurse, Giles refuses to confess and hand his
'CONSCIENCE OVER TO THE STATE.' They remain loyal to what they believe.

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