Review: "The Crucible," by Arthur Miller
The last time I read this play was probably about 40 years ago. I have also seen it in production at least twice. I had the opportunity to re-read it recently as part of a tutorial program that I am conducting for an 11th grader in person. We took our time and literally devoured this book in slow, munchy bites where we could not go a page without having an engaged discussion. An intelligent 16 year old can certainly bring a wealth of thought to a play of this ilk. Anyone familiar will remember the well-worn and acknowledged connection to the McCarthy hearings and the Communist scare of the 1950's. Honestly, that sells this marvelous production very, very short. It is so much more than that. To give fair allegiance, it is easy and purposeful to make those ties to the era and times from which it sprung, but the human foibles and fears that we all carry are so ingrained in the fabric of the characters that it is too light a reading to leave it on the doorstep of dogmatic beliefs gone bad. Themes of love, betrayal, mistrust, jealousy, goodness, spiritual certainty, conscience, desire, blind ambition and even blinder adherence to the mores of the day run through this play on each and every page. I believe to see the play, or to read it straight through (it is very quick and very short) is almost to brief of a visit to Salem. Whether the true human beings who were caught up in this affair, both the accused and the accusers, were really like the characters in the play, is certainly lost to history and in the burial grounds surrounding Salem. Their names, their purported "crimes", their punishments, and their familial relationships may be known to us, but their hearts and minds can only be guessed at. Miller enriches these individuals and despite the fast-moving pace of the play, we feel these people. I cry for John Proctor and feel both his anguish, his black future and the predicament he is in. If, and fact tells us that perhaps he was not as pure of heart and the play leads us to believe, in truth he was anything like the Proctor in the play, then I would have like to have him as a friend.
Read the Introduction by Christopher Bigsby in the Penguin Classics addition which contains a wealth of background information as well as an insightful and interpretive discussion of the play. At 18 pages it is one of the best introductions that I have ever read. If you think you know this story, and of course you do, give it another go. And then think about it. You won't be disappointed. Truly.