In The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, the madness of the Salem witch trials is explored in great detail. Arthur Miller was an American playwright, who was born in 1915. He grew up in a Jewish family in New York City. While attending the University of Michigan in the mid 1930s, he began to characterize himself as a distinguished writer. His first plays were Honors at Dawn and No Villain. The Death of a Salesman, which he wrote in 1949, won him the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
Another important work Miller wrote, The Crucible, takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, during the 17th century. It is a time when jealousy and suspicion poisoned the thinking of an entire town. Neighbor turned against neighbor when events happened that could not be explained. Accusations turned into a mad hunt for witches who did not exist. One of the main characters of the play is John Proctor, a well-respected man with a good name in the town. As the play develops, John Proctors moral dilemma becomes evident: he must decide whether to lie and confess to witchcraft in order to save his life, or to die an honest man, true to his beliefs.
John Proctor faces many decisions in response to his moral dilemma to try to save his life. One of the difficult decisions John makes is to reveal that he had an affair with Abigail Williams and thereby has committed adultery. If the local court convicts him of this crime, he faces being jailed. Also by admitting this crime, John reveals a weakness in his character. This flaw in his personality will make it harder for him to stand up in the community as an honorable and believable person. In trying to convince others that witchcraft does not exist Johns dishonesty with his wife will make him less convincing to the community.
To further complicate matters, John decides not to reveal to the court that Abigail has admitted to him in private that they were just sporting in the woods. Abigail spreads additional accusations and false rumors about her neighbors. These accusations have no basis in truth and their only purpose is for Abigails own benefit. Furthermore, Abigail is jealous of Johns wife, Elizabeth, and she schemes to get rid of her in order to take her place. Abigails plot is to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft.
Abigails false accusation regarding his wife makes John so angry that in a fit of frustration he publicly shouts some atheist remarks. These remarks are the basis of why the community accuses John of witchcraft. Since witchcraft is a crime punishable by death, John decides to give the supreme court a false confession to save his life. By confessing to be a witch, the court will allow John to live; however his standing and reputation in the community is ruined. The court allows some redemption in his confession and Johns life will be spared. The judge asks John for his written confession. John signs the confession but reconsiders the dilemma and refuses to hand it over. He does this because he does not wish for his name to go bad and to loose his good reputation in the town, nor his name posted on the doors of the church. He then rips up the false confession and must be hung for this decision.
John must decide whether to die an honest man, true to himself or to give in and confess to witchcraft in order to save his life. In this play John admits to the court that he committed adultery. This puts him in a weakened position. He furthermore is faced with the false accusations directed at his wife and himself. The fact that John did not tell the court what Abigail admitted to him in private, that they were just sportin in the woods allowed the accusations to get out of hand. Making the right decisions and sticking to ones true beliefs are challenges we face throughout life. There is always the pressure to give in and take the easy way out. John almost falls into this trap, but we see that he rises to the occasion and overcomes the social injustice of the times. Are these injustices something that still challenge us in our own lives today?