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How does Act 1 establish the mood, themes and characters of the play?

‘The Crucible’ was written in 1953 by Arther Miller during the McCarthy political ‘witch-hunt’ in America. The House Un-American Activities Committee was organised in America in 1938. It was lead by Senator Joseph McCarthy and they had the authority to investigate anyone or anything that was appearing to be threatening the safety of the state.

Those who were accused of tampering with witch-craft or anything supernatural were instantly given the name of a witch and had ether a choice of that to there name if they confessed and lived, or they could refuse they ever interfered with the devil or other such things and lose their life for it as they would have no proof for themselves, no matter how innocent they were. As Miller himself was summoned to appear before the committee for witch-craft, he has fully understood the emotions and the positions the accused are put upon.

As I researched into this subject, I have begun to notice how ‘The Crucible’ associates with McCarthyism and how far vengeance can lead. The play is set in 1692, a time were superstition was dominating. It is about a group of girls who have the power to end an innocent life by putting fear upon their name in a small town called Salem. I noticed that Miller has chosen to give a detailed explanation of each of the main characters.

This is different to most scripts, mainly due to the fact that this has a vast historical background, and the way the characters are constantly described reminds the audience that this is based on a true story. Tension and anxiety is very controlling in this first act, but also it is interesting the way the audience is enlightened about the bad deeds and happenings of each character with clues. It’s also impressive how these things have all been done in the past of the play, so they are only talked about by the characters.

This way there are no predictions as to what will happen next in later acts. For example, when Abigail tries to seduce Proctor for what seems to be not the first time. This immediately lets out that they have had an affair, but also that it is strongly over now for Proctor, ‘I will cut off my hand before I ever reach for you again. ‘ This also reveals more how Abigail would want to put a curse on his wife. I noticed within the first few lines of the script Parris’s weak and self-centred personality in his character.

This is shown were Betty will not wake up and the only thoughts he reveals are the thoughts of himself and his own reputation, ‘But if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it. ‘ He should be played by a little man to show that even though he feels he can have supremacy, he can still be over powered, even by a young girl such as Abigail. Abigail is described as ‘Strikingly beautiful’ with an ‘endless capacity for dissembling. ‘ This could be a reason why she can get away with a lot of things.

Like most of the girls in this iniquity circle in Salem, she is an orphan. Her childhood has been strict as her step-uncle (Parris) had no interest in children and expected them to ‘keep their mouths shut until bidden to speak’ Although Abigail seems to have slight power over him as she can stand up to him and refuse to be a slave, ‘I will not black my face for any of them! ‘ However, my stage directions for her would be to raise her voice to Parris when she feels she has a right to, but then quickly show she still has respect for him by looking at the floor and being quiet again.

Abigail takes precedence of the Band in Salem. All the girls look up to her and follow her every actions. Abi knows she has this power as she can threaten them to be quiet or she will harm them with a ‘pointy reckoning. ‘ It is like she wants the girls to think she really is a witch so they will fear her because fear is what is giving her the dominance over them. This is portrayed through the end of act one and the rest of the play. In this act, her only weakness is Betty.

Betty, as the audience is aware of, is not in reality in a ‘trance’ she is merely pretending. She is scared of the questions that are arising in Salem because she knows too much about Abi drinking blood, putting a curse on Elizabeth and committing adultery with John Proctor. This is also creating a nervous suspense to the audience and to Abi as she could reveal all at any point. Nevertheless, it is Betty who has begun this mass hysteria of witch-craft because of her ‘unusual’ behaviour.

Although Tituba, Parris’ slave from Barbados, has helped Abi to do the curse and done as she asked her to do, Abi has still continued to gain more control by getting her accused also. It seems to me that the only witch in the play is Abigail, purely because of her power of overbearing people and her unnoticed guilt. It is good that Miller has chosen to write is play in modern language, instead of the language that was spoken in 1692. This helps me to understand the themes and issues more and gives me more of a chance to build up on the apprehension throughout the whole play.

The key theme in this act is paranoia, I noticed that nothing was said in the act by someone to calm another, but only to accuse, threaten and make conflict. This is what is making the play so unpredictable and keeping the audience’s full attention. I think Miller has used themes to illustrate his own views and opinions in Salem at the time. It is obvious that he has meant for the characters in the play to reflect on our own society today. That people will point the finger at others to save themselves or to get easy revenge.

The of the most important lines of act 1, I feel, is given by Rebecca Nurse, ‘I am twenty-six times a grandma, and I have seen them all through their silly seasons’ ‘I think she’ll wake when she tires of it’ She is basically saying here that she knows the youth of a child very well and if only everyone had listened to her words, then maybe the deaths of many of the population would not have happened. Miller has cleverly shown the ignorance of each character in the play, that they are so sure of themselves that they would do anything to prove they are right… even if they are not!

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