Exploration of Social Injustice in Arthur Miller's The Crucible

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Exploration of Social Injustice in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

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Salem, Massachusetts 1692, faced a bizarre incident where number of girls begin to display strange behaviors of uncontrollable fits and even curling up their bodies into weird positions and this rose a lot of suspicion in Salem. Under pressure to explain their peculiar behavior, fearing to be called witches, the girls blamed three women for afflicting them and this began the famous Salem witch hunt and trials and Miller uses this as a development in his play, The Crucible.

The social injustice during 1692 was caused by a horrible incident of foul gossip which cost the lives of twenty people and more than two hundred people being accused of witchcraft before common sense prevailed years after the tragic deaths. The accusations made by the individuals of Salem which were based on spectral evidence and “the absurd claims of affliction by supernatural forces,” easily led to injustice. Injustice begins to prevail as the authorities allowed an array of hearsay evidence, foul gossip and even spectral evidence to build up a case for verdict. These kind of evidence presented in a court such as Salem, would be dismissed without even a second thought in a court of today. The evidence presented in court only led to more executions and nothing could be done to stop them. The miscarriage of justice of the Salem trials inspired Arthur Miller to use the issue of social injustice in The Crucible as he focuses on the unjust justice portrayed in Salem 1692.

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In The Crucible, Miller presents a societal issue which is injustice, as many individuals were accused of a crime they did not commit. It can be pointed out that there are various different approaches to be considered when looking at the social injustice in The Crucible. This essay will focus on the of social injustice in the play as Arthur Miller presents it as a key aspect in the development of his play hence the research question, “How does Arthur Miller explore social injustice in his play, The Crucible?”. This research question is worthy of investigation as this essay will offer a different approach to social injustice to existing ones as the pre-existing do not explore social injustice to a greater degree. To achieve this, different approaches will be considered as Miller explores social injustice through the justice system, characterization and his choice of language and style.

The justice system Miller manages to explore social injustice through the presentation of the justice system in The Crucible. Pre-existing interpretations of the justice system have been interpreted by various literary scholars such as Sammi D. According to him, he states that “fear warped the justice system in Salem, so justice was corrupted” hence the emergence of social injustice. In the play, the individuals of Salem developed a system where the Church and state were treated as one. This justice system held strong beliefs and used the same laws of the church and state to judge. Its “function was to keep the community together and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction.” When the rumors of witchcraft surfaced Salem, the individuals found it necessary to involve the state to pass on judgment. It can be pointed out that, Deputy Governor Danforth and Judge Hathorne were both officiates of the court hearings and the community saw it as a right for them to pass across verdicts for the ‘law’ of God was used to pass across judgment. A factor to consider is that the dominant ideology that this justice system held is that any attempt or suspicion to threaten or question the state was considered to be an attempt to overthrow the court and since it was one with the church, it was also considered as an attempt to overthrow God. This is seen in act three when Deputy Governor Danforth states that “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between.” This demonstration shows the fear of a man who feels that there is some form of attack upon the court as Reverend Parris states that Francis Nurse protection of witnesses “is a clear attack upon the court.”

The Salem court fuelled by such beliefs often falls into injustice. This is seen when an unfair judgement is passed across to Giles Corey as he is held for contempt of the court for refusing to confess the name of the honest person who heard Mr. Putnam tell someone that he prompted his daughter to cry witchery upon Mr. Jacobs. This reluctance by Giles was seen as disrespect to the court and so they found it in all ways necessary to punish him for it by placing “great stones upon his chest until he died.” Miller shows how the unjust justice system and their beliefs cause injustice to prevail in the play. The effect of this injustice is felt in this situation as the systems’ dominant ideology is allowed to change the course of justice. In the same way, Miller shows how their beliefs led to unfair executions. Characterization Miller manages to demonstrate social injustice through his portrayal and development of his characters in the play. Thomas Putnam’s greed caused injustice to prevail in The Crucible.

In Act three, Giles Corey an “83 year old farmer” presents a deposition accusing Mr. Putnam of “killing his neighbors for that land.” With the intention to grab land from George Jacobs, Mr. Putnam prompts his daughter to cry witchery upon him. His greed therefore encourages him to use the heightening hysteria in Salem to his advantage in order to forfeit up land from George Jacobs but at a reduced price. Mr. Putnam’s aim was to grab land because “if Jacobs hangs for witch, he forfeits up his property and that’s the law.” The effect of this led to an unfair judgment passed across on George Jacobs as he could not defend himself or even lie to save himself. This is because the claim made against his name was based on intangible evidence therefore, he did not have the capability to bring up any counter claims and as a result, this led to his hanging.

Another point to consider is that hysteria is seen to change the course of injustice in The Crucible in this situation as Mr. Putnam’s desire for land managed to cost the lives of other individuals. On the other hand, Ann Putnam’s jealousy caused injustice to prevail in The Crucible. Mrs. Putnam faces an inner conflict within herself as she has lost seven of her babies during childbirth. She therefore finds it necessary to have someone or something to blame for the deaths of her children. With such an idea implanted in ones' mind, one would therefore be motivated to look for all means possible in order to have comfort that indeed someone may be the cause of an unfortunate event in their lives. This often leads to injustice, as accusations stated may be false. In The Crucible, Rebecca Nurse and Ann Putnam face conflict between each other as Mrs. Putnam is jealous of Rebecca’s eleven children. Grief pushes Mrs. Putnam to accuse Rebecca “for the marvelous and supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies.” This accusation was purely based on an assumption created by a woman who wanted to have someone to blame for the mysterious deaths of her babies and so found it necessary to fabricate a false accusation. This accusation led to the unfair hanging on Rebecca Nurse and it can be pointed out that the justice system is unjust as Mrs. Putnam did not even present any evidence to the court, yet they seemed to believe her. The effect of this reveals how greatly jealousy can burst into anger and blame.

The social injustice in the play can also be said to be fuelled by hysteria as it plays a role on the logic of Mrs. Putnam as she thinks irrationally with the intention to strike her enemy, Rebecca, out. Tituba’s fear of being identified as a witch caused injustice to prevail in The Crucible, as she mostly targets individuals from the lower class and unknown individuals in Salem. Towards the end of Act one, Tituba accuses Sarah Good, an old and poor woman who sleeps in ditches of being an agent of the devil. She states that “He come one stormy night to me and he say ‘Look! I have white people belong to me.’ And I look and there was Goody Good.” This illustration shows the triumph of Tituba’s audacity to accuse a white woman, as much as Sarah Good is poor. Miller shows how Tituba’s fear made her choose to target a woman who Salem already suspected that “she sometimes made a compact with Lucifer and wrote her name in his black book and bound herself to torment Christians till God is thrown down.” Walking with a reputation like this in Salem only made it easy for Tituba to target Sarah Good for accusation and since she was poor and had no business with the Church, Tituba’s accusation was viewed as believable. Injustice is felt as Tituba’s false confession made her seem less guilty and drove away the attention from the accusation of witchcraft and yet, she was mainly the central beginning of the practice. In the same way, Goody Osburn, another poor homeless woman, also falls victim of the accusations, like Goody Good, she is not a popular individual in Salem and therefore becomes another easy target for Tituba to accuse. When Goody Osburn is questioned in court, she is asked to recite the Ten Commandments as proof that she indeed was religious. Unfortunately, she is unable to recite the commandments and this was seen as proof to the court that she indeed also associates with the devil and thus confirming Tituba’s accusation of Goody Osburn being an agent of the devil. This shows that if one was not well conversant with the Bible, they were easily associated with deviating from God and therefore communing with the devil. The fact that the court used the Bible as a basis to pass across judgment, only leads to unfair judgment/injustice as her failure to recite the commandments made her seem guilty leading to her execution.

According to Sophie Telfer, a literary scholar, she approaches social injustice in the play through the analysis of the characters and mainly looks at Abigail Williams’s power, as she states that “her power could convince anyone that she was right because she was feared.” Abigail Williams’ resentment and vengeance caused injustice to prevail in The Crucible as Proctor states that her “common vengeance writes the law”. Abigail who had worked for the Proctors before, seeks vengeance against Elizabeth for firing her. As a result, Abigail plots a dramatic fall during dinner and screams out that Elizabeth’s familiar spirit had pushed a needle inside her and was trying to kill her. The apparent evidence was the poppet with a needle that was found in Elizabeth’s house. As a result of this, Elizabeth is jailed for a crime she never committed. Tituba on the other hand faces accusation from Abigail as she is seen as an easy target for accusations of witchcraft in the community of Salem. Being a very religious society, they found it hard to accept strangers like Tituba with her own Barbados beliefs. Abigail Williams confesses, “I never called him! Tituba, Tituba. I know not-she spoke Barbados.” The effect of this confession shows how their beliefs overruled their thought process and because of Tituba’s background, she is easily associated with the witchcraft for it made her appear as an easy target for Abigail to accuse since Tituba had her own Barbados beliefs of the supernatural world. Furthermore, the repercussion for witchcrafts is hanging and this illustration is shown from the play when Putnam says “This woman must be hanged!” and out of fear of being hanged Tituba admits “No no, don’t hang Tituba! I tell him I don’t desire to work for him sir.” As a result of this, the effect of this fear strikes Tituba as she falsely accuses Goody Good and Osburn which leads to unfair judgment passed across on both of them. Miller manages to show how the vindictive nature of minor characters such as Walcott caused social injustice to prevail.

In act two, Giles’ wife Martha faces accusation from Walcott. Giles mentions “Y’see he buy a pig of my wife four or five years ago and the pig died soon after. So he comes dancin’ in for his money back. Now he goes to court and claims that from that day to this, he cannot keep a pig alive for more than four weeks because my Martha bewitches them with her books.” This demonstration shows an individual ready to do anything in their favor to settle old scores. Mr. Walcott’s intention is to revenge through a false accusation in order to get his money back and see Martha suffer due to selling him a pig that soon dies after. This unfair accusation meted on Martha Corey questions the justice system as such an accusation can be looked at from an angle of one not taking care of the pig. This is ironic as educated men like Danforth display a lack of common sense as they could not seem to see that there could be many causes leading to the death of an animal because they were so blindly convinced that the source of the death of the pigs could only be because of witchcraft. The effect of their blinded judgment leads to injustice as they allow such an accusation to change their perspective of normal natural deaths to suspicions of witchcraft.

Most characters in The Crucible changed the course of justice mainly due to selfish reasons. However, Miller shows a case where one character tries to prevent the false accusations from continuing to cost the lives of more individuals in Salem. Through this act, we see Proctor as an honest man despite his rebellious acts in Salem. The injustice in Salem facilitates a change in Proctor as he transforms from a man who so much hides his sins in order to save his reputation to a man who now comfortably allows public shame rather than to have his wife’s name attached to slander. This is seen in Act three when he confesses “Oh, Francis, I wish you had some evil in you that you might know me. A man will not cast away his good name. You surely know that.” This reveals his courageous nature however leading to his execution for a crime he did not commit for he only wants to save the innocents who were falsely accused and prevent injustice from prevailing.

Choice of language

In his choice of language, Miller employs irony to satirize the ills in the Salem community of 1600s that are brought about by the social injustice. The irony throughout the play brings to light a situation where the actual situation of the series of confessions is quite different from what should have been expected to happen. Irony stands out from the fact that the children accusing the innocent seem to be having control over who is declared guilty or innocent yet no one seems to notice their true intentions. This is ironical because the children are controlling the mind-sets of educated adults yet they are supposed to be in power and making decisions and not easily swayed by false evidence and accusations. Their power in Salem is felt as proctor declares that “now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom.” Miller presents a case of a stereotypical society in that the children are viewed as innocent as authority figures believe that they are telling the truth because they are only children. The effect of this leads to the authority figures being blinded by the truth and this therefore leads to injustice in the trials.

On the other hand, Miller uses exclamation marks at the end of every Act. This is seen at the end of Act one as it ends with “I saw Goody Booth with the Devil!” In Act two the scene ends with “God’s icy wind, will blow!” Furthermore, Act three ends with “Mr. Hale! Mr. Hale!” and finally, Act four ends with “God forbid I take it from him.” The essence of Miller using the exclamation marks is show how the tension rises and hence the social injustice rises because at the end of every Act, accusation heighten based on false evidence leading to unfair judgment passed across on the innocent. Lastly, Miller’s choice of language of using irony to bring out satire shows the façade in ‘religious’ figures such as Danforth. This is because he uses the Bible’s commandments as a basis to pass across judgment yet he does seem to see that the girls are breaking the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The effect of this shows how the children’s projection of their guilt onto the innocent, plays a major role as unjust justice meted on the accused is perpetrated by judges who are supposedly reputable and were manipulated into depending the fate of the accused based on hysterically falsified driven evidence from children and the lower class individuals such as Tituba to hang and imprison the accused. This just shows how much the authorities in charge depended so much on the children to make the next move.


In conclusion, Miller successfully explores the social injustice in his play, The Crucible as he uses the justice system, characterization and his choice of language, to show how of each of the methods he uses was able to bring out social injustice to light. The development of this essay has taught that the characters in the play managed to change the course of justice as many innocent individuals were judged unfairly. Additionally, this essay managed to show how the true inner self’s of characters in the play caused social injustice to prevail as it seen that many individuals hid their true intentions and used the outburst of hysteria to publicly display who they are. Furthermore, this essay has taught that the justice systems’ dominant ideology fuelled social injustice as they so much thrived to protect the court system instead of the people. Finally, Miller manages to show how his choice of language managed to satirize the ills in the Salem community of 1600s that are brought about by the social injustice in The Crucible.

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