The play centers around John Proctor, a farmer hiding a past affair with a girl several years his Junior; Abigail Williams, a seventeen-year-old girl who is both John Proctor’s mistake and the catalyst for the tragic events that unfold in Salem, taking the lives of many women and men falsely accused of being witches; and Elizabeth Proctor, the fife of John Proctor who is the victim of betrayal by her husband and one of the many innocents who are falsely accused and imprisoned.
Although each character has their accountabilities, Arthur Miller portrays Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor with multiple faults and shortcomings, while making John Proctor into a Christian-hero, underplaying his flaws and mistakes. While John is the protagonist of the play and therefore expected to be somewhat righteous, he is still Just as human as any other character. This can also be said for both Elizabeth and Abigail, whose harassers are seriously minimalists to the point of being one-dimensional.
Elizabeth is shown as being unforgiving and taciturn, with Miller hardly accounting for her attempts to save John. Abigail is reduced to nothing more than an emotional, accusing, and manipulative antagonist, her past with John Proctor underemphasized and her reasons behind her actions unexplained. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller misleadingly portrays the characters in a highly gender-biased and incorrect way.
John Proctor is, in fact, not as heroic as the play suggests, and, although Abigail actions are not excused, only explained, by her past, both she and Elizabeth are not as terrible as Miller seems to depict. Although Miller portrays John Proctor as a faultless, Christian hero, he is as human and flawed as any other character in the play. Proctor’s mistakes and negative personality traits are what eventually lead to his downfall. Before the play even begins, John has had an affair with seventeen- year-old Abigail Williams.
He has committed one of the most heinous crimes in the eyes of society, but the critics seem to overlook what Abigail cannot: “John Proctor took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! (Miller 24). As stated by Wendy Chisel: They [the critics], like Miller, underplay so as not openly to condone the ‘natural’ behavior of a man tempted to adultery because of a young woman’s beauty and precociousness, her proximity in a house where there is also an apparently frigid wife, and the repression of Puritan society and religion (Chisel 2).
This lechery is further shown when, during the course of the play, it is shown that John still has feelings for Abigail, despite claiming that this is not the case. These feelings lead to other mistakes such as not telling the courts the truth about Abigail sees, both for the sake of protecting her and protecting his reputation. Proctor’s pride is another major flaw that is downplayed by Miller. In the end of the play, Proctor gives up his life instead of admitting to following the Devil.
Some may take this as a show of bravery, but it simply boils down to Proctor being unable to let go of his pride, both forfeiting his life, and ultimately the lives of his children who are left as By Liechtenstein however, she is in fact quite the opposite, and her being portrayed as such shows Arthur Miller’s rather chauvinist beliefs and bias towards the heroism of John Proctor. From the moment Elizabeth is introduced in the play, Miller forces her into the position of an antagonist while she is in fact the victim of Proctor’s failure at being a good husband.
Near the opening of Act II, she is briefly shown as caring, warm person, singing to her children and bringing John his supper of rabbit stew which, she mentions, “it hurt my heart to strip” (Miller 50). Joseph Valence points this out saying,” It is correspondingly important that the sainted figure, Elizabeth, takes particular care with the meal she prepares her husband, and frets earnestly over the ingle item she forgets to serve (Valence 9). This is quickly overlooked by a series of remarks and observations by Proctor that leave Elizabeth looking as if she is uncaring and cold.
Closer to the end of the play is when Miller truly begins downplaying Elizabethan virtues. First, while John has lied many times throughout the play, the single lie that Elizabeth tells, saying that her husband is not a lecher in an attempt to save his life, is seen as a betrayal in the critic’s eyes. “Like Proctor, The Crucible ‘[roars] down’ Elizabeth, making her concede a fault which is not hers but of Miller’s asking: ‘It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery,’ she admits in her final meeting with her husband” (Chisel 1).
Miller has Elizabeth say this, despite many examples of her being a sincere person, such as worrying about her children and John Proctor. Abigail Williams may have no excuse for her actions that cause the deaths of many people, however, Miller fails to emphasize the reasons behind her actions, and makes her come across as more atrocious than she truly is: The differences among Miller’s women and the individual complications of each one amount to little more than a movement across such demeaning/demising typologies.
Seeking to relieve the iniquity of Abigail character and lend her greater psychological depth, Miller added the poignant farewell scene with Proctor in the wood. But instead of deepening or diversifying her personality, the playwright simply presents her under the aspect of a new stereotype, the madwoman (Valence 6). Abigail may have been unstable, but John Proctor is partly to blame for her unreasonable behavior. To the Puritans, sex was a promise of marriage, and Abigail reasoning was not completely wrong.
Some may also blame Abigail for the affair, but as Chisel says: No critic has asked, though, how seventeen-year-old girl, raised in the household of a Puritan minister, can have the knowledge of how to seduce a man. (The only rationale offered scapegoats another woman, Tuba, complicating xenophobia with xenophobia. ) The omission on Miller’s and his critics’ parts implies that Abigail sexual knowledge must be inherent in her gender.
I see the condemnation of Abigail as an all too common example of blaming the victim (Chisel 3). Ask Alter also says something along these lines, “But the turbulent contraries of sexual desire–the life force itself, if you will– hat Miller finally names as the ultimate source of feminine blessedness and female endowment must be subjugated to the orderliness and predictability of the everyday’ (Alter 1).
In conclusion, Arthur Miller seriously misrepresents the characters of The Crucible. John Proctor is far from the heroic Christian he is shown to be. He is angry, hypocritical and self-centered. Elizabeth Proctor is a good mother and a good wife, hearted. Finally, Abigail is not as awful and heinous as she seems to be. Arthur Miller is sexist and biased, and the critics don’t seem to see this.