Slide 1: ‘Through the telling and receiving of stories, we become more aware of ourselves and our shared human experiences.’ Through the transmission of stories, we can gain an appreciation and understanding of how society has universally dictated human actions and experiences and thus, may influence our own perceptions and actions within the framework of contemporary society. That is, stories can make us more aware of societal expectations, which we may then internalize. This notion remains enduringly relevant to humans – all of us live within and respond to societies, irrespective of context. We can see this through the societies and literary worlds presented in Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ and Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet letter’.
Slide 2: The human condition has an anomalous nature, where rational thoughts are controlled by societal hierarchy, expectations and fear of the unknown. If one doesn’t comply with the societal expectations, they are placed in alterity and excluded. Composers like Miller and Hawthorne conceptualize human discourse and use symbols in their stories to depict this concept. Society changes the perception that we have of ourselves, which in-turn has influences our individual and collective human experience.
Slides 3: Humans nature has anomalies – we know this. Humans have an eclectic mix of responses and aberrations to events. Primarily, anomalies in human nature stem from the influence of societal expectations and a fear of being perceived as a deviation from the norm. This is reflected in the quote ‘It must come out- my enemies will bring it out.. Abigail do you understand I have enemies,’ which reveals Parris’s nefarious thirst to maintain his reputation – the repetition of ‘enemies’ further iterates his obsession with power, which somewhat takes precedence over Betty’s disposition.
Slide 4: Additionally, the repetition of “My betty, my betty” at the start of act one shows us the behavior of Parris has changed since the start. He is showcasing an anomaly in his behavior which is caused by fear. This highlights the irrepressible power of fear in distorting and rupturing the conventions of the human psyche. This parallels Miller’s life within the McCarthy era, where fear of being accused as a communist saw individuals accuse friends and family to ensure their reputation was maintained and they were not perceived as different
Slide 5: The employment of fear as a means for social control is evident through the lens of Foucault’s panopticon theory. Foucault suggested that someone was always watching – it’s this fear of societal observance that compels people to conform. In ‘The Crucible’, this theory manifests in the two-man patrol that Miller references in prose. It was tasked with monitoring Salem, and, if they found someone derelict of their distorted law, they would be turned over to authorities as a form of ‘justice’. Foucault also saw power as a producer of reality, stating it “produces domains of objects and rituals of truth” (Foucault 1977,194).
Parris parallels Senator McCarthy in that both use fear to bring their political motivations to fruition. McCarthy played on the public’s fear of communism, ‘the reds under the beds’, which stemmed from Eisenhower’s domino theory, in order to further his own political agenda of quelling communism. This echoes Parris, who manipulates people’s fears of the ‘dark and threatening’ forest which ‘stops over them’, along with the fact that “he lost many parishioners to these heathens”, to consolidate power and sympathy for his cause, revealing the timeless nature of fear as a means of social control. Within this opening prose interlude, Miller also provides a vital warning that if an individual digresses from the norm’s society, they will be punished by being placed in alterity in the forest with Lucifer, or, shunned from society.
Abigail’s manipulative and deceptive nature seeks to hold up a mirror to anomalous emotional behaviors in real life, whereby an individual seeks to gain power in society at any cost. Within Act 4, Abigail’s response to the accusations of an affair with Proctor and Danforth’s questioning of the validity of the claim through her imperative tone, “If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back! [DANFORTH seems unsteady],’ shows her challenging the power of Danforth, arguably the most powerful figure within Salem. The stage direction vindicates the power Abigail has over Danforth and the way she has protected her self-interest and successfully manipulated the law to her bidding. This also highlights the power of fear.
Abigail is characterized as the antagonist, which is evident in his deliberate addition, “Abigail turned up later as a prostitute.” This contrasts against Miller’s portrayal of Goody Proctor as virtuous, “Elizabeth Proctor married again after four years”. The omission of the new husband’s name by Miller suggests that John Proctor is still the hero of the play and further reiterates the virtuous nature of Elizabeth. Thus, Miller constructs a dichotomy between malevolent promiscuity and upright chastity. Miller has done this as Elizabeth Proctor is the epitome of the ideal woman in 1950s America whilst Abigail is the polar opposite.
We can further interrogate this with Millers decision to omit the true age of Abigail in a way to normalise the actions of Proctor and to highlight the dichotomy between Abigail and Goody Proctor. Miller also did this to manipulate the human experience of love, as someone as young as 11 should have no concept or idea of what true love is but portraying her as 17. Miller is trying to justify the actions of Proctor and essentially puppeteer the perception of the audience.
Salem was a male dominated society, where the opinions of women were projected through a male gaze. Millers dichotomous introduction of Abigail and Proctor shows this as Abigail is said to be “an orphan with an endless capacity for dissembling” whilst Proctor is portrayed as “He was the kind of man – powerful of body, even tempered and not easily led”. Miller’s portrayal of Abigail as the antagonist has boxed her true identity away further highlighting the lack of power women had. Proctor is set as the hero and what we know is a huge mistake is passed off as a lack of judgement.
In the scarlet letter, Hester’s marriage is in conformity to the societal expectations as reflected in the quotes “Felt no love or feigned any” and Chillingworth admitting he married Hester to kindle a “household fire for his later year” which suggests to the audience that the marriage was loveless and only for the benefit of Chillingworth. This further highlights the notion of male domination in Salem society whilst justifying the actions of Hester. Hawthorne justification of Hester’s actions stems from the ideals of the transcendentalism period as they believed in the power of the human mind to shape and determine experience over that of religion.
Hawthorne, who understands the sins of Hester, still decides to justify it. This is seen is with his use of the “Red rose bush” as a symbol for Hester to portray her as a positive free soul that contrasts with the drab puritans. He suggests that despite her sin, or perhaps because of it, she is a vibrant individual who is repressed by the “black flower” prison and society whom both supposedly hate sin but they seem to thrive on it
It is within human nature to scapegoat to lessen the blame on yourself. Verses from the bible just highlight the history of scapegoating in humans “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of live goat, confess over him the inequities of the children of Israel.” Where the projection of blame of their personal actions onto a goat, people were given the chance to suppress their burden of their actions. Our fear to own up to our mistakes makes us idolize those who do, which is why Proctor is viewed as the hero.
We can see reflected in the crucible where the dramatic irony of the actions of Abigail and her crew are justified through them scapegoating supernatural beings such as witches whom they blamed as the motivators of all the attacks. Whilst we as the audience know it is the doing of the crew, specifically Abigail, this is another example of anomalies in the behaviors of some humans as the faith they have for these supernatural beings is so great that they tend to forget the essence of the human condition and the impact they are having on the human experience
Hester is a polar opposite of this notion and is similar to Proctor as she owns her actions, but Hester takes pride in her sin which is evident by her embroidering the scarlet letter, which transforms it from a badge of shame into a symbol of individuality. This highlights an obvious dichotomy in the actions of Hester and Abigail. Which may be due to the lack of a maternal figure in Abigail’s life as an orphan.
Abigail’s actions are a projection of her upbringing by Parris. Abigail’s lack of empathy has been evident through the play which is a projection of Parris’ lack of empathy as shown by ‘I will lose my ministry, my ministry, and perhaps your cousin’s life,’ where he puts his own agenda ahead of Bettys health. Abigail has internalised this and bids people to death and ruins their reputation simply to forward her own personal agenda. This highlights the influence others have on our human experience
Within the puritan theocracy, the dominant ideology was that the puritans were a chosen group of people that the devil would do anything to destroy. Since religious men were in-charge of the government, it was assumed that all government actions were good or sanctioned by heaven. Governments motivated by these rigid ideological convictions often fall into corruption and tyranny without even realizing it. This is can have a huge impact on the human experience of an individual.
Deputy Governor Danforth believes that he is an emissary of God, and therefore that everything he believes must be true and everything they do must be right. This is reflected in “You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. ” The audience is able to see the impact this ideology has on the human experience as this belief has dire ramifications for the accused.
The effect of ideologies is seen through the scene in which Hester is released from prison, where the narrator describes the town police officials as representing the “whole dismal severity of puritanical code of law” which fused religion with law. In contrast, Hester is described as a woman marked by “natural dignity…force of character…[and] free will.” It is precisely these natural strengths, which the narrator holds in high esteem, that Puritan society suppresses. Which highlights the danger of ideologies on the human experience of individuals and groups.
The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter have impacted on my understanding of myself and also highlighted the impact of society on my personal human experience. Societies continue to use fear to consolidate power and dictate how an individual’s act even though the context for ‘The Crucible’ is within the 1950s and 1600s for ‘The Scarlet Letter’, we see this notion reflected in both, this highlights the timeless nature stories and how they are inherent to our individual and collective human experience.
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