Arthur Miller’s narrative, The Crucible, delineates the infamous Salem Witch Trials which were predominately acknowledged for their adversities and influential surges of hysteria that issued from fallacious allegations, and the citizens’ credulity towards delusive myths. Over the course of this expressive narrative, Miller conveys perceptions of women through the play’s principal female characters Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Proctor, and Mary Warren. Remarkably, he maneuvers a way of painting each one of his female characters and categorizing them so that they each symbolize a cliché of how women are viewed on a universal level. It is crucial to note how Miller exposes two of the women in his play, Elizabeth and Mary, as inheriting the traditional role of women in society, whereas Abigail’s character is illustrated as one that diverges from the conventional role that Salem has preordained for women. Namely, Abigail Williams is characterized as a woman who exploits the power she possesses by emphasizing it towards avenging and deceiving those around her. Her reputation is of immodesty and cruelty due to her disparaging characteristics and behavior, which are highlighted when she gains joy from the paranoia and confusion that has conquered her town subsequent to her devilish and impulsive activities. Elizabeth Proctor is depicted as the stereotypical philanthropic female who has strong morals, is faithful to her husband, and has self-criticizing moments. Her altruistic nature and pious character exhibit her intentions as pure and truthful; a truthfulness which clashes with Abigail William’s deceitfulness. Mary Warren is introduced as a submissive, cowardly servant whose powerlessness is transparent because she seems to be overpowered by everyone else around her. Her ambiguous personality drives her to initially comply with Abigail’s affirmation of witchcraft, and then near the termination of the book, alter her agreement with Abigail, and unite with John Proctor to unveil Abigail’s fabrications. Notably, the representation of women in literature is tackled in a variety of academic articles. Two of the articles which go into a descriptive examination of women’s position in society include “Femme Fatale at the Turn of the 20th Century” by Dr. Ruth Markus, and “The Crucible in Light of Women’s Historical Experience” by David Booth. Both of these showcase commentary on the image of women and their part in society. Essentially, women are perceived according to a wide array of archetypes that have been set forth by society.
In The Crucible, Miller presents his readers with the notion of women possessing positive and negative power. Abigail, for instance, has a great deal of power which is plenty to vanquish her whole town and use it to manipulate people and situations to placate her longing for vengeance. Her abuse of power paints women having power as treacherous and unreliable. When threatened by Mary, Betty, and Mercy about exposing her genuine objectives towards John Proctor’s wife, she menacingly assures, “Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you,” (Miller, 19). Evidently, Abigail utilizes the authority she has over others for manipulation and deception. From this, she obtains the apprehension of others which ascends her power and fuels her thirst for revenge against those who’ve taken what she desires. It is also key to establish that her atypical character becomes so consumed with power over Salem that she can instigate and accuse innocent subjects of black magic regardless of their morality or status. This power she uses to ravage her town with lies, name helpless citizens as scapegoats, and influence the absence of all common sense. Abigail’s reign over her town can be contrasted with Elizabeth Proctor’s influence which is significantly positive. Being a dedicated wife, Elizabeth is circumspect about publicly conveying her husband’s unethical and promiscuous behavior with the despicable Abigail Williams. Although her silence deems her defenseless, her actual power derives from her candid and unwavering devotion to preserve her husband’s good name. To do this, she inculpates herself and tells Proctor, “John, it come to naught that I should forgive you, if you’ll not forgive yourself. It is not my soul, John, it is yours…I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery” (Miller, 126). Here, Elizabeth is burdened with blaming herself of being indifferent and causing her husband to seek refuge in another woman. She represents an emblem of a woman who is willing to sacrifice her contentment for the sake of protecting her marriage and reputation. Typically, it is her tendency to ratify her faults in the sins her husband commits. Thus, she unveils a behavior which is comparable to that of women in the past and present because some women are too selfless and consequently this leads them to believe that they’re the reason why their husbands are misbehaving and engaging in dishonorable deeds. Elizabeth’s softhearted and sympathetic character is a weakness which allows her to forgive Proctor for his act of lechery and refrain herself from staining his honorable name. Next, through Mary Warren, Miller emphasizes the conditions of servant women during this period. She is symbolic of impotent slave girls who did not think for themselves and were pressured to engage in unlawful proceedings. She is subjugated not only by her mistresses, but by the men around her. This is prominent because it exposes how it is innate for women to be regarded as inferior in comparison to their superior male peers. During the trials, Mary is queried about her previous statements in which she claimed she witnessed an act of witchcraft, and she informs judge Danforth, “I—I heard the other girls screaming, and you, Your Honor, you seemed to believe them, and I—it were only sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirits, and I—I promise you, Mr. Danforth, I only thought I saw them but I did not” (Miller, 100). This piece of text emphasizes Mary’s proneness to jump in on what everyone else is doing instead of making her own decisions and controlling her own life. She is portrayed as a minion who is unable to speak for herself and challenge Abigail, who is the culprit of spreading erroneous statements about unimpeachable members of her community. Undoubtedly, these three female characters were crucial in bringing out the divergent characteristics, behavior, and aptness of power that women possess. Arthur Miller’s usage of women in his play is tactful in that it conveys women either hold negative power, positive power, or no power, and ultimately negative power defeats positive because of the enormous influence that it exerts.
David Booth’s article, “The Crucible in Light of Women’s Historical Experience”, communicates the role of women in Arthur Miller’s tragic play. He asserts that The Crucible is “organized by lines of force that partially overlap the conditions of women’s experience: exclusion from public discourse, subjection to authority, and fear of sexual temptation.” Although he states that this piece encapsulates the occurrences that women stereotypically face, he then incorporates the notion that in The Crucible, John Proctor is the one who confronts these constraints. These confrontations are brought upon him by the contemptible Abigail Williams who, with her “self-serving motives” and “self-delusion”, manages to entangle Proctor and have him under her grasp. Accordingly, Booth explicates that Abigail’s lust serves as a threat to Proctor because “she tempts him to sinning adultery in the first place; her continued pressing invitation tempts him abdicate his responsible position as husband and father; and her ultimate cry of witchcraft, bursting vengefully from frustrated desire, hands him over to the machinery of the court,” (Booth, 41). This accentuates Abigail’s strive for retaliation after being reproached for lustfulness, which she resolves by accusing numerous individuals of utilizing sorcery to torment their town and vulnerable targets within it. Her private agenda for John and Elizabeth Proctor highlight her vindictive and disingenuous personality which serves as a contender towards those who restrain her from securing what she covets. Furthermore, Elizabeth’s passionless reservation has, on her own issuance, provoked her husband’s sinning. Booth mentions that Elizabeth’s “trust in him at last empowers him to take hold triumphantly of his own integrity when the court seeks to bolster its legitimacy at the cost of Proctor’s good name” (Booth, 42). Characteristically, towards the end, Elizabeth demonstrates incessant support for Proctor, regardless of his unvirtuous actions, and this acts as a force that drives him towards righteousness and prompts him to sacrifice his “name” for the sake of being truthful and unmasking Abigail and her mind games. To stress the weight of Elizabeth and Abigail’s power on Proctor’s uprightness, Booth announces, “His trial of character, like his actual trial for witchcraft, is set in motion by Abby’s sexual desire, its frustration, and its consequences. And Proctor, in turn, is made vulnerable to Abby’s heat by Elizabeth’s coldness” (Booth, 42). To put it differently, his doom is preset by both Abigail and Elizabeth. If Elizabeth had been more passionate towards Proctor from the beginning, he wouldn’t have been elicited to cheat on her with Abigail. If Abigail had suppressed her promiscuity and intense need for Proctor, he wouldn’t have betrayed his wife or tarnished his respectable name.
Dr. Ruth Markus’ “Femme Fatale at the Turn of the 20th Century”, addresses the concept of archetypal women. She introduces the femme fatale, which she explicitly describes as the stereotypical woman “who both threatens and attracts the man, beaut