Explore the dramatic significance of Act 2 in ‘The Crucible.’ What might Arthur Miller have been suggesting to the original audience about society at that time?
At the end of the previous act several younger members of their puritan community had been caught dancing in the forest, instead of admitting their guilt they accused several older woman of being in league with the devil. These women had been arrested and were placed in court and then in prison for offences that they had not committed. Abigail was the main accuser and she has command over the other girls. She is a very charismatic leader and she can get the girls to do what she wants. The whole plot revolves around her and her affair with John Proctor.
Act 2 is set in the farmhouse in which John Proctor lives with his wife Elizabeth. When he walks in she is still upstairs and he tastes the food that she has cooked for him. When she walks downstairs he starts talking to her, but he isn’t how you would expect him to act, he is polite and refuses to do anything wrong because he is still trying to regain her trust. She is still untrusting to him still though it has been 7 months since his affair, this is shown when he kisses her because she merely ‘receives it’ they also talk in very short exchanges, thereby creating a very tense atmosphere. They make polite but uncomfortable talk between them until the conversation turns to Mary Warren and the courts in Salem. At this point he releases his temper on Elizabeth-these could be all the feelings that he wants to say but can’t for fear of their marriage.
When Mary Warren enters she brings Elizabeth a poppet that she had made in court, this is foreshadowing later events, and she brings the news of the courts he loses his temper again and when she says she will go back to the courts he threatens her with his whip. She stands her ground though and says she is an official of the court now. He becomes angrier until Mary tells him that Elizabeth has been mentioned but pardoned for the moment. At this point their roles seem reversed; Mary’s knowledge of the courts seems to give her power over them. Mary then goes up to bed. Then Mr. Hale enters, he could have been listening at the door to their conversation.
He tells them that Elizabeth has been mentioned in the court. He asks them some questions about their Christian life. Then in a rush Giles and Francis enter and say that their wives have been taken, they explain the reasons, several from old grudges. Then Cheever enters, and tells the Proctors and their visitors that there is a warrant for her arrest. The poppet is important even when Mary admits that it is her poppet. Elizabeth is taken away and they leave Proctor and Mary in the house. Mary breaks down into tears sobbing ‘I can’t, I can’t’ and Proctor faces the truth that his wife has been arrested because of his affair with Abigail.
The Puritan belief was so strong for these people that they had moved from the UK to America in search of life that meant they weren’t being persecuted by other less religious people. They had set up their own community in America where they could live by their own rules. The adults never thought that their children would mind being brought up without an interesting life where they can play sing or dance. The younger generation don’t believe in it as much because they were dancing in the forest, and they don’t mind ruining where they were brought up because else they wouldn’t have accused the community of being in league with the devil.
The character John Proctor is fascinating because he is unpredictable and his temper can flair up at anytime. At the beginning his conversations with Elizabeth are broken and uncommunicative. This creates the impression to the audience that they are not very comfortable in each others company. This is a low point of tension, the tension in Act 2 rises and falls depending on what people are in his household.
As soon as Proctor enters the household the audience can tell he is an interesting character. The way he seasons his food and then calmly compliments her on it is a good example of dramatic irony. This suggests that John likes to be in control without people realising that he is. Also he serenely suggests that she should bring some flowers in, again he is taking control without her realising it. Dramatic irony is effective because it shows the audience what he knows but not what the other characters know.
The storyline has high points and low ones. When they are alone together there is a low point though the air is strained as though it might break through sheer nervousness. Then when they get into a slightly heated argument about her and Mary Warren the tension rises a little. It grows more when Mary Warren returns from the falls when she goes to bed. When Hale comes in the atmosphere is very tense because they don’t know how much of the conversation is heard. The tension rises throughout the rest of the act. Tension is a very effective dramatic technique because it gives the audience a different tone and an effective turn to the play. It keeps the audiences interested because it is not simple; the audience have to keep watching because they might lose something from the plot. I think that Arthur Miller uses this technique because it captures your attention and draws your curiosity to the pressure he is under and it makes the characters seem more authentic.
Living in 1692 was like living in a strong dictatorship because they could get arrested for an old grudge. The character Cheever is a little like Joseph McCarthy because he goes around arresting people without any evidence. All he has is one word against another. In other ways he is less similar because he doesn’t accuse everyone, he is just following orders.
When this play was performed in the 1950’s Arthur Miller wanted it to show America that the situation in Salem mirrored what was going on with Joseph McCarthy. He himself had been victimized because he had attended a communist meeting. People in America at that time were very scared of communists because of the Cold War with Russia, they lived in fear that the communists would take over America’s democratic society. For this reason Joseph McCarthy decided to threaten or persecute the suspected communists, and Arthur Miller was one of them.
Act one and act 2 are different and contrasting because at the end of act 1 all the tension has built up and it ends at quite a crucial moment. Then when act 2 starts it is all calm and quiet again. This, juxtaposition, is used effectively because Arthur Miller keeps the audience guessing about what is going to happen about the accusations, it holds interest and makes the audience think about what is going to happen.
Near the end of Act 2 the action is speeded up by the short argumentative exchanges between Hale and John Proctor. Hale starts to talk but Proctor cuts him off, this is successful as a dramatic effect because it demonstrates the anger in him and his protection for his wife, and informs the spectators of what their relationship is like. Their relationship is unclear because of his affair with Abigail. But during act 2 the exactness of their relationship is publicized.
At the end of Act 2 John Proctor speaks in soliloquy to the audience. This is used dramatically because the audience can see how he feels. It is effective because he has broken down, and he tells exactly how he feels because in the play he isn’t talking to anyone, and no-one is near him except for Mary who is still sobbing over what she has to do.
The correlation between the 1950’s and the 1690’s is strong. This play would never have been written of the times were unfamiliar to Arthur Miller, he would never have needed to suggest that the modern times were comparable to the long ago Salem Witch trials, if Joseph McCarthy has not been so opposed to communist. Perhaps Arthur Miller thought that the 1950’s America was going backwards in development of free thought. I think that Arthur Miller’s idea to write this play during this time was a talented way to get his point across to all of America and show that Joseph McCarthy was wrong to accuse people without evidence- like they did in 1690’s Salem.