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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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If Danforth were to be allowed a little time to think, he might be
able to see how flawed his logic is in this situation. But Abigail
knows better than to give him this chance. Hale has openly
thrown himself on Proctor's side: "I believe him! This girl has
always struck me false!" She moves fast, turning on a
"torment." This time it's not a vague cold wind coming out of
nowhere; it's a yellow bird with sharp claws, and its name is
Mary Warren.

This is too much for poor Mary. Her protector has been
destroyed, and her strength is gone. At last the truth itself
deserts her, because no one will believe it. With her defenses
down all around her, Mary "catches" the affliction herself.
When Proctor tries to help her, "she rushes out of his reach,
screaming in horror":

Don't touch me-don't touch me!... You're the Devil's man!

Proctor is finished, and with him goes the last hope for his wife
and friends. Realizing this, Proctor bursts out with one of the
most despairing speeches in modern drama:

I say-I say-God is dead!... A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the
boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and
yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of
ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you
know in all your black hearts that this be fraud-God damns our
kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together.

This speech comes at the end of a crescendo of excitement, like
a volcano erupting. It's hard to imagine a more perfect
opportunity for the playwright to put his "message" across. To
some, that is exactly what this speech is: the author's thematic
statement. The key phrase here is, "For them that quail to bring
men out of ignorance...." Proctor is blaming himself as well as
the others for this catastrophe. He should have stopped this
madness when he had the chance. Arthur Miller is telling his
audience: Don't be like John Proctor. Come out against
superstition (in this case, McCarthyism) wherever you find it,
and do it now, before it's too late. if you're looking for the
"message" of the play, here it is.

Others see more here than just the author using Proctor as a
mouthpiece. Of course, what Proctor says is important. But isn't
there something familiar about his emotional state when he
makes this speech? Haven't we heard someone sound like this

Look at Tituba's "confession" near the end of Act I:

...Mr. Parris must be kill! Mr. Parris no goodly man, Mr. Parris
mean man and no gentle man, and [the Devil] bid me rise out of
my bed and cut your throat!

Even closer to hand, just moments before there was a similar
outburst from Mary Warren:

Don't touch me-don't touch me!... You're the Devil's man!... I'll
not hang with you! I love God, I love God.... "I'll murder you,"
he says, "if my wife hangs! We must go and overthrow the
court," he says!... He wake me every night, his eyes were like
coals and his fingers claw my neck, and I sign, I sign...

There is even a kind of echo of the rhythm of Mary's speech in
Proctor's "A fire, a fire is burning!" and "we will burn, we will
burn together." We have the same explosion of pent-up fury,
and the same calling down of destruction. Tituba rages at Parris;
Mary attacks Proctor. Proctor, caught in the same trap, turns his
wrath on everyone. He is saying, in effect, "the world is insane.
Blow up the world."

NOTE: This is almost pure "nihilism." The word nihil in Latin
means "nothing." Proctor is calling for annihilation, not just of
himself, but of Danforth, the court, and the entire community.
This interpretation says that there is no simple or easy way to
stop the spread of this kind of madness once it starts. The only
way to save Salem now is to demolish it.

However you look at Proctor's speech, it definitely marks the
conclusion of the main story. The suspense is over. The forces of
madness have triumphed, our hero is destroyed, and the witch-
hunt will continue. It may burn itself out, or go on forever-
there's nothing to stop it anymore.

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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