Discourses that Set up the Discipline that is “Witchcraft” in “The Crucible”
Witchcraft is a common theme in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. Discourse is used in the play to set up the discipline that is “witchcraft” and to portray it in ways that match the dominant view of the practice during the period in which the play was written. The discourse used in the text enables the audience to understand the way witchcraft was perceived in the region in which the play is set up (McHoul and Wendy 21). According to the language used, witchcraft is a corrupt practice. It is also described as the power of darkness. These discourses show how witchcraft was perceived in the society in which the play is based.
Witchcraft is a common and recurring question in the play. Several characters are accused of engaging in the vice and many of them seem to distance themselves away from it because of the implications of engaging in the practice. Individuals that participate in witchcraft are seen as a danger to society that should be eliminated. While those accused of witchcraft strive to prove their innocence, their accusers are determined to show that they have indeed been engaging in the act that goes against the norms and values of the society talked about in the play. One of the terminologies used in the play to describe witchcraft is “corruption” to show that it is a practice that goes against generally accepted values and beliefs in society. Corruption seems to indicate that it is an act that is done in secrecy to achieve selfish ends. Those engaging in witchcraft are, therefore, individuals that are determined to achieve personal benefits at the expense of the wellbeing of the greater society. In a way, their selfish practices are a danger to the existence of the society itself. Witchcraft is also seen to be an activity that uses dark power. It makes use of such powers to destroy certain individuals. Generally, such power is regarded as out of the ordinary and thus members of the society should be afraid of what they can do (Morgan 41). Throughout the play, witchcraft is portrayed as something that should be feared and at the same time detested. Those found to be engaging in it must face the wrath of the people. They are punished in the most gruesome manner to act as a warning to those that may want to engage in such activities.
In Act One, Putnam accuses Parris of practicing witchcraft. Parris begs him not to jump to the conclusion that he is practicing witchcraft because such a charge would be disastrous if laid upon him. He laments that he will be howled out of Salem when his house is accused of such corruption. Parris uses the term corruption to demonstrate the disdain that he had towards witchcraft. Through this terminology, the audience also gets to understand the fear surrounding witchcraft accusations. Individuals accused of this practice were seen to be engaging in an act that is morally corrupt. To be accused of it was, therefore, a bad thing. Mrs Putnam also referrers to witchcraft as the “power of darkness”. It shows that it was related to evil spirits and should, therefore, be shunned. Previously, Parris asks Abigail if she conjured spirits while in the forest. This shows that witchcraft was a practice that drew power from the dark forces. It was not something that could be practiced in the open but had to be done away in secrecy because of the darkness surrounding it. Mrs Putnam further alludes to the power of witchcraft when she says that her child had gone dumb all of a sudden. Her condition had to be the work of mysterious dark powers. The language used significantly helps to demonstrate how witchcraft was perceived in the society (Budick 22). The discourse used to describe witchcraft is shown to be appropriate in the play. The corrupt aspect of it is seen in the alleged effects of the practice. The innocent suffer as those who engage in witchcraft achieve their selfish ends. The ability of witchcraft to inflict suffering and pain on those that it is directed towards also demonstrates its dark powers. These aspects are seen throughout the play.
In conclusion, language has been used to help the reader understand how witchcraft is perceived in the society. According to the language incorporated in the play, witchcraft is a corrupt practice. It is also described as the power of darkness. Throughout the play, the description of witchcraft as a corrupt practice is validated. The pain and suffering of those affected is an indication that those who practiced it gained at the expense of the victims. The corruption of witchcraft as described by the terminology relates to the moral aspect of the act. It is a morally corrupt act because it goes against societal norms. The description of witchcraft as a practice that relates to dark powers is also seen in the manner in which victims are made to suffer. The terminologies, therefore, effectively set up the discipline of witchcraft in the play.
- Budick, E. Miller. “History and Other Specters in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretation: The Crucible (2008): 21-40.
- McHoul, Alec and Wendy Grace. A Foucault primer: Discourse, power and the subject. Routledge, 2015.
- Morgan, Edmund S. “Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the Salem Witch Trials: A Historian’s View.” The Crucible-Arthur Miller (2008): 41.