Concerning Miller's Crucible

ON WOMEN'S ISSUES - by G.L. Horton (12/26/02)

In response to a post from RB:

RB doesn't detail any of the instances of the "50's" anti-woman bias from this universal play, but I will cite the most notable: Miller makes Abigail Williams, the child instigator of the accusations who was a servant in the Proctor household and 11-12 years old at the time, into a young woman -- that is, an older teen-- who has seduced her "master", John, and wants to get rid of his wife Elizabeth so that she can replace her as John's wife. Miller makes preadolescent Abigail a temptress, and old-enough-to-be-her-grandfather (55) John's adultery and subsequent guilt a major element of his plot.

This indeed has a "universal" quality-- it's like blaming Helen for the Trojan War, Eve for the Fall-- and so it passed unremarked at the premiere. The fifties were big on blaming women for social ills and male angst.

The "temptress" scene between Abigail and John is an excellent scene--- I performed it once in workshop. I had no trouble believing in it-- the John of the play is a romantic hero: vital, attractive, sensitive.

But the John/Abigail relationship is either fictional or horribly perverse. What would we call a 55 year old man who slept with his 11 year old bond maid today? Proctor had the position of (surrogate) father to the servant Abigail, and any relationship with her is quasi-incestuous as well as rape of a child.

Miller replied to this criticism in the 70's by affirming that he had made changes in the facts of the historical record to be "more truthful" than history; and the scene does help to account for the undeniably sexual element in the witch hysteria.

But it isn't necessary-- it is in fact misleading-- and Miller may have come to see it as such himself. In the most recent edition of the play, that scene does not appear.


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