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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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REBECCA NURSE

Although she appears only twice in The Crucible,
Rebecca Nurse is important to everyone else in the play.
Her reputation in Salem is so high that when she's first
accused of witchcraft, hardly anyone can believe it. To
Reverend Hale, "if Rebecca Nurse be tainted, then
nothing's left to stop the whole green world from
burning." To those like Proctor who don't believe in
witchcraft, Rebecca's being "cried out" is the most
monstrous lie imaginable. To the witch-hunters, she's a
great catch.

Rebecca is perhaps less a "person" than a symbol of
sanity in a world that's lost its mind. She retains her
dignity and courage to the very end. When asked one
last time if she will confess, she says, "Why, it is a lie, it
is a lie; how may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot."

But her answer may express something else besides
courage. She's an old woman, close to her end anyway.
Her life so far has been blameless, why spoil it now? It's
not common sense.

Perhaps this sensible attitude helps her keep her humor
as well. Her last line, spoken as she almost collapses on
her way out to be hanged, is, "I've had no breakfast."

GILES COREY

Giles Corey is superstitious about his wife's reading
books, and he's forever taking his neighbors to court on
the smallest excuse. He's afraid of no one, and has a
sharp tongue for anybody who thinks he can be made a
fool of. But he makes a fool of himself by being so ready
to scrap all the time. He's 83, and set in his ways. In any
other play he'd be a comic figure: the stock character of
the crotchety old man. But this play is not a comedy, and
for all his comic characteristics, Giles Corey is destroyed
along with all the other victims of the witch madness.

Giles is more than a stubborn old geezer. Life was
extremely hard in those days. Just to be alive at age 83
was in itself a remarkable achievement. But Giles shows
little sign of running out of steam: John Proctor thinks
nothing of asking Giles' help in dragging his lumber
home.



Is Giles as bull-headed as he at first appears? Before he
married Martha, his third wife (he buried the other two),
he had little time for church. But now he's learned his
commandments and makes a serious effort to pray. In
Act I he passes up a perfect chance to twit his hated
neighbor Thomas Putnam-Putnam claims that Proctor's
lumber belongs to him-and instead stays to hear what
the learned Reverend Hale has to say. Giles may be slow
to change his mind, but he's not against learning
something new.

But just because he's slow, it doesn't mean he's dumb.
He may never understand the subtleties of demonology,
but "thirty-three time in court" has taught Giles Corey
how to recognize greed when he sees it. And he knows
enough about the law to keep silent when he is formally
charged with witchcraft. By not answering the
indictment, he dies a good Christian under the law, and
the court cannot confiscate his property, as it did with
the other "witches." In this way his sons inherit, and he
keeps his land out of Putnam's clutches.

In the end, the way he dies tells the most about him:

Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or
nay. They say he give them but two words. "More
weight," he says. And died.

As Elizabeth Proctor says, "It were a fearsome man,
Giles Corey."

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