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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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The odds against Proctor are overwhelming, but there is reason
for hope. First of all, Proctor has the truth on his side. Abigail
actually told him there was no witchcraft involved. We also
know that Proctor is willing to risk everything-his good name,
even his life-to bring this truth out. Second, Deputy Governor
Danforth, for all his sternness, is an intelligent and just man. He
will give Proctor a fair hearing, even though it may mean the
total overthrow of the court.

Some say that the outcome of this act depends on the answer to
the question, "What kind of man is John Proctor?" Before
Danforth can decide on the charges, he must know the man who
brings them. If you interpret it this way, then the action of this
act consists of an examination of John Proctor's character. Each
event or argument is then "evidence" that supports one of two
opposing positions: 1) John Proctor is a good man, and is
therefore telling the truth; or 2) John Proctor is an agent of the
Father of Lies, so naturally he's lying.

During the examinations, Danforth takes Proctor seriously at
every point. He has to, Proctor's charges go right to the heart of
what is most important here: justice. Danforth wavers only
when Abigail and the girls go into their "torments." He is clearly
frightened by these girls, but he manages to keep his head until
Mary Warren defects to Abigail's side. Then Danforth turns to
Proctor and demands, "What are you? You are combined with
anti-Christ."



This last point about Mary Warren hints at another way of
looking at Act III. In 1692, a farmer like John Proctor would
most likely have a cart for carrying things around. Each wheel
on the cart would be held in place by a linchpin, which was
stuck through a hole in the axle on the outside of the wheel.
Under normal circumstances a linchpin doesn't have much work
to do. It just has to keep the wheel, as it turns, from "walking"
off the end of the axle. But if the wheel goes over too many
bumps, the linchpin can loosen and fall out. It can also be
sheared off, if too much pressure is put on it.

According to this interpretation, Mary Warren is the linchpin of
Act III. She cannot withstand the pressure that is put on her-
from Proctor on one side, Abigail on the other, and hard
questioning by the judges in the middle. It's difficult to imagine
anyone not breaking under the strain.

NOTE: The setting of this act is curious. If this is a courtroom
drama, why are we not in the courtroom? But remember that
the court itself is on trial. When the court is in full session, with
the jury and the whole town looking on, the judges at the bench
have absolute power. Giles Corey tries to present his evidence
in open court, and gets himself thrown out for disrupting
procedure. Perhaps Arthur Miller wants to give the victims a
better chance at being heard. He sets this act in the vestry
rooms of the meetinghouse, where the judges will be less
protected by the trappings of authority.

The first three French scenes of Act III set the stage for the
battle that will follow. In Scene I we hear Martha Corey's trial in
progress offstage.

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