Jan 15, 2023
We are thrilled to share with you the winning essay from our first Young Writers Challenge, this one conducted exclusively at Cabrini High School in New Orleans. Our winner, Grace Krzenski, answered the prompt, "Why do you think Arthur Miller decided to call his play 'The Crucible' and which definition of crucible do you think Miller had in mind when he wrote his play?" Grace's essay has also awarded her $100. Congratulations, Grace!
In the spring of 1692, Abigail Williams and Betty Parris, two children, started what would become a full-blown witch hunt that would result in the death of twenty people and the imprisonment of at least one hundred. Today we refer to this as The Salem Witch Trials. Arthur Miller, author of the 1953 play entitled The Crucible uses this unfortunate period of history to reveal what happens when fear and hysteria take control.
According to dictionary.com, the word crucible is “used to refer to [a situation] that represents an extreme trial for someone, especially a situation that tests courage or preparedness.” Arthur Miller titled his play as he did in order to show that the residents of Salem were put to a moral test: they could tell the truth and die, or lie and live. Characters John Proctor and Tituba personify this moral dilemma and the two courses of action it presents. More specifically, John Proctor chooses integrity over life, while Tituba forfeits her integrity to live.
John Proctor, a farmer in his mid-thirties, is cast as a morally challenged man who is not afraid to stand alone. Early in the play, we learn that he has chosen to stop going to church because he despises the sermons, and we also learn that he has had an affair with his servant, Abigail Williams. Clearly, John Proctor is an imperfect man; however, he has one incredibly redeeming quality: he cannot cling to a lie in order to save himself. Despite his absence from church and his infidelity, he passes the ultimate moral test when he refuses to perpetuate the lies that resulted in the death and imprisonment of so many in Salem. He stands alone when it would have been easier to do what so many others did; they lied to save their lives. Shortly before he is hung, he says, “I cannot throw away my life in a lie, even though it would save my life.” To John Proctor, life without the goodness of your word is not worth living.
On the other hand, Tituba, Reverend Parris’s slave from Barbados, chooses life over integrity. Tituba is the first to be accused when Abigail Williams, Reverend Parris’s niece, claims that Tituba made her drink blood. Abigail does this to shift blame from herself to Tituba because at the time, witchery was a “hangin’ error.” When Tituba realizes that she will be faced with a fatal beating or hanging on the gallows, she confesses to witchcraft and quickly incriminates two others, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, both easy targets in the community. While one can empathize with Tituba’s choice, certainly John Proctor is the more admirable character; he chooses integrity above all else. However, it’s likely that Miller wants us to understand that this “crucible,” this test, is complicated, and that the way one responds cannot be so easily judged because fear and hysteria obscure both reason and the truth. So, while Tituba lies to save her life, it’s hard to condemn her.
In short, Arthur Miller prompts readers and viewers to carefully consider the moral dilemmas in their own lives and to think about what lessons they might learn from what happened in Salem. At what point is it okay to lie? Is life more important than one’s integrity? Moreover, is it vain to choose integrity over life? These are the questions that Miller’s masterpiece raises.
So, did John Proctor pass the test? Did Tituba pass it? It’s difficult to say definitively because it all depends upon what is most important to each individual.
Grace Krzenski is a junior at Cabrini High School, New Orleans, where she enjoys studying science and English. Grace is on the varsity Cabrini basketball team, and in her spare time enjoys reading, playing basketball, and spending time with family and friends. She is looking forward to attending college somewhere in the southern states to study marine biology.