Critical Essays Arthur Miller's Narrative Technique in The Crucible


Each stage production of The Crucible differs from every other in two areas. First, directors stage the play according to their own styles, using various props and costumes while suggesting numerous interpretations of characters. Secondly, individual actors read the lines differently, using diverse voice inflections, gestures, and body language to give each interpretation its own style.

Miller also provides yet another opportunity for variety, not just for the director and actors, but also for the audience and reader. Lengthy exposition pieces that are not glossed as stage directions periodically appear in the written play. For example, at the beginning of Act I, Miller provides stage directions for the set, props, and position of Parris and Betty on stage. However, Miller also includes an extensive psychological profile of Parris prior to beginning the action of the play. Before Parris speaks, a narrator says that "in history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him." Later, the narrator interrupts the action in Scene 1 to include background information on Putnam, and the narrator does the same for Proctor in Scene 3, Rebecca in Scene 4, and Hale and Giles in Scene 5. In addition to historical background on significant characters, the interruptions also include social commentary within the exposition.

The question arises whether or not a director should include these narrative sections, some of which are four pages long, within the play itself. At first glance, it appears that they are to be included within the actual production. If so, then a narrator character must read the narrative sections to the audience. If this is done, however, the continual interruptions in the play's action make engaging the audience in the play difficult. Therefore, the narrative sections should clearly serve only as a tool to provide directors and actors with background information.

The explicative passages allow directors and actors to focus on character motivation, providing them a better understanding of the characters and the historical period. Characters are more engaging because a genuine basis for tension between them exists. For example, obvious tension exists between Thomas Putnam and several other characters in the play, especially Francis Nurse. An actor playing Thomas Putnam must create a persona driven by greed. If the actor knows the passage that states that Putnam was "a deeply embittered man" who attempted to challenged his father's will because his father left the largest portion of money to his stepbrother, then the actor can internalize this quality of Putnam. These background passages result in a more effective portrayal of greed and a more believable character.

Individuals reading the play will have a different experience than the traditional audience because they will read the background information, which will inevitably affect their interpretation of the characters and the play's events. Within the exposition sections Miller addresses the reader directly, in the comfortable, reliable voice of a trusted narrator. As a result, the reader internalizes the information and responds to the characters and their actions based upon it. For example, a reader will discover the same information as a potential actor in regard to Putnam — that Putnam's father left the largest amount of money to Putnam's stepbrother. The reader will also benefit from the narrator's commentary. The narrator tells the reader that the real Putnam accused a large number of people during the trials, often as a method of retaliation or personal gain. After revealing Putnam's historical background, the narrator begins to suggest that Putnam's character will falsely accuse someone within the play. Although the narrator does not finish the suggestion — he only says, "especially when" — the reader automatically expects Putnam to falsely accuse someone in the play. As a result, the reader projects the narrator's commentary onto Putnam's character and anticipates Putnam's false accusations against rival landowners.