This paper discusses The Crucible by Arthur Miller, as well as examines the character of Reverend Hale in the play. Through the prose passages that interrupt the dialogue and action of the play, Miller establishes the particular quality of Salem society that makes it especially receptive to the repression and panic of the witch trials. The Puritan life in Salem is rigid and somber, allowing little room for persons to break from the monotony and strict work ethic that dominated the close-knit society. Furthermore, the Puritan religious ethic permeated all aspects of society, promoting safeguards against immorality at any cost to personal privacy or justice.
The Puritans of Massachusetts were a religious faction who, after years of suffering persecution themselves, developed a willful sense of community to guard against infiltration from outside sources. It is this paradox that Miller used to create a major theme of The Crucible. That is, in order to keep the community together, members of that community believe that they must in some sense tear it apart. Miller relates the intense paranoia over the integrity of the Puritan community. This relates strongly to the political climate of the early 1950s in which Miller wrote The Crucible.
In The Crucible, the character that sets the witchcraft trials in motion is Reverend John Hale. Indeed, Hale is perhaps the most complex character in The Crucible. He is a man “who approaches religious matters with the conviction of a scientist and a scientific emphasis on proper procedure” (Weales p.134). Hale holds the contradictory belief that they cannot rely on superstition to solve the girls’ problems but that they may find a supernatural explanation for the events. Since he lacks the malicious motivations and obsessions that plague the other instigators of the trials, Reverend Hale has the ability to change his position, yet he finds himself caught up in the hysteria he has helped to create.
Near the end, Miller develops the motivations of the proponents of the witchcraft trials. Reverend Parris remains motivated by suspicion and paranoia, while Thomas Putnam moves from an original motivation of grudges against others to unabashed greed. Abigail Williams, in contrast, moves from self-preservation to a more general lust for power.
However, upon the arrest of Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth Proctor, Reverend Hale eschews the supernatural explanations for more concrete, legal explanations. He redeems himself from his role as a Pontius Pilate by serving as an advocate for justice. This is significant, for it provides concrete evidence that opposition to the trials does not necessarily mean opposition to law and order.
Additionally, the theme of self-preservation recurs throughout the novel. While Hale suggests, “that God damns a liar less than a person who throws one’s life away” (Weales p.123), Elizabeth suggests that this is the devil’s argument. Miller seems to support Elizabeth’s position, for it is by giving self-preserving lies that Tituba and Sarah Good perpetuated the witch-hunts.
In conclusion, over the course of the play, The Crucible utilizes Reverend Hale in a profound way. He is the scientific thinker of the two religious quarrels and the role Reverend Hale plays is one of a reoccurring sense of justice within the framework of the play. Yet, while Hale attempts to be a thinker who depends on the virtues of the Bible, he does not really have a real grasp as an enlightened thinker because, ultimately, he shifts like a politico in almost everyway.
Miller, Arthur, Gerald Weales (Editor), The Crucible: Text and Criticism, Penguin USA, December 1995.