Sunday, 5 April 2020

How would you consider Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss" as a Modern Tragedy? or Conflict between Love and Duty.


The Mill on the Floss is a tragedy containing a lot of pathetic incidents as well as tragic characters. It is a story of pain and suffering ending in total extermination of Tullivers. 

George Eliot was a realist and portrayed what she herself saw. There was a plenty of tragedy in her age and being a realist she gave a truthful picture of the miseries endured by the people of that age. Moreover, she had tragic outlook. Anything tragic, was bound to strike her.

Tragedy happens due to different reasons. Firstly, it happens in the form of fate - chance and circumstances beyond the control of common man — or it may also happen due to some accident. Secondly, a tragic flaw in the character of the protagonist causes tragedy. And it can also be a result of certain social beliefs or pressures which cannot be escaped. Lastly tragedy becomes inevitable on account of a deed on action committed by the protagonist.

In George Eliot, tragedy happens on account of all these. She believes that character itself is not responsible for causing the tragedy, all the times — external reasons also count. Still she believes that the character plays a major role i.e. a tragic flaw in the character of the protagonist leads to tragedy.

According to her man he improvises his character in whatever way he wants. She emphasized that one must exert one's maximum to shape the character right. She thinks that one has to face the consequences of one's actions so even the slightest errors ought to be avoided.

She believed that man has two selves. One self calls for duty - one must perform one's duty as accurately as possible - and the other self calls for passion. She thought that the self Calling for duty, in fact, invites goodness whereas the other self who calls for passion invites destruction. To make a choice between these two is very significant. Salvation and destruction wholly depend on our choice. She applies the law of moral retribution — the doctrine that sins bring their wages.

The Mill on the Floss is mainly a tragic story which deals with the suffering of Tullivers and many others related to them. But mainly it deals with the suffering of Maggie - a sensitive girl in a convention bound society.

Maggie suffers from childhood till her death. Her life is very painful and arouses pity while happiness in her life is occasional. Firstly, she suffered on account of her nature and temperament. She was sensitive and impulsive and continues to be so even in her youth. Once she got angry and ran away from home and went to the gypsies. Her impulsive nature is evident from this event. It was the slights of Tom which made her sensitive, especially on this moment. Tom had slighted Maggie and had given attention to Lucy. Maggie, a sensitive girl as she was, is anguished by Tom's behaviour and this makes her run away from home.

Maggie craves for love. She did not get any love from her mother and brother. She wants to love and to be loved. In her childhood it is only her father who shows some affection for her.

Maggie was out of harmony with her environment. Her mother was always scolding her. The behaviour of uncles and aunts was always disgusting and they didn't let any opportunity let go wasted. She remains lonely and there is nobody who can share her feelings.

She had a delicate conscience and her moral scruples cause her a lot of mental suffering. After her elopement with Stephen, she suffered a lot. Tom refused to accept her had to go to Bob Jackin. Stephen proposed her for marriage she refused it straightaway. She knew that in doing would be able to lead a comparatively better life and society would be forgiving towards her. But she had a strong moral sense. She knew that Stephen was engaged to her cousin Lucy who was considerate towards her. So she didn't want to deprive Lucy of Stephen. Had she married Stephen the tragedy could have been averted. 

Fate is also responsible for her tragedy. Irony of fate plays a very vital role. Maggie makes a friend - Philip - but as the things stand Philip was the son of the enemy of her father.

A lot of problems arise on account of the family affairs her father was rash in decision. His unwise decision to register a case and fight a law suit against Wakem proves fatal. Tulliver is an imprudent and sentimental fellow. Because of this law suit he has to lose his mill and what's more he becomes worker in that very mill. Now the enmity increases and Maggie ultimately suffers because she is not allowed to come near Philip.

There is a conflict in her mind about duty and desire. The duty asks total abandonment of her relationship with him while the passion and desire wanted to be with Philip. As she was loyal to her family she was forced to forget Philip.

The real disaster in her life comes with arrival Stephen. This man was engaged to Lucy. Maggie knew that but as ill luck would have it Maggie and Stephen fall Whether or not Stephen was charming Maggie was towards him. But this allurement finally resulted in her death.

Tom's desertion was also one of the major face bringing about the tragedy in her life. When she came with Stephen after five days Tom refused to accept. Although she was chaste but Tom's strict moral code would never yield, before the tears of his sister. She went from her home with her mother. But on the day when the flood came she was still remembering Tom, and went to help him. But strong tides of the river Floss were more powerful than the innocent aspirations of Maggie. She dies with her brother. But the fact of the matter is that they were joined in death though separate in life.

Thus The Mill on the Floss is truly the tragedy of Maggie. But there are other characters in the novel whose fate is also tragic. 

Philip suffers on account of his deformity. Fate is responsible for his suffering as far as deformity is concerned but these sufferings were aggravated by the desertion of Maggie.

In the same manner Lucy is the victim of circumstances. She is a faithful and considerate young lady. But the tragedy of her life arises because she is herself passive and trustful to others.

Mr. Tulliver suffers because of his own character. He is very obstinate proud and rash. These flaws in his character give rise to the tragedy in his life.


Saturday, 4 April 2020

Assess George Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss" as an Autobiographical Novel


The ripest fruit of George Eliot's artistic genius The Mill on the Floss — has been regarded by many critics as the most autobiographical novel of the authoress. They argue that the heroine of the novel, Maggie Tulliver, is, in fact, the fictional ego of Marry Ann Evans (George Eliot). W.R. Nicolle goes to the extent of saying:

"So long as George Eliot is read, wise readers will turn to "The Mill on the Floss” as the best, the truest and the most authoritative account of her own complex character”.

Similarly, F. R. Leavis drawing close parallel between Maggie and George Eliot remarked:

"That Maggie is essentially identical with the young Marry Ann Evans we all know."

Yet the novel cannot be termed as an autobiography is the strict sense of the term for it does not project the life of my author in its entirety. We may find the life of the protagonist, Maggie, coinciding in some respects with that of Eliot, but is not sufficient to call the novel wholly autobiographical, as F. R. Leavis believes. The fact is that this identification is soul in ideas than in physical aspects.

The glimpses of Eliot's early life can be found jubilant, exciting and thrilling childhood of Maggie in the company of her brother Tom. Tom, to some critics, image of Eliot's brother Issac. Mr. Tulliver has borrowed from her father Robert Evans. Like Maggie, Eliot too was an unmanageable child who often became the butt of criticism due to her carelessness in dress and address. Just like Maggie, Eliot did have an adventure with the gypsies. In the delineation of Lucy's character, she remembered her own sister Christiana who, contrary to Eliot, was neat and pretty. This resemblance is sounder in nature, habits, liking and disliking of Maggie and Eliot.

However, the only sound incidental identification between Maggie and Eliot is in respect of Stephen-Maggie affair. Just as Maggie had a scandal with Stephen, Eliot had the same with Lewes with whom she kept living for twenty-four years without having any regular marriage. Both were socially disreputed and excommunicated. Both were innocent and had fallen a prey to the fossil conventions of the society. Maggie did not commit any immoral act and Eliot's resolution to live with Lewes was based on human values and laws of human heart. Since Lewes' wife had deserted him, Eliot thought he had a right to establish relation with some other woman. The scandals of both Eliot and Maggie led to their alienation from their brothers Isaac and Tom respectively. Eliot lived with Lewes till his death whereas Maggie was made to renounce Stephen, her love and met an accidental death. But this involves Eliot's moral scheme. Though she had a scandalous life with Lewes, but she never approved of such a life and she punished her women for even the slightest moral lapse. Because she knew that deviation from social conventions leads lo devastation and annihilation. When one meets social death, one dies forever.

Then Maggie's spiritual conflicts are identical with that of Eliot. George Eliot externalised her mental trauma by transmitting it to Maggie. Eliot too, like Maggie, was torn between duty and desire, between doubt and belief. Eliot was not dogmatic because orthodox Christian beliefs did not satisfy her inquisitive nature. She wanted to analyse everything on the bases of intellect. On the other hand, she had a profound sense of the immanence of God. This gave rise to a strong spiritual conflict in her mind which led her to the accusation agnosticism. Bust she was not agnostic. In fact, she never reached the certitude of belief.

Maggie too underwent the throes of this spiritual conflict. She was torn between duty and love. She loved Stephen passionately but at the same time she was morally bound by her duty towards Philip and Lucy. This conflict ultimately claims her life. 

Maggie was an imaginative and sensuous girl who wanted to enjoy all the beauties scattered around her. But at the same time she was also prone to self-sacrifice by nature and placed before her the ideal of renunciation and self-denial. It was because of this ideal that when she had to choose between a life of passionate love with Stephen and her duty to her family and position, she chose the latter. Thus through Maggie, Eliot has given vent to her own convictions because Eliot too believed in the absoluteness of duty. Eliot denounced self-dominance and Maggie was self-sacrificing.

The environment in which both Maggie and Eliot were born was not conducive for their intellectual satisfaction. Both were ahead of their time. Eliot's intellectual potentialities were too much for the environment around her to develop them. Similarly, Maggie's potentialities weakened in discouraging circumstances. She had thirst for knowledge but poverty never gave her way to progress. The mental cuteness, the clinging affectionateness, the ambitious nature, the thirst for knowledge, the love of music etc. are the traits of Maggie which speaks the very soul of Eliot.

As the identification is predominantly in thoughts and convictions etc. the critics prefer to call the novel a spiritual autobiography through which we can peep into the very soul of Mary Ann Evans.

Summarise the speech of Clarissa in Canto V, "Rape of the Lock" and it's significance


When Belinda bewails her lot and curses herself for having come to the Hampton Court despite all the 'omens', the grave Clarissa, in a neat little speech exhorts her to moderation and good sense. She points out that all feminine vanities and foibles are inefficacious against death. A beautiful woman may win the praise and adoration of males, wear splendid dress, dance all night, attend theatres, where she is the target of many furtive glances and bows from side-boxes and so on. But vain are all these unless good sense is added to beauty, unless men can say about the woman -'Behold the first in virtue as in face'. It is not possible to prevent small-pox, which is the scourge of beauty or chase old age away by dancing and dressing all night and day. Therefore, since beauty is subject to decay and locks of hair will turn white and 'she who scorns a man, must die a maid', it is better to take things in good grace and good humour. Clarissa exhorts Belinda to show good sense and win the souls of men, instead of indulging in airs, screams and recriminations.

 Pope's note on Clarissa and her speech runs thus-"A new character introduced in the subsequent editions to open more clearly the moral of the poem, in a parody of the speech of Sarpedon to Glaucus in Homer." The speech strikes a sad and serious note that runs as undercurrent throughout the whole poem - fragility of feminine beauty and hence the utter worthlessness of feminine pride and vanity. After all it is virtue that counts and 'the first in virtue is the first in face'. This is a bit of moral advice that the grave lady offers to Belinda to open her eyes and make her calm. After all women must marry if they want to be happy and she who scorns a man, must die a maid. Pride and ill-humour cannot win suits. The inevitability of death is the commonplace maxim in the speech of the epic hero Sarpedon and the modern woman of fashion. It is the supreme truth of all times and this binds together all civilizations into a link. 

Thus the speech, as a critic has pointed out,"complicates our response to the satire of the poem. We see that as well as satirising a world Pope also celebrates and mourns it. It is complications of this sort that takes The Rape of the Lock beyond the range of Le Lutrin into the region of great poetry.


Description and Significance of Cave of Spleen in Pope's "The Rape of the Lock"


When after the cutting of the lock of hair, the Baron exults over his great achievement and Belinda gives way to rage, resentment and despair, Ariel withdraws and Umbriel, a mischievous and trickstering gnome takes charge of her. In consonance with an epic convention, the poet makes Umbriel go down to the underworld, where in a dark and vapoury region stands the gloomy Cave of Spleen. It was a dismal cave, vaulted with vapour. No cheerful breeze blows over the place; the only wind is the east wind that causes moroseness. Sunlight cannot penetrate into the cave. There Spleen lies on a pensive bed, sighing for ever with Pain at her side and Megrin at head i.e., side pain and headache). Two handmaids attend on her. They are Ill-nature and Affectation. The former is an old maid, with wrinkled skin and is arrayed in black and white clothes. Her hands are full of prayers for different times of the day, while her heart is full of abusive satires. Affectation is slim and sickly. She pretends to be young, paints her cheeks, talks in lisping manners, hangs her body aside in an affected pose, faints on her bed only for show of illness or sinks in exhaustion to show her pride. 

The cave is always filled with vapour and various fantastic images rise in mists in that place. Glaring fiends, snakes standing erect on their 153 coils, pale ghosts, gaping tombs etc. abound in the cave. Human beings changed into various forms under the effect of melancholy throng there. Thus there is the woman who thinks herself to be teapot, holds out one arm and bending the other, there is another who imagines herself as an earthen jar, another as a bottle etc. There is a man who thinks that he has become pregnant.

This episode of the Cave of Spleen is a parody of a well-known epic feature namely descent into the underworld by living men. Thus in Homer's Odyssey ix, Ulysses (Odyssey) descends into the dark Hades and in Virgil's Aeneid vi, Aeneas does the same. The poet derives the description of the Cave of Spleen, from the Cave of Envy in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The various fantastic images that are catalogued here illustrate the unhealthy and distorted lives that men and women live under the effect of hypochondria, ennui, sexual frustration, etc. These indicate the lurking fear of the horrible possibilities that may develop in the beaux and belles under frustration and under which they are always labouring. Thus beneath the outward veneer of gaiety, glitter and beauty of the care-free lives of the beau-monde, there are mental disorders produced by inhibited sex life. There is the figure of III-nature personified as an 'ancient maid', with hands always full of prayer and heart full of satires. This is the threatened fate of a disdainful belle - "she who scrons a man, must die a maid," as Clarissa says. "The whole episode must profoundly affect our view of Belinda herself."

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Discuss and comment upon the necessity and value of the game Ombre in Pope's "The Rape of the Lock".

Discuss and comment upon the necessity and value of the game Ombre in Pope's "The Rape of the Lock".

The episode of the game of Ombre that occurs in Canto III of the poem, The rape of the Lock is an after-thought on the part of the poem. It did not occur in the original version of the poem, which was too slight and thin, containing writing a mock-heroic on the trivial thing (the cutting of the lock of a fashionable belle by a frivolous knight), the poem was to be enlarged into a full-fledged miniature epic. The mock-heroic was intended to bring about the wished-for rapproachement between the two families by laughing at the matter.

Thus the episode of the Ombre game was introduced to fulfill the epic feature of the poem. A war is a sine qua non in a poem that pretends to be an epic. It occupies a very important space in the story and is practically the basis of every epic action. Homer, Virgil and Milton have conformed to this convention in their epics. And the wars in Homer and Virgil have been described with all the grandeur and vigour that their imagination was capable of. The days of epic wars were gone. Pope, therefore, adopted a sexual war, - war between two sexes, as one of the chief events of his story. And in the treatment of this, modes of ancient epics and of the medieval knightly tournaments have been blended together. The poem thus becomes a romance and epic rolled into one.

The Rape of the Lock introduces us to the world of frivolity and fashion of card playing in Queen Anne’s time. The game of Ombre has been described here under the imagery of a war and with all the trappings of epic and romantic art. The underlying irony is unmistakable. It has been beautifully observed by a critic that "men no longer fight over a woman but actually fight women and the women are not in the least loth to join in the erotic battle". In this prelude to the war, Pope says -

Belinda-now, whom thirst of fame invites Burns to encounter two adventurous knightsAt Ombre singly to decide their doom.
So it is a duel of sexes and Belinda is the feminine party. It is like an encounter between Baron and his Lady of the romances. The skirmishes or the sex war have been described under the playful imagery of the Kings, Queens, Knaves, Aces of the world of cards. The battle, with the initial rising fortune of the heroine its climax after the fourth trick, and its denouement in the ninth trick is like a vivid drama or an actual fight on me level green. All the trickeries, stratagems, wiles, treacheries, vicissitudes of fortune of a grim battle have been displayed. The pierced battalions united fall in heaps on heaps; one fate overwhelms them all. The whole passage is one of the heights of imaginative poetry. Nay, it is not merely a playful fancy, but a romantic imagination, that invests the ordinary with the unearthly light that diffuses over the whole description.

It is therefore unjust to regard the episode as purely supernumerary, contributing little to the development of the action. It cannot be said that cutting of the lock arises from it. Yet, there is a dark hint in the poem that the defeated Baron might have been actuated by a desire to retrieve his shameful defeat and claims the lock as a trophy of war to be kept forever. Whatever might be its importance in the action, it is not undesirable that Pope makes capital out of the comic detail and implied comparison with the grim earnest wars in the epics. Besides, as the picture of feminine folly and frivolity and the masculine gallantry, the description has a great importance. The maneuvers of the battle of cards are the same as those of the battle of sexes. Thus as a piece of imaginative poetry wedded to the satiric purpose of exhibiting particular follies and vanities (love of card being one) the verses (37-100) describing the erotic battle touch the summit of high poetry. It is only pedantic cavilers who would like the passage cut off the poem like the lock of Belinda's hair.

Please do inform me your view on this article in the comment section. Thank you.

Character Sketch of Belinda in Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" or Belinda as a Representative Lady of the 18th Century England

Character Sketch of Belinda in Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" or Belinda as a Representative Lady of the 18th Century England

Pope has presented Belinda as a complex character. He has presented her in different roles and under different shades, some are satirical other ironical but all entertaining. The character of Belinda has created much controversy since the publication of the poem. Some critics consider her treatment fair while others as unfair. There are several aspects of the personality of Belinda as portrayed by Pope in The Rape of the Lock. It will be wrong to regard her purely as a goddess, or as a pretty spoiled child, or as a flirt. She is a combination of all three and yet much more than such a combination. We see her in many different lights. We see her as a vamp, an injured innocent, a sweet charmer, a society belle, a rival of the sun, and a murderer of millions. She has a Cleopatra- like variety. However, the reality lies in between these two extremes we can discuss her character as blow.
Firstly, Belinda is the heroine of the story. It is her character around whom the story of the whole poem is woven. We see her sleeping till noon and her awakening by her lap dog “Shock”. We are present at her toilet and watch the progress of the sacred rites of pride. Then we see her proceeding from the Thames River to the Hampton Court. Then her smiting looks upon the well dressed youths that crowds her. Pope compares Belinda to the sun and suggests that it recognizes in Belinda a rival. Belinda is like the sun not only because of her bright eyes and not only because she dominates her special world. She was as beautiful as every eye was fixed on her alone. She is like the sun in another regard:
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike.
And, like the sun, the shines on all alike.
Belinda’s exquisite beauty is enhanced by two curling side locks of hair that charmingly set off her ivory white neck and which she has kept to the destruction of mankind:”
Law In these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts ate held in slender chains.
Belinda’s charms can work miracles and can make even non-believers kiss the cross.
Secondly, Belinda is a model arid more specifically represents the fashionable, aristocratic ladies of Popes age. Such social butterflies in eighteenth century were regarded as petty triflers, having no serious concern with life, and engrossed in dance and gaiety. Belinda’s fall indicates the decadence of her class. Through her, Pope describes the flippancy and depravity of the English society of his day.

Thirdly, Popes attitude to Belinda is very mixed and complicated; mocking and yet tender, admiring and yet critical. The paradoxical nature of Pope’s attitude is intimately related to the paradox of Belinda’s situation. If Belinda is to find her role of woman, she must lose the role of a virgin, and the more graceful her acceptance of loss the greater the victory she achieves through it. Because Pope is dealing with this paradox, his altitude must be mixed and complicated. It is necessary for Pope to stress Belinda’s divinity. At the same time he does not let us forget Belinda’s mortality. He qualifies her goddess-ship by emphasizing human qualities. The scene at Belinda’s dressing table, where she is both mortal priestess and the goddess worshipped in the mirror, is an example of this device. The very frailty and transience of blushes and chastity emphasize this goddess’s humanity.
Thus, we get the picture of her shallow outlook about religious faiths and beliefs. She is a worshiper of beauty who prays to the goddess of beauty and offers all the items of cosmetics before her. She is a typical presentation of women’s excessive attention to self decoration and embellishment. She gathers all the fashionable items from all over the world - Indian glowing gems, Arabian perfumes, files of pins, puffs, powders, patches etc. In a satirical passage, Pope describes Belinda in a Confucius mood before her dressing table:
Here files of pains extend their shining rows,
powders, patches, bibles, blllet-doux,
Thus, assigned by her maid Betty, Belinda seeks to improve her bod1y charms. However, he does not show any respect for the holly book, Bible. Therefore, the moral bankruptcy of these ladies is further ridiculed when Thalestris points out the need for sacrificing everything, even chastity, for reputation. They consider that virtue might be lost, but not a good name.
To wind up we can say that Belinda’s portrayal is one of the awesome literary creations ever produced in the History of English literature. Pope seeks to throw light upon the fickle minded fashionable ladies of the 18th century England depicting Belinda as the representative character. She is the embodiment of the coquetry, the art, the artifice and the false pride.
NB: Photo Credit
 Please, let me know your view on the above article in the comment section. Thanks.

Arthur Miller's The Crucible as a Political Allegory or Political Background or Context of the Drama

Arthur Miller's The Crucible as a Political Allegory or Political Background or Context of the Drama

In his classic drama The Crucible, Arthur Miller chronicles the horror of the Salem witch trials, an embarrassing episode of colonial America’s history. At first reading, one might only view Miller’s work as a vivid account of the tragedy of theocracy in America’s late seventeenth century. However, with an understanding of the period in which Miller penned his work, one can easily view the witch trials of The Crucible as an authentic allegory of the “Red Scare” of the 1950s in America by drawing parallels in settings, characters, and the pervasive paranoia of both societies.

To begin with, although centuries apart, the two periods have several dramatic similarities in regards to setting. Seventeenth century colonial America was a mysterious, quite often frightening destination for those who had risked the perils of a voyage from England to make a life for themselves to a New World. For these Puritan settlers of The Crucible, their new home of Salem touches “the edge of the wilderness” and appears “[…] dark and threatening, over their shoulders night and day, for out of it Indian tribes marauded from time to time” (Miller 5). In comparison to these colonial emigrants in search of a land where they could enjoy a life free of persecution are the many European emigrants who flooded American soil in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These “modern day” emigrants, like their colonial counterparts, arrived on a new continent, one quite alien from the European countries that many of them had fled. Certainly, Miller had not only the obvious comparison of setting but also the distinct similarities of characters in mind when he structured his allegory.

Furthering the argument to support The Crucible as an allegory is the uncanny resemblance between the antagonists and protagonists from Miller’s work and the real life villains and heroes of the “Red Scare”. Obviously, Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth’s unyielding authority in the Salem witch trials is reminiscent of all who held position of power on the Committee for Un-American Activities. Just as twentieth century Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cronies believed that any semblance of Communism was a threat to America’s freedom, Danforth fears that “there is a moving plot to topple Christ in the country!” and that this plot must be eradicated (Miller 98). In addition to these narrow-minded antagonists from both periods are the “free thinkers,” who choose not to implicate any of their contemporaries in these “witch hunts.” Certainly the outspoken John Proctor who “speak[s] [his] own sins” but will not “judge another” because he “has no tongue for it,” is symbolic of Arthur Miller himself as well as those of the artistic community who refused to implicate their friends as “reds” when the paranoia over communist infiltrators continued to mount (Miller 141).

Finally and most importantly, it is this paranoia, common to both stories, that offers the strongest argument for the fact that Miller intends his work as an allegory. Post World War America was still recovering from the evils of Hitler when the threat of Communism began to seep into American society. Sadly, Senator McCarthy, with the zealous belief that the slightest hint of communism would rob America of its freedoms, became so fanatical that he and his committee succeeded in frightening most American citizens. Just as McCarthy compiled his “black list” of artists, who had done absolutely nothing un-American, Reverend Hale of Miller’s work feeds the colonists hysteria with his pronouncement that “[…] the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points” (Miller 71). Ironically, in both cases, the very leaders who set out to protect the beliefs and rights of their people instead violated those rights to the extreme by feeding the hysteria with their paranoid attitudes.

Arthur Miller’s play certainly depicts a tragic time in American history while offering the audience a vivid account of the misguided notions of a theocracy. However, there is no doubt that Miller’s ulterior motive in writing this account was to have it serve as an allegory for the traumatic “witch hunts” of the 1950s. Through his obvious parallels in characters and setting as well as the treatment of the paranoia from both periods, Arthur Miller has created a masterful allegory in his play The Crucible.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Would you consider Arthur Miller's, "The Crucible" as a Modern Tragedy?

Would you consider Arthur Miller's, "The Crucible" as a Modern Tragedy?

The crucible is a modern tragedy written in the Context of a historical incident of Salem’s witchcraft (I7th century) but the play highlights the cruelty of McCarthyism and communists trails in America in 20th century.

The play contains almost all the spicess of a modem tragedy. Though it is quite different from other tragedies as it brings forth a story of historical importance, yet the protagonist of the play John Proctor, shares a lot with a modern man. Miller has blended intellectual, social, moral and psychological problems of a modern man in the character of Proctor.

There are many arguments whether this play is a tragedy or not. The left hand critics declare that The Crucible is not a tragedy as it does not fulfill all the conditions set by Aristotle, that the protagonist should be a royal birth and the centre of attention of everyone as it was common in the plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare to be able to arouse the feelings of pity and fear associated to a tragedy. But this accusation does not hold much strength as in the world of today kings and Princes are not present with similar pomp and show. So, the presentation of a royal figure would be unrealistic and fictitious. Moreover, modern man is not confronted with supernatural elements like the heroes of classical plays. Rather today man is at war with society to have dignified and respectable position in it. Now everyman is a centre of his own attention. The basic problem of modern man is to determine his Place in his surroundings. So the concept of tragedy should be changed according to the requirements of time and age. Thus, a modem tragedy is a tragedy of a layman because a modern man is layman. So, modem tragedy is a tragedy of everyman.
Arthur Miller stands head and shoulders high among the modern American dramatists. He keenly observes the conflict between the aims and objectives of an individual and his social surroundings, and beautifully presents these conflicts in his plays. In this play he presents the image of a guilt-ridden man.
 John Proctor is a common countryman, a farmer by profession. He is respected for his uprightness and fear for his sharp dealing with hypocrites. The writer says that in his presence, “A fool felt his foolishness instantly”. But Proctor also holds guilt on his name. He has been sexually involved with a girl, Abigail. Proctor is deeply repentant on his sin of adultery and betraying his wife. Elizabeth. He cannot come out of this guilt till the end and feels that his salvation is not possible, and that he cannot climb up the altar steps with the dignity of righteous people. Considering his statement to Elizabeth:
“Let them that never lie, die now to keep their souls. It is a pretence for me a vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the wind.” 
But he reaches a dignified position through proper decision in the end. Thus the attention of the playwright is on the moral choice of Proctor. Though he is a sinner, yet he is a man of good conscience.
It is also to be noted that in Miller’s plays the catastrophe rises from some sexual sin. In fact, he wants to enhance the importance of family life, if the rules of marriage are not abided by, the downfall is sure to come in one or the other way. Miller says:
“I cannot live apart from society”.
He thinks that moral honesty cannot be separated from a commitment to the society. Though a man and environment do not merely interact, yet they are the part of each other- a fish is in water and the water is in fish. Miller implies this dictum to every human being and proves it through his protagonist that every person has to live in harmony with his surroundings.
Proctor has been presented as a rebel of society leads a life of Isolation - partly because of his shame and partly because of his stubborn manner and this isolation and becomes his flaw. At first, Proctor denies the importance of society stays away from the trials of witch hunt and even during his trial takes selfish decision to save his life. But later, he has to accept that he is nothing without his surroundings. He realizes what he owes o his neighbours. He knows that his acceptance of being a witch would greatly demoralize the people and they would not fight against this brutal act:
“I blacken all of them when this (my confession) is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence.”
Miller presents self discovery of his protagonist within all the action of the play. The self quest of Proctor begins when Elizabeth repeatedly pleads him to judge him. He has lost faith in his goodness and needs some outer action to invoke him to a certain decision. But when Elizabeth pushes him to take his decision and then he asks for divine help and cries out:
And soon he gets the answer. In the final moments of his life he realizes that he has not yet lost all of his virtue for at least he knows his responsibility towards his neighbours. He utters:
“I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor”
On a broader level, The Crucible, is also a social tragedy. Miller describes how innocent people are mercilessly convicted and murdered in order to save an ideology. By the time of the setting of the play, Puritan’s church and government was losing control over individuals. This is because of the corruption of priests, presented by Parris in the play. The weirdly vanity and hellish sermons of such priests take people away from the church. So church has an ever increasing fear of losing authority over the masses of people and this fear actually the root cause of such wide spread bloodshed. Thus Puritan church and government make desperate attempt to hold people in their grip by using a quotation of Bible which says:
 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”

Monday, 30 March 2020

How far the Title of Arthur Miller's Novel, "The Crucible" is justified?

How far the Title of Arthur Miller's Novel, "The Crucible" is justified?

Initially called The Chronicle of Sarah Good, The Crucible is a dramatization of the Salem Witch trial. Arthur Miller uses the title of his play The Crucible as a Metaphor constantly throughout the text. A crucible is a container used to heat metals at a high temperature so the metal can be cast, often using intense pressure to do so. Crucibles are often also used to remove impurities from a substance, so that only the pure matter remains. The relevance of the title is apparent in many of the themes and issues of the play, and is demonstrated through striking imagery and the actions of characters that Miller portrays to us.
The relevance of the play’s title becomes evident during the first act, as we gradually piece together the information concerning the girls dancing. The kettle viewed by Reverend Parris, a argumentative and unreasonable man in his middle forties, mirrors a crucible. We are told that the girls had made a brew that contained a little frog and blood. This concoction was viewed by the characters involved as a potent, fearsome mixture and this signifies the beginning of the Salem tragedy. It seems that from this ‘brew’ a more sinister force is released, or metaphorically speaking, the impurities are released due to the aid of a crucible.
The dancing and the contents of the little pot seem to fuel the rumours, lies and tragedy of Salem. Suspicion soon engulfs the community and the little privacy that once existed suddenly shatters. Privacy was quickly interpreted to mean that people had some terrible fault to hide and there was an intense pressure for neighbours to reveal each other’s sins. Here is evidence of how the play’s title is reflected in the actions and words of the characters.
In fact, Reverend Parris makes an ironic comment that is closely linked with the The Crucible:
Reverend Parris: Why, Rebecca, we may open up the boil of all our troubles today because in the end the witchcraft investigation provokes the burning down and destruction of the community. “
Here The Crucible is once again used metaphorically to illustrate characters beliefs. The use of such words as ‘boil’ and ‘burning down’ are directly linked with the image of a crucible at work.
The witch trials are also metaphorically a crucible for people’s grudges, and their seeking of revenge. The play shows us also how people can give into their fear and superstition. Salem quickly turns into a melting pot of suspicion and vengeance with nearly everyone trying to pull power out of the pot. The witch trials provided an avenue to bring hostilities out into the open in a theocratic society that had little opportunity for speaking out.
The trials are not really about witchcraft. Abigail Williams, a strikingly pretty seventeen-year-old orphan, admits to John Proctor, a well-respected farmer in his mid thirties, how the witchery is a hoax:
Abigail:         We were dancing in the woods last night and my uncle leaped out on us. She took fright, is all”.
Furthermore, the relationship between Abigail and Proctor is highlighted using imagery connected to the concept of a crucible. The relationship, based more on lust than love, is one that Proctor dearly regrets and that constantly plays on his conscience. Heat and fire can be used as symbols that are strongly connected with a crucible, and Miller uses this symbolism cleverly:
Abigail:     “… you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I came near!”
And later,
Abigail: “I have a sense for heat, John … and I have seen you … burning in your loneliness.”
The relationship can be likened to the concept of a crucible because it represents the high temperatures and reactions that take place in a crucible. The relationship between Abigail and John is shown in great contrast with his wife Elizabeth, a cold and unforgiving woman. The relationship between John and Elizabeth is cold, distant and tense, with no passion or fire. However, despite his feelings of passion for Abigail, Proctor realizes that he must not succumb to them again. This decision effectively ends their relationship and extinguishes the heat between them.
Fire and heat is used as a symbol once again in Act Three. The Crucible metaphor is illustrated in the play when Judge Danforth, a strict judge with a strong belief in authority, says to Proctor,
Danforth:  We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment”.
The court scenes were times of tension, intensity, pressure and conflicts between powerful authorities refusing to realise they have signed away innocent lives on the strength of a lie. Also things are permanently and physically changed in a crucible, when they are turned from one thing into another. This is reflected in the play by the fact that many characters in the play are exposed to high pressures during the trial. This pushes many characters to the limits of reason and changes them mentally, physically and spiritually.
Another parallel between the word crucible and the play is the fact that a meaning of the word crucible is a severe test or trial. When John Proctor is convicted of witchery he wrestles with his conscience about whether he should confess or be hanged. His internal conflict between the opportunity to protect himself at the expense of others weighs heavily on his mind, but he chooses the ultimate sacrifice – his life. He asks his wife towards the end of The Crucible:
Proctor:  Would you give them such as lie? You would not; if tongs of fire were singeing you, you would not.”
This makes it evident that Proctor recognises his own shortcomings and once again conjures the image of fire that is closely related to a crucible. Miller also uses the text to make connections between Salem and Hell.

Proctor:  A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! …. And we will burn, we will burn together!”
Here Miller makes the ultimate connection between the play’s title The Crucible and the society he is portraying. The intense heat and pressure of Hell is also present in a crucible, and both can be associated with the hysteria and suspicion of the people in Salem during the witch trials.
The obvious relevance of The Crucible can be found at the very core of the text. A crucible can be used to separate and discard impurities the in a substance – in effect, that was the essence of the Salem witch trials. In an attempt to separate the ‘good from the bad’, many respectable and virtuous people were hung due to the mass hysteria and pressure caused by ‘The Crucible’ of the times.
By reflecting his play’s powerful and effective title throughout the text, Miller prompts his audience to apply his metaphor to other situations in history. It was most certainly Miller’s own experiences during the ‘communist hunt’ of the 1950’s that provoked him to write this play. Miller saw the parallels between the McCarthy era and the Salem witch hunts for what they really were – a crucible. Severe trials held in an attempt to separate the good from the evil, the pure from the tainted. Through his text, he shows the frailty and vulnerability of human nature by showing how hypocrisy and hysteria can lead to times of suspicion and instability. He leaves us, his audience, to make our own judgement about similar periods in history and to ask ourselves the question – Is it possible, or even predictable, that this situation will ever occur again?

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