Essay: Power and Authority in the Crucible

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Power and Authority in Arthur Miller's Play The Crucible: Abigail Williams Reigns Supreme

Although power and authority can exist within the persona of the same person, power and authority are not synonymous. Arthur Miller's play the Crucible demonstrates that mass hysteria offers the opportunity for powerless members of society to gain power from those who possess more typical forms of social authority. While the members of Salem accused of witchcraft were often powerless people, such as old women, some of them were not. Some were relatively prominent individuals who opposed the witch hunt, like the farmers John Proctor and Giles Corey.

Abigail Williams is perhaps the paradigmatic example of an individual with no institutional authority who gains power through the social mechanisms of the witch-hunt. Abigail is a young, unmarried female and the subject of much gossip around the town. She is a servant before the beginning of the play in the household of John and Elizabeth Proctor. Then, her life's direction lies in the hands of others. To gain power she has an affair with John. This gives her momentary power in the form of sexual mastery. But soon Elizabeth, jealous and mindful of the affair, casts Abigail out of the Procter household. This causes tongues to wag about Abigail, and Abigail is miserable and ostracized.

Abigail resorts to a tool often used by women who are marginalized to gain some sense of control over others: folk magic. Abigail asks an even more powerless woman in society, the slave from Barbados named Tituba, to perform a ceremony that eventually results in the girls being apparently 'bewitched.' Miller is careful to note that the girls are not entirely pretending -- as Mary Warren later says, she feels overcome by a sense of power when she joins the accusers. She becomes entranced by the power of being part of a group. This emotional sense of belonging enables the girls as a collective to engage in strange physical behaviors, and also to feel confident when they point out various witches.

Dabbling in witchcraft and being anointed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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