Friday, January 09, 2009

The Crucible...random thoughts

The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

I first read this play decades ago (decades...sheesh!), back when I was in 8th grade. I loved it then, and I still love it today. (Eighth grade was actually a very good year in reading assignments, with winners like The Crucible, The Lord of the Flies, The Pearl, and Flowers for Algernon. It wasn't until high school that they threw in torturous assignments like the reading of Babbitt.) Anyway, The Crucible. For our literature unit this quarter, Annie and I are focusing on plays. So, what better play to start than with my very favorite. (Of course, I've probably read less than ten plays all told, and most of those have been Shakespeare. Nonetheless, this is my favorite.)

Why is it my favorite? (Aside from that thing about me not having many to choose from, that is.) For one thing, the Salem witch trials have always fascinated me. Oh yeah, in case you didn't know, that's what this play is about. A work of historical fiction, I suppose. Miller did fuse a few of the real people together to create certain characters, and of course, dramatic license was used. But the story is essentially the true story of the events in Salem in 1692. (And yes, of course, everyone is never going to agree completely on what happened. Wild theories will always abound, etc.)

But it's more than a simple look at history. It's a look at "witch hunts" in the general sense. Miller wrote this at the time of McCarthyism in the U.S., and this play can certainly be seen as an allegory. Annie and I discussed that a bit, but honestly we focused more on the paradox of the Puritan beliefs and their behavior. (Which is a kind of nice tie-in with our history studies at the moment, looking at the Pequot War.) How could a society so "God-fearing" and pious ultimately treat people so horrendously. The townspeople of Salem are definitely brimming with human frailties, as all people are. But how did they go from these "God-fearing" people to essentially murderers?

The version we read also had commentary by Miller mixed in. It was quite interesting to see his view of the characters, in his own words, in addition to how we saw them brought to life through the play. There was also an appendix, a scene he'd originally written for the play but decided to leave out as he felt it destroyed the flow. He stated that he really wished he could come up with a way to work it in. I wish he could have, it really does change slightly the way I viewed one of the characters. But I don't want to give away too much there.


Okay, so if you've been here before, you know already how much I despise my so-called book reviews, right? Despite how sweet you all are about them, I just feel like a phony. I have no analytical skills whatsoever. Face it, I seldom leave anyone with a clue as to what the book is even about. Well, guess what. I've come up with a solution! Now, I will no longer feel like I'm trying to fool anyone. I will no longer label these posts as "book reviews"...henceforth, they will be known as "book babble." Perfect, I'd say, as that is an honest look at what I really do...babble.

And hey, I think I'm going to use this as one of my 21 Cultures reads. It definitely showcased the culture of the Puritans in early New England. You don't think that's cheating, do you?


Jean said...

Definitely not cheating, Debi, though it would be better if you could also count it for a second challenge. :-)

Debi said...

I works for the Dewey Decimal one as well! Woohoo!

Dawn said...

I like your babble!!!! I am always interested in what you write. I've never read that play but I've also always been interested in the Salem witch stories. Brittainy lived in Salem for about a year. I visited once about 20 years ago LOL!!

take care,

Nymeth said...

Debi, Debi...if labelling them "book babble" makes you feel better then definitely go for it, but you already know what I think :P

I can't believe I haven't read The Crucible yet! I've heard so many good things about it. I remember watching the movie long long ago...I think it was in history class in 8th grade, actually :P But of course, movies are never quite the same.

What other plays are you and Annie reading? I'm so horribly ignorant when it comes to drama. You said you've read about ten...I'll bet I've read a lot less than that :P

Debi said...

Annie's dying to visit Salem...and I'd be more than happy to go with her, of course! How far is Salem from where you live?

If you ever see The Crucible at the library, you should pick it up! I really think you'd enjoy it, and it's a super fast read.
I'm not terribly versed on plays either. To be perfectly honest, aside from a handful of Shakespeare, the only plays I can remember reading are The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, and The Glass Menagerie. Annie and I are going to try a few Agatha Christie plays next. Probably reading both the play and the novel for one of them, just to compare. And we'll probably finish up the quarter with another Shakespeare...maybe The Merchant of Venice. I know, not too terribly inventive of me, but I didn't want to go too far out on a limb since I'm not very familiar with plays myself. But I figured this would be a nice start for her, and if she enjoys them, she can always take a class at the community college.

Carl V. said...

Who needs to be analytical. Critics are paid to write 'Reviews'...other than those (and often who needs them), the rest of us are doing this because we love to talk about books. And that is exactly what you do when you review a book. No need to be self conscious about them, just tell what you want to tell, like you just did, and all will be right with the world.

I remember reading this, decades ago also, in either junior high or high school and I really enjoyed it. Quite the gripping read. I saw the play stage managed by a good friend of mine when I lived in Tulsa and it was very well done. I really enjoyed seeing it on stage.

Amy said...

I love this play so much! I also saw it as a stage play in Atlanta and thought it was awesome.
I read quite a few plays in school...I liked them all. Perhaps I should consider reading more.

I remember reading great books in 8th grade, too!

Trish said...

Analytical skills...I see McCarthyism, allegory, paradox, things I haven't thought about since I was in school!

I've kind of struggled with what to do with my reviews as well--and at times I've felt like I don't spend enough time on them or they aren't "literary" enough (it's kind of embarrassing to admit how little time I spend on them). I like to babble a lot, too. And I'm not in school anymore, so I don't feel like I need to be scholarly. I say, do what you're comfortable with. You're a wonderful writer--so even the babble comes out great!!

And nope--I don't think it's cheating. This is a different culture, right??

Eva said...

1) Debi daaarling, there shall be no more of this self-insulting talk. Repeat after me: I write wonderful book reviews. I am intelligent. I am a great reader and a great writer. You need to say that to yourself for as many times as it takes to be believe it. :)

2) Did you watch the movie (w/ Winona Ryder)? Arthur Miller wrote the screen play adaptation (I know this because I wrote a paper comparing the play and movie in high school, lol). The changes were quite interesting, though in the end I prefer the play.

Anonymous said...

i love "the crucible"! i was in it once, oddly cast as giles corey.

this version sounds particularly good - i'd really like to read miller's thoughts on it!

have you seen the film of it? i think day lewis' performance is AMAZING! probably one of my favourite performances.

i remember watching it because we were about to study it at drama school (the year before we actually staged it). in those first two years john proctor was one of those characters that everyone always spoke of as an amazing one to play, so i was really excited to watch it.

so i'm watching it and i'm about half way through and i'm thinking, "what? is this it? this guy's nothing special. he's quite interestig but there isn't much going on with him really..."

and then elizabeth proctor gets arrested and suddenly it just turns around.

i sat there with my mouth hanging open, thinking what an incredible performance and what an incredible character (for an actor to play as well as for an audience to watch)!

Anonymous said...

WOW! The comments here are terrific! I love Eva's affirmations. I know what you mean, tho. When I try to give what I think is a half-decent review, I HATE it but when I relax and realize that it's only me, love it or leave it - I get all sorts of awesome praise. Do what feels right, do it for you and we'll love it. Babble away. that's an order NOT a suggestion.

Debi said...

Carl and Amy,
I know envy is one of those "to be avoided" emotions, but I can't help it...I would sooooo love to see this performed live!

Okay, I'm not calling you a liar... Honest! But I find it very hard to believe that you just whip out your reviews. Seriously girl, I'm always impressed with how well put together they are. You're one of those people whose reviews always make mine look so pathetic in comparison.

I tried. Really, I did. I got through "I write wonderful book reviews..." just barely suppressing the laughter. But the "I am intelligent..." well, that was just waaaaay too much! Aah, but thank you, you sweet thing!
And thank you for the tip about the movie...I am going to immediately more that right to the top of the Netflix queue so we can see it this coming week. That will be great for school!

Okay, how the hell did I not know you were an actor?!! That is just too awesomely cool that you were in The Crucible! And you know what, Annie and I both loved Giles Corey...we spent some time talking about him. I really love how each and every character in that play is so vitally important to the overall story.

Order received. And don't worry, I'll have no trouble complying...babbling is what I do best. :)