Individuality versus Conformity in Miller’s The Crucible The theocratic town of Salem, in the late 1600s, not only advocated conformity but stifled individuality. The play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, illustrates the conflict between conformity and individuality. Salem, a town dependent on the unity and participation, understandably teaches people from a young age to recognize the needs of the community as greater than the needs of an individual. As any unit needs something to hold it all together, Salem forces unity and social conformity through religion.
Coincidentally, religion in Salem acts as the judicial system as well, making it particularly hard for individuals to rebel against the practices of the church. Therefor all members of the community follow the religious rules. The people live in fear of the forceful church that prosecutes all dissenters and the threat of hell cause the community of blind followers to not change or progress. Yet as shown in The Crucible, [that]even one brave man can stand up for change and lead the community into (IN) a better direction.
John Proctor, a previously unpretentious man, chooses to risk his life and fight for change, and even a community so devoted to conformity learns to respect him as an individual. By analyzing the communal benefits of individuality and the faults of conformity in Salem as depicted in The Crucible, we can see that although [the structure of] conformity has value, the lack of proper leadership, constrictive (restrictive or oppressive would be better word choices) social pressure, and an uncompromising court system corrupt the conformist regime.
A community needs a strong leader to guide the people in the right direction, maintain the values of the people, and correct the path of the misguided. A leader like John Proctor who attempts to retrace (retrace? I don’t think that is what you mean. ) the corrupt path of the town. When people like Reverend Parris and Judge Danforth are put in a position of power the system becomes corrupt. Reverend Parris focuses on his own agenda seeking to control others through his power.
The opening statement about him says, “he cut a villainous path” (Miller 3). A villain is quite the opposite of the ideal trait of a leader much less a reverend. When disputing his own salary, Reverend Parris refers to himself saying: “a minister is not to be so lightly crossed and contradicted [… ] There is only obedience or the church will burn like Hell” (1 30). He acts like a tyrant demanding authority without any defiance and disregarding others opinions no matter the reason or logic (of their claims).
On the other side, Judge Danforth intransigently acts so unwilling to make any exceptions to the rules that he allows the sentencing of an innocent man to death for not confessing his alleged guilt. Furthermore, justice is lost when those who rightfully disagree with the authority do not have the courage to act upon their beliefs and remain silent in the face of wrongdoing. Without a strong cornerstone, a leader, the community has no direction. A leader is someone who acts courageously with [the] integrity, uninfluenced by the opinions of the majority yet selflessly acts on the behalf of the people even when unnoticed.
In response to Reverend Parris’s power rant, John Proctor defies his authority, “I may speak my heart”(1 30). He voices himself against the reverend on the behalf of freedom of speech. John Proctor, the representative of individuality in the play, embodies all of these characteristics of a leader. Conformity stifles freedom and without it there can be no variation among people. In Salem people dress the same, talk the same, act the same and follow the same religious beliefs.
Intolerance of variation or abnormal behavior causes the conflict in Salem. Children are not all the same and don’t all think the same and when they are forced into lifestyles of their parents or community often they act out of rebellion. In a society where there is so much pressure, especially on young women, to maintain a certain social appearances constantly, drains people’s spirit. It is understandable that the young girls decide to go out in secret and dance and act silly to release all the pressure put on by society.
When society labels such activities as “abominations” or “vain enjoyment” the girls have no other choice but blame others for their abominable behavior out of fear of punishment. If the girls were able to express their own individuality or as the people call “vain enjoyment,” the girls would not feel the need to hide their acts in the forest making it seem like their acts are shameful. In addition with a moderate amount of freedom for self-expression, the girls would not feel the same need to rebel and act out in secret.
Essentially the girls truly desire freedom from judgment. Lastly, individuality allows for change and progress so that a community can grow and improve. The rules and regulations of the church need to fit the community and develop with the community as it grows, not limit its growth. Furthermore, when person goes off track it is important to have the ability to change and redirect his course to the correct path. Similarly (? )in the town of Salem, the people abuse the court system accusing innocent people of crime left and right leading the courts away from dealing justice.
Because Judge Danforth views the law as inflexible he is not able to correct the path of justice. John Proctor is furious with the way the court system is running he says that “vengeance is walking is Salem [… ] little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law. ”(2 77). John Proctor points out the corruption of the courts accepting the validity of every accusation of witchcraft. Yet there is nothing that he can do about it due to the inflexibility of the law.
The benefits of leadership, freedom, and change, ideas of individuality overshadow the benefits of structure provided by conformity. In contrast, [the] selfish dishonorable leadership, constriction of personal expression, and rigid intolerant law caused by conformist regime lead to the death sentencing of innocent people. If the town of Salem embraced the advantages of the people as individuals, it could have avoided the tragic incidents of the witch trials. Work Cited Miller, Arthur. The Crucible (Penguin Classics). New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.