The Crucible

by: Arthur Miller

Point of View

The point of view of The Crucible differs based on whether the play is performed or read. Because Miller doesn’t write any soliloquies to reveal characters’ inner thoughts, the audience is only privy to the action on the stage, so their perspective is third-person limited, meaning we only have access to what the characters do and say, not what they think or feel. We have little knowledge of characters’ past relationships with each other, and must infer their histories based upon the way they interact. For example, John Proctor and Abigail are both flirtatious and wary of one another when they first meet in Betty’s bedroom. We immediately sense some sort of past relationship between them, which is initially unclear but slowly revealed over the course of the scene. In general, characters treat each other with distrust and sometimes outright resentment, though we don’t immediately understand why they are so eager to condemn one another as witches. Through their dialogue we slowly understand some of their past relationships, while in other cases we simply understand that past resentments and disagreements inform their current attitudes toward one another.

When we read the text, though, the narrator and stage directions include descriptions of the characters’ interior lives, making the narration third-person omniscient. The narrator outlines the specific grievances and disputes between characters, increasing our understanding of why they might be eager to condemn one another. Often these are disputes over land, or, in the case of Putnam, a sense of being unfairly passed over for political office. When we meet John Proctor, we immediately learn he is an adulterer, adding meaning to his initial interactions with Abigail. The narrator also expands our understanding of the events by describing characters’ historical legacy, referring to previous performances of the play, and discussing the events in Salem in the context of history through the 20th century. Phrases like “in my opinion” and “I have no doubt,” along with the first-person plural pronouns “we” and “us” give the reader the sense of having a privileged understanding of the action, and a far greater context of the play’s meaning than the characters themselves. Throughout the play, the narrator acts as the reader’s guide whose lectures ensure that the reader fully understands the allegory as Miller intended.