What role do sex and sexual repression play in The Crucible?
Part of the enduring appeal of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible lies in its resonance with various contemporary events. While the play is certainly a critique of the McCarthy era, it can also be read as a commentary on anti-feminism, fascism, or any number of other repressive movements. Miller’s play remains so broadly applicable in part because he avoids attributing the Salemites’ hysteria to any one specific cause. He does not simply ascribe the witch hunt mania to religious conviction, groupthink, or longstanding feuds. Rather, he suggests that a number of complex causes led to the deaths of innocent people, and that sexual repression was one such cause.
Abigail’s inability to express her sexuality openly is one of the key instigators of the witch hunt. In puritanical
The enthusiasm with which Betty and the other girls follow Abigail’s lead can also be traced to sexual repression. Society teaches these girls that their physical urges are unnatural, even sinful. Therefore, the girls vent their feelings in secret, with each other. While we never learn precisely what happens in the woods, Miller implies that the girls’ meetings have an erotic component. In his notes in Act One, Miller likens the meetings to the “
Elizabeth Proctor’s shame over her husband’s sexuality and her incapacity to discuss it openly help doom Proctor to death. Beyond her horror at her husband’s sinful adulterous behavior, Elizabeth feels an aversion to exposing that behavior in court. In part, her reluctance stems from a charitable desire to protect Proctor’s reputation. In addition, though, Elizabeth is deeply ashamed of what her husband has done. She is a notably truthful woman, whom lying causes almost physical pain. Yet she would rather lie under oath than admit she is married to an adulterer. By inadvertently casting her husband as a liar, Elizabeth helps the cause of those eager to damn him as a witch.
Miller suggests that the consequences of sexual repression can be as dire as the consequences of religious intolerance or fear of outsiders. In addition to its impassioned plea for individual rights and measured political discourse,