Book Review: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible - Arthur Miller (Bantam Books, 1977)
The Crucible – Arthur Miller (Bantam Books, 1977)

I have yet to see The Crucible in its play form so it feels a bit unfair to judge what is only a script. I have no doubt that the play is more compelling when seen than when read.

Because, let me tell you, it’s not that compelling when read.

This is primarily the fault of Act One in which Miller consistently interrupts the action to give background information on characters, something going on for pages. (Once all the characters have been introduced he stops doing this but it made for a painful slog through Act One.) While the information is relevant, it’s an entirely artless way to present it and it’s clearly not necessary since (I presume) these wouldn’t be included for the viewers of the play. From there, the script picks up the pace but it definitely required some recovery time.

The Crucible famously depicts the Salem Witch Trials and was written in McCarthy-era USA. Miller brilliantly captures what it can look like when the courts have too much power, as well as the dangers of combining church and state. There is a real sense of powerlessness as the characters struggle against accusations of witchcraft. How do you declare yourself innocent of invisible crimes?

There are a fair number of characters for a relatively short play and it took me a while to sort of who was who and how they were connected. (Miller’s interruptions did not help.) I felt like I was just beginning to get a sense of the main characters when the play ended. Again, this is something that maybe wouldn’t be an issue in a well-acted play.

As it is, I felt like I was reading something with a lot of potential but left vaguely unfinished.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Crucible by Arthur Miller”

  1. Hmm… I haven’t read it but did see it performed when I was a teenager, at which time I loved it. Whether adult me still would or not I don’t know – I don’t always agree with my teenage self… 😉

    1. I really do think it would be much better performed. And it’s such a famous play that I have to believe there’s more to it than what I read!

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