To gain a comprehensive understanding of the varied personalities within Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, one must refer to Kohlberg’s three moral perceptions. This essay will analyze the statements and actions of multiple characters, in order to elucidate their reasonings behind their specific behaviours. In delving into the characters’ complex natures, one will gain an extensive insight into their specific motivations. Each character has encountered situations that fall into pre-conventional, conventional, or post-conventional perspectives. Depending on which one of Kohlberg’s perceptions they fall under, these circumstances will drive them to undertake certain actions. Within the essay, these three moral perceptions will be utilized to interpret the intricate behaviours of the characters from Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible.
There are many characters within The Crucible who exhibit pre-conventional behaviour. Kohlberg’s first moral perception is defined best as behaving in such a way to obtain reward and avoid punishment. One example of a character demonstrating pre-conventional behaviour is Tituba, an African American woman working as a slave for Parris. Tituba confessed to a crime she did not take part in when Parris threatened that he would “take [her] out and whip [her] to [her] death” if she did not admit to witchcraft. In order to escape death, Tituba makes the decision to confess in associating herself with the devil, which ultimately is a lie constructed to avoid punishment. The play is set in 1600’s Salem, where African Americans were easily presented as scapegoats. Tituba was highly aware of the privilege Parris, a Caucasian male, possessed within society, and specifically within the time period. Because she knew the only way to avoid such horrific punishment was to give Parris what he wanted, she confessed to a crime she was innocent of. Furthermore, Danforth solidifies his pre-conventional behaviour when he chooses to continue the hangings of the townsfolk. In lack of better judgement, he orders that “there will be no postponement” of the hangings. Danforth is highly aware the deferral of the executions of important townsfolk is beneficial towards the town. However, he is highly afraid that Salem will view him as an indecisive and weak judge. In order to avoid the punishment of being ridiculed by townsfolk, Danforth continues the trials even though he is aware he should not. He expresses that avoiding embarrassment is more important to him than potentially saving lives. The final character who behaves in such a way to avoid punishment is Reverend Parris. Parris chooses to lie about catching Betty and Abigail seemingly engaging in witchcraft because the townsfolk will “howl [him] out of Salem for such corruption”. The girls live under the same roof as Parris, meaning if the townsfolk discover them as bewitched, the town will assume Parris is corrupted as well. Parris decides to escape this narrative by failing to tell anyone about the alleged witchcraft he had seen in the forest. His life, career, and soul would be absolutely ruined if he had said anything, so he chooses to avoid punishment by keeping silent. From the provided examples, it is evident that there are plentiful pre-conventional characters within The Crucible.
In addition to the many preconventional characters, The Crucible contains an abundance of characters that can be described as conventional. Acting conventionally can be described as behaving in a certain way in means of fitting into a group. To begin, Abigail displays conventional behaviour when she puts on a facade towards the adults within the play. She desires to appear as a suitable girl in society when she proclaimed publicly that she is “a proper girl”. In dissecting the literature, Arthur Miller wrote Abigail’s character in such a way so that the reader views her as anything but a proper girl. Behind closed doors, Abby displays behaviours that reveal her true colours. However, when those doors are open, she must put forth an innocent persona in order to fit in with the other girls in Salem. Women within the 1600s needed to fit into the guidelines in which society deemed to be acceptable, or else they would be susceptible to being scapegoated. Because Abigail needed to fit into society, she puts on a persona to the town in order to be deemed as conventionally proper. Subsequently, the girls Abigail surrounded herself with display conventional behaviour. The girls want to belong in a group led by Abigail, they demonstrate this when they simultaneously scream “Abby stop it” as an echo of Mary Warren. To back up Abigail’s lie that Mary is bewitched, the girls support her by collectively pretending that Mary in controlling them. In completing this action, the girls band together to be part of Abigail’s delusions in order to fit in. Throughout the play, the girl’s conventionality deepens by continuously pretending the townsfolk are witches, simply to earn Abigail’s approval and to secure a place in her group. To conclude, John Proctor displays the need to fit into a group. Proctor’s affair with Abigail Williams would ruin his place as a highly respected citizen of Salem. If Proctor was not careful with keeping the affair a secret, Abby could “ruin [him] with it”. Throughout the play, many situations arise in which Proctor could confess to lechery to spare innocent lives. Although Proctor is too concerned with his reputation, and is too prideful to admit his wrongdoings. He ultimately continues to lie through the greater half of the play in order to fit into his role of being a good and proper husband. From the evidence provided, it is clear that there are many characters within The Crucible that display conventional behaviour.
The final moral perception is post-conventional, which multiple characters within The Crucible exhibit. Kohlberg’ third moral perception is best described as individuals with an internalised moral compass that cannot be altered by punishment, reward, or group-acceptance. The first example of post-conventional behaviour is when Elizabeth Proctor lies for the first time in her life. Elizabeth goes against her morals within the courthouse by saying “no sir”, stating her husband did not commit lechery. Elizabeth prides herself in being an honest woman of God, although, she corrupts her faith and goes against her morals in attempt to save her husband. In making said statement, Elizabeth believes that she is sparing her husband, yet ultimately ruining her chances of eternal life. Furthermore, Giles Corey showcases that his morals cannot be altered by punishment. When Corey finds himself being pressed with stones placed by Thomas Putnam, instead of giving information, he simply wants them to “add more weight”. Corey could care less if he dies, he will not have his morals corrupted by giving Putnam what he wants. Because Corey died a good Christian man, his children would inherit his land. This final action resulted in Corey redeeming himself as a post-conventional character. The final character that occupies post-conventional characteristics is Hale. In working as a minister, Hale’s association with the court ultimately went against his morals. After witnessing innocent people sentenced to execution, Hale decided to “quit [the] court” and resign as minister. Hale did not care about the punishment of losing his job, he only wanted to abide by his internalized moral compass. In throwing his professional life away, Hale proved his morals could not by altered by the situations he is put in. It is apparent from the examples provided that there are many characters from The Crucible that represent post-conventionality.
The analysis of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible through the lens of Kohlberg’s three moral perceptions has provided an insightful understanding of its characters’ behaviours and motivations. Through the examination of each characters’ actions in various situations, it can be observed that they each operate within a specific moral perception. Some operate as pre-conventional, whereas others operate conventionally or post-conventionally. This essay has demonstrated that the examination of characters within The Crucible through Kohlberg’s perceptions, is a powerful tool in the deeper understanding of human behaviour.