Crucible Project

In literary works, irony is not just a sentence or a group of words;
it is in fact a tool utilized by the author to indirectly enhance a
character. In writing The Crucible, Arthur Miller employs three major types
of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic irony. The irony is used to
illustrate a point, to add suspense and keep a reader interested in the
author’s work, or to show a character’s ignorance. Miller displays much of
his irony through the characters’ dialogue, and on occasion, shows the
situational irony through an action.

Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the “speaker intends to
be understood as meaning something that contrasts with the literal or usual
meaning of what he says.”i There is much verbal irony in this play. One
example of this is when John Proctor says “Good. Then her saintliness is
done with”ii, mentioning Abigail. However, Proctor does not actually
believe that Abigail is a saint. She, in reality, actually had an affair
with him, making her a sinner, since he is married. However, he says this
line because the rest of the town, and most importantly, the courts believe
that she is a believable and truthful young soul. In effect, he tries to
convince the court and the people of her “unsaintliness”, by bringing to
their attention her sins, but to no avail. Another example has Proctor
telling his wife “It’s winter in here yet.”iii However, it is actually
spring, as in the same dialogue he asks her to go walking in the field with
him so that they may pick flowers and bring them into their home. Proctor
really means to tell his wife that their home is cold, that there is no
sign of love. He believes that when his wife fills the home with warmth and
love, he is forgiven for his sin of lechery, and only then can he continue
on with his life normally. By using this type of irony, Miller’s characters
indirectly bring something to our attention, which could not otherwise be
done.

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Situational irony describes a “.discrepancy between appearance and
reality, expectation and outcome, or reality and the way things should
be.”iv This is the second type of irony used in the play. The reader does
not think an incident can occur, yet it does; which in turn keeps the
reader guessing to what can happen next. One of many examples of this is
Proctor telling his wife, Elizabeth, that he will “find Ezekiel Cheever.”
and “tell him she said it were all in sport.”v He was referring to
Abigail’s reason to why she was in the woods dancing with the others.

Instead of Proctor, however, Cheever comes to arrest Elizabeth. This is to
the disbelief of the reader due to the fact that they are led to believe
Cheever is a friend who will offer his assistance. This irony could also be
a surprise to the characters. Asked if Rebecca was accused, Reverend Hale
responds, “God forbid such a one be charged”vi. However, she is later
arrested and charged with “the marvelous and supernatural murder of Goody
Putnam’s babies”vii. None of the characters could have suspected this,
and many begin to doubt the court at this time. Throughout the play, there
has not been such an astonishing example of this kind of irony then when
Danforth tells Proctor “.your wife send me a claim in which she states she
is pregnant.”viii. This seems to be a contradiction to the thought of the
reader since Proctor proclaims to his wife earlier in the play, “You forget
nothin’ and forgive nothin’.I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven
month.I have not moved from here to there without I think to please
you.”ix. From this dialogue, one would conclude that there was no love or
romance, and to some degree, a lack of affection in their marriage for many
months. So it is truly unsuspected, to the reader and to John Proctor
himself, when we are told that Elizabeth is pregnant. By using this form of
irony, the play never becomes excessively predictable. By using situational
irony, Miller creates a sense suspense that keeps the reader drawn into the
play.

Dramatic irony is viewed as a “.relationship of contrast between a
character’s limited understanding of his or her situation in some
particular moment of the unfolding action and what the audience, at the
same instant, understands the character’s situation actually to be.”x
This is not an irony that appears often in the play, and therefore only a
few examples could be found. Most of this type of irony appears because
characters do not understand the true intentions of the other characters,
and yet we know their intentions through their dialogue with other
characters. In response to Proctor disclosing that he did not baptize his
third child because he does not like Reverend Parris, Hale responds, “The
man’s ordained, therefore the light of God is in him.”xi Yet we as the
readers have more insight into the situation. We know that Parris is not
acting because he fears there are supernatural powers in Salem. He is
helping the court because he wants to retain his power and authority in the
town. If truth is to be told, Parris was the first skeptic of the girls
being controlled by the supernatural, he in fact feared it because it was
within his home. As others believe he is a holy man working to weed out the
supernatural powers, we know that he is actually doing it for the chance to
retain his power over the
Church members. In another example, Elizabeth is brought in to explain why
she had dismissed Abigail. Instead of telling the truth, she tells Judge
Danforth she dismissed Abigail because “she dissatisfied” her, and that she
believed Proctor “came to fancy her”. She also proclaims that Proctor never
turned from her and did not commit the crime of lechery. Unbeknownst to
her, Proctor had previously confessed all his sins to Danforth, and all had
relied on Elizabeth to tell the truth so that Abigail could be invalidated.

In implementing this type of irony, Miller’s characters become more
believable with the added trait of ignorance.

Conclusively, irony serves a purpose in literary works. Using verbal,
situational, and dramatic irony, the author brings minor details to our
attention indirectly; creates a sense of suspense that keeps the reader
interested in his work and always wanting the protagonists to overcome
their obstacles; and to show that each character has one major fault, that
if not instilled, would change the course of the play. As a result of using
these types of ironies, Miller creates and diversifies his characters and
makes them even more believable.


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i http://www.ksu.edu/english/baker/english320/cc-verbal_irony.htm
ii Pg 80
iii Pg 51
iv
http://de.citruscollege.com/DE/Eiland/eiland_shared/ppts/irony/tsld006.htm
v Pg 62
vi Pg 64
vii Pg 71
viii Pg 92
ix Pg 54
x http://www.ksu.edu/english/baker/english320/cc-dramatic_irony.htm
xi Pg 66