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The Crucible & The Dressmaker | Conformity and Ostracism

Conformity and ostracism are two of the central themes of these two texts as both of them explore in great details the ways in which outcasts and non-conformists are treated by their respective communities. Ham’s graphic description of the characters and Miller’s use of stage directions both enhance the role of social ostracism in conditioning the behaviours characters.

I thought it might be a good idea to bring the two texts together this time, hopefully giving you guys a better understanding of how these two texts work together!

1. Both Ham and Miller criticise the ways in which non-conformists are victimised and ostracised by their respective societies.

The DressmakerThe Crucible
In employing the simile “dank and smelled like possum piss,” Ham portrays the extremely poor condition that Molly lives in, establishing her distorted state as a direct result of the town’s abandonment and ostracism. The blunt tone, coupled with the harsh sound “d” and alliterative cliche “possum piss”, also help advance Ham’s criticism of the harsh judgment and mistreatment of the townspeople towards Tilly. Herein, the coarseness of the language Ham employs reflects the abrasive manner of the townspeople towards outcasts and outsiders.
This idea is epitomised through Giles Corey’s punishment, which is foreshadowed by Arthur Miller’s comment on his fate – one that is “so remarkable and so different” from that of others. In particular, violence was utilised to manipulate Giles Corey into confessing something he did not do by laying “great stones … upon his chest until he plead aye or nay”, where the weight of the stones represents the societal pressures. This establishes Giles Corey as the victim of the archaic values that pervade Salem. In doing so, this extreme brutality further magnifies the amount of pain that Giles has to endure for being that “comical hero… who didn’t give a hoot for public opinion”, rendering his punishment as disproportionate and absurd.
By referring to Molly’s head as” a skeleton head,” Ham associates Molly’s distorted appearance with death and hyperbolises her malnourished state. Compounding this with Tilly’s accusatory tone “this is what they’ve done to you” and the emphasis on the exclusive “they,” Ham draws a connection between Molly’s distorted appearance and the townspeople’s mistreatment of her, establishing her critique of a society that ostracises non-conformists.The Crucible ends on a quiet note, in contrast to its frenzied conflict throughout the play. By ending the play with the protagonist’s death, Arthur Miller instead presents a victory of the human spirit, where John Proctor finally “finds his goodness”, which comes at the cost of his death. His despairing undertones echo Molly’s position that “sometimes things just don’t seem fair.” This realistically limited victory serves as Miller’s warning to the audience of the consequences that ramify from the act of actively deviating from the accepted norms of a society.
Lindsey Dang| Copyright© 2020

I’ve bolded ideas that can be linked to each other. I often structure my teaching notes for the comparative section this way because it makes my life so much easier to start writing! I got a Word Document including tables for you to fill in, if you want a copy, subscribe to my blog and request the document using the contact form at the end of the page!

2. The lack of genuine connection between the townspeople often leads them to make unfounded assumptions about outcasts.

The Dressmaker The Crucible
Quote: “Mad Molly” – “wouldn’t know what I phone was,” “wouldn’t know what to do with a letter”

The unhelpful and abrupt response of the woman at the telephone exchange acts as a representative of the attitude of the townspeople towards Molly. The repetition of the phrase “wouldn’t know” herein establishes the assumption of people about Molly’s state of mind, rendering Molly a victim of the society she is living in.
Quote: “Swaying like a dumb beast

Through the likening of Tituba’s “swaying” to that of a “dumb beast,” Miller further emphasises the existence of the disparity between social classes as the derogatory term “dumb” showcases Parris’s superiority over Tituba. The audience may also infer that this reflects the community’s assumption about Tituba – condescendingly referring to her inanity.
© Lindsey Dang, 2020

TIP: You could also discuss the tone of the lady on the phone (note that this evidence is from the Prologue of the Dressmaker) and compare it to Parris’s tone.

3. Through the disparity between how the lower and the higher classes are treated, Ham and Miller express their disapprobation towards the double standards that exist within the community.

The DressmakerThe Crucible
Similar to Tilly and Molly, Evan also represents a deviation from the expected norms of the town, as established through the characterisation of him as “a man who touched women.” However, he is not shunned for it in the same way Tilly and Molly are as his social status as the councillor enables him to buy his way out of being explicitly driven out of the community. Through the forced “polite[ness]” from the ladies and the “cordial[ity]” of men, the readership will be able to see the influence of his power on the townspeople. While the locals are patronising and critical towards Tilly’s return, as exemplified through how “everybody was speechless with disgust” label her as a “bastard”, “murderess,” they superficially accept Evan despite the community-wide distrust towards him.
Mary Warren’s complaint about Goody Good “com[ing] to this very door” and “mumbl[ing]”” highlights her indifference towards Sarah Good and her personal circumstances. In this scene, the door between Mary Warren and Sarah Good may represent the barrier or the disparity between the social classes that they represent. The image of Goody Good being outside of the house renders her an outcast, marginalised by the community members. The difference between Mary’s attitude towards the Proctors and those that she accuses highlights the existence of double standards in the Salem community as she instead “quakes” when Proctor speaks to her.
© Lindsey Dang, 2020

TIP: You could also talk about Stewart and Tilly (Prudence Dimm’s favouritism) since she also treats Tilly differently from other kids. Stewart got to play the big drums whereas Tilly is always placed on ink-duty for fighting even though it is the other kids who bully her.

4. The ways in which the respective societies suppress individual freedom is also thoroughly critiqued by Ham and Miller.

The DressmakerThe Crucible

Though Dungatar is set in a completely different time and location, the same norms are exhibited. Sergeant Farrat’s unconventional passion for cross-dressing is also one that is stigmatised by the society that he lives, resulting in him being able to “wear them only inside the house.” His constant fear of being judged for his personality, reflected by his “unique” haute couture outfits, highlights the ways in which his individualism is suppressed by the society.

 From the outset of the play, Miller employs the motif of dancing as a statement against the restrictive and autocratic authority that governs Salem. Given that children were anything but “thankful for being permitted to walk straight,” it can be inferred that girls’ act of “dancing like heathens in the forest” showcases their desire for freedom and release of suppression; though their extreme fear of “being whipped”, one that manifests into a spiritual “sickness,” establishes the ways in which the society criminalises any acts of expression
© Lindsey Dang, 2020

SAMPLE PARAGRAPH

Once you have had a good set of notes, it won’t be as difficult to start writing! The paragraph below is included for your references!

The ways in which the respective societies suppress individual freedom is also thoroughly critiqued by Ham and Miller.  From the outset of the play, Miller employs the motif of dancing as a statement against the restrictive and autocratic authority that governs Salem. Given that children were anything but “thankful for being permitted to walk straight,” it can be inferred that girls’ act of “dancing like heathens in the forest” showcases their desire for freedom and release of suppression; though their extreme fear of “being whipped”, one that manifests into a spiritual “sickness,” establishes the ways in which the society criminalises any acts of expression. Though Dungatar is set in a completely different time and location, the same norms are exhibited. Sergeant Farrat’s unconventional passion for cross-dressing is also one that is stigmatised by the society that he lives, resulting in him being able to “wear them only inside the house.” His constant fear of being judged for his personality, reflected by his “unique” haute couture outfits, highlights the ways in which his individualism is suppressed by the society. Both The Crucible and The Dressmaker foreground the restrictive nature of communities that forbid expression and demand absolute conformity, challenging the audience to emulate their distaste towards these archaic and conservative ways of living.


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