Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is centered around the mass hysteria created by accusations of witchcraft in the Puritan village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. These accusations can be blamed on Abigail Williams’ affair with John Proctor, the secret grudges that neighbors hold against each other, and the physical and economic differences between the citizens of Salem Village. Because suspicions were at an all-time high, petty accusations were made out to be witchcraft, and bad business deals were blamed on witchery. Among the grudges that help spur the resentment and hostility in the village is one between Giles Corey and Thomas Putnam, who argue about a plot of land and its ownership. Once the accusations begin, everyone has a reason to accuse someone else of witchcraft. When Putnam’s daughter accuses George Jacobs of witchery, Corey quickly notices a motive and claims that Putnam only wants Jacobs’ land. Additionally, even the slightest offhand remark can result in the suspicion of one working with the devil. In another example of hasty accusations, Giles Corey casually mentions that when his wife is reading, he is unable to say his prayers. However, Reverend Hale takes Giles’ claims the wrong way and Martha Corey is quickly arrested and convicted for witchcraft. In Arthur Miller’s haunting play The Crucible, Giles Corey often announces his feelings without considering the consequences, but redeems himself by refusing to allow the defamation of one of his friends while keeping his property and dignity intact.
Giles Corey is an outspoken member of Salem Village, which can sometimes get himself and others into trouble. Giles, one could say, is infamous in the town for causing disputes and attempting to settle those disputes in court. In one instance, Giles is embedded in an argument with Thomas Putnam about land that he believes rightfully belongs to John Proctor. Putnam is informed that his grandfather had a history of willing away land that he did not own. While the argument does not involve him, Giles feels the need to interject when he supports Proctor’s claim by saying, “That’s God’s truth; he nearly willed away my north pasture” (32). The argument becomes so heated that Putnam threatens to clap a writ on Giles. This, of course, seems of little threat to Giles as he has been in court thirty-three times in his life – six times already this year. Ironically, Giles’ inability to keep his mouth shut also hurts the ones he loves. When Reverend Hale first arrives in Salem, Giles is quick to mention strange behavior that is going on in his own house. Giles’ wife Martha often reads “strange” books, which seems to discomfort her husband. Giles tries to explain to the Reverend how his wife’s strange reading habits are disturbing him when he mentions, “Last night – mark this – I tried and tried and could not say my prayers. And then she close her book and walks out of the house, and suddenly – mark this – I could pray again!” (40). Hale, having an unbiased opinion of everyone in the village at this point, believes the stoppage of prayer is a strange phenomenon that he will have to investigate further. Later, once Walcott accuses Martha of witchcraft, Hale remembers that Martha was indirectly disturbing her husband’s prayers at night. Consequently, Martha is sentenced to jail because she is believed to have communicated with the devil. Ironically, Giles never bothered with church until after he married Martha, his third wife. So, it is possible that Giles could not say his prayers simply because he only recently learned them and it was not out of the ordinary that a slight disturbance would cause him to stumble through his regimen. Giles Corey often speaks his mind, even when it will undoubtedly put himself and others in harm’s way. Page 98 quotes
Despite his faults, Giles is able to redeem himself later by protecting the names of those he loves. In court, Giles testifies that Thomas Putnam instructed his daughter to cry witchcraft on George Jacobs simply because Putnam wanted his land. However, Giles refuses to give his source because he knows they will surely go to jail. Giles is adamant when he reasons, “He’ll lay in jail if I give his name!” (97). When Giles takes a stand against the court, he is acting as a voice of reason. While everyone is caught up in the madness, Giles realizes what will happen if he gives his friend’s good name away. In fact, Giles feels remorse and complete self-hatred for accidentally turning in his wife. This feeling of self-reproach is evident when Giles explains, “I will not give you no name. I mentioned my wife’s name once and I’ll burn in hell long enough for that. I stand mute” (97). Similarly, Giles is later regarded as a hero when he chooses to die before answering to his indictment. Elizabeth retells the story of how, in another instance of challenging the court’s authority, Giles came to a quagmire and explains, “If he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm” (135). Giles knew that he would be in trouble if he opened his mouth. So, ironically, Giles stood mute and did not say anything, for he knew that if he did not testify, he would not be sentenced to death or have his property forfeited. Tragically, the court then decided to lay great stones upon his chest until he pleaded aye or nay. As Elizabeth recalls, “He give them but two words. More weight” (135). After repeatedly speaking out and putting himself and others into sticky situations, Giles is able to realize the foolishness of the witch trials and tries to save the innocence of others.
Giles Corey, a character in The Crucible by leading American playwright Arthur Miller, often expresses his opinions but fails to consider the consequences. However, Giles is able to realize the insanity surrounding the controversial witch trials and sacrifices himself to save the lives’ of innocent friends and retain his property and self-respect. Giles is usually starting arguments or involving himself in disagreements that sometimes do not even concern him. As Arthur Miller writes, “No man has ever been blamed for so much” (40). Incidentally, Giles’ tendency to speak his mind also hurts others, as is the case when his wife is falsely accused of witchcraft, partly due to the information Giles told Reverend Hale. As the play becomes more dramatic and as more innocent lives are taken, the hardened 83-year-old recognizes the growing instability of the Salem courts. When Giles was indicted, he refused to answer aye or nay to his indictment for fear of being hanged and losing his property. Elizabeth explained that Giles “died Christian under the law” (135). By saying he died Christian under the law, Arthur Miller may be comparing Giles to Jesus Christ, in the sense that he was an innocent man who died because others have sinned. Likewise, because Giles took a stand against the corrupt court, many in the village considered him a hero. Clearly, Giles can be considered a dynamic character in the play, as he started out not giving “a hoot for public opinion” (40) but later changed his mind and sacrificed himself for the benefit of others. Giles Corey was able to use his outspoken behavior, which often resulted in the punishment of himself and others, and finally use it for the good of those he loved.