Essay Sample: Literary Analysis of Law in the Example of The Crucible Play

Published: 2022-05-22
Essay Sample: Literary Analysis of Law in the Example of The Crucible Play
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Law The Crucible Dramatic literature
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1316 words
11 min read

1) Choose a work of literature

The Crucible is an important entry into the American canon of plays. Although produced in 1959, it is a symbolic representation of the legal proceedings happening in Massachusetts about two centuries earlier. It recounts the infamous Salem Witch trials of 1693 where hysteria and intolerance took a toll on the peace and coexistence of the members of a Puritan society. The Crucible contains key legal issues that warrant its study. Through the prejudicial conviction of Elizabeth, Abigail, John and other accused "devil worshippers" in Salem, the playwright brings into light the plight of Americans grilled by the House Committee's on Un-American Activities and their subsequent arrest through a perverted McCarthyist system.

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2) Define the area of law you will focus on as demonstrated in the literature.

During the climax of the Cold War, many Americans were accused of embracing Communism in the United States. Since Communism sympathizing was a treasonous undertaking, the government severely punished those Americans that were sympathetic to the Soviet-initiated ideology. Senator Joseph McCarthy is the most notable interrogator of suspected Communist followers in the United States. Similar grilling and excessive probing were accomplished by the House of Representative's Committee on Un-American Activities. In the process, many people were arrested and detained even without enough evidence linking them to treasonous activities. This subversion of justice is contrary to the constitutional rights of every individual that calls for the due process of law before declaring a person guilty of an offense. The due process clause is found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. One of the requirements of the due process of the law is the availability of sufficient evidence that allows a judge to pass a sentence beyond any reasonable doubt. This evidence may stem from an expert witness, tangible evidence, and testimonies by the prosecution against the accused.

3) Part of literary text that addresses that area of law; How does the literary text address that area of the law?

Act Three is the center of suppression of the law in the play. Judge Harthone opens the proceedings by declaring that "now, Martha Corey, there is abundant evidence in our hands to show that you have given yourself to the reading of fortunes" (III. 1) Martha Corey was Giles Corey's wife who was arrested by the town's posse for just reading suspicious books. Although judge Hathorne claims to have evidence to support the accusation, he does not produce it for the court to see. Judge Hathorne rhetorically tries to convince Martha to incriminate herself. When Martha denies having any knowledge of witchcraft, Hathorne sarcastically asks her: "how do you know, then, that you are not a witch? (III. 4). The due process of the law accommodates opinions and testimonies from all sides. When Gile Corey stands to give evidence of the judge's perversion, Hathorne orders his ejection from the court. This incidence further depicts subversion of the law as practiced by the Salem judges. Harthone represents a clique of judges and prosecutors who do not obey the law. Ironically, the people who are meant to be custodians of the law are using it against the citizens. In Salem, anybody accused of witchcraft had their possessions confiscated by the government As Gile confesses amidst his ejection from the courtroom, Hathorne falsely accuses Martha of witchcraft with an aim to take her land.

4) Define the literary analysis you will discuss with your primary source: rhetoric, story-telling, or interpretation in law and lit; how does the literary analysis speak to the literature you will address?

Story-telling, rhetoric, and law in literature are all literal analytical fields that can feature in the interpretation of any text. However, this analysis mainly focuses on the interpretation of the law as depicted in literature. In other words, it does not look at the legal material as literature that deserves literal interpretation but views literature as the reference material for deducing practical legal aspects. Therefore, the paper looks into The Crucible as a drama and the position of the law in the unfolding of events. Further, it correlates the fictional work with the real-life experiences of the contemporary society.

5) Apply the text to the literary analysis; How is the text applied to the literary analysis?

In The Crucible, literary analysis and the law take a center stage. The crisis of the play is a legal proceeding that relates well to an applicable clause in the law. The core concepts of the "due process of law" that includes the preponderance of the evidence, impartial prosecution, and the defendant's right to plead guilty or otherwise are evidence in Act Three of the play. In undertaking the literal analysis, every word of the play is important. The speech by every character and the supporting information in italics serve as points of reference for the literal analysis. However, considering the text as a whole may obscure the objective. Therefore, concentration on the particular portion of the text that specifically addresses the legal concept proves very helpful in making a meaningful correlation between the text and the law.

6) Find secondary sources that address the literary analysis (rhetoric, story-telling, or interpretation in law and lit).

The secondary source that best suits the correlation between The Crucible and the literal analysis of law is "Literary Analysis of Law" by Simon Stern.

Argument/thesis the source is stating about the literary analysis

The author argues that fictional literature is a resourceful legal historical material that informs on the traditional perception of certain clauses and helps the contemporary legal practitioners to have an alternative view to "dominant legal assumptions" (Stern).

How does the text in the work of literature relate to the argument/thesis in the source?

Through The Crucible, a reader can trace the developments in courtroom practice and interpretation of the "due process of the law" clause. They can appreciate the application of the clause in a 1693 setting and compare it with the contemporaneous interpretation of the same. Most importantly, anybody reading the third Act in the play can understand the implications of McCarthyism on the social fabric and the administration of justice. The 1692 Massachusetts court did not adhere to the constitutional provisions of the defendant's right to a fair hearing, and the unfortunate abuse of the law repeated itself in the modern legal practice in the 1950's.

What conclusion can you draw about the work of literature as related to the argument/thesis in the source?

After comparing the primary source and the central argument of Simon Stern's paper, I conclude that literal analysis and the law are closely knit since history is awash with cases of human rights' abuse even in the presence of robust legal mechanisms. The constitutional rights of the citizen have often gone under trial even as sound legal practitioners watch. Satirical materials like Orwellian literature were produced in response to the prevailing abuse of human rights through state mechanism, meaning that fiction has always served as a mode of portraying legal concepts.

7) What overall conclusion can you draw (aka a thesis), based your research, on how the area of law in the work of literature is represented through a rhetorical move, story-telling, or law and literature as interpretation?

In conclusion, I concur with Simon Stern that literature is an important reference for legal history, especially when viewed in the light of contemporaneous courtroom practice. The impartial execution of people accused of witchcraft in The Crucible is evidence that the "Due Process of the law" clause in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments has seen remarkable improvements since antiquity. Further, it is deducible that the state tends to bend the clause to check dissent in times of political hysteria like what transpired in the McCarthyism period in the 1950's.

Work Cited

Stern, Simon, Literary Analysis of Law. Markus D. Dubber & Christopher Tomlins, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Historical Legal Research, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

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