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Belonging in The Crucible and While You Were Sleeping Essay


An individuals interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experiences of belonging.

Discuss this view with detailed reference to your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing.

While the nature vs nurture debate still faces a hung jury, it is true that nurture, or our exposure to the outside world, plays a key role in human development, particularly concerning each individuals evolving perceptions and experiences. Both the dramatic tension of Arthur Millers play The Crucible and Jon Turteltaubs 90s romantic-comedy While You Were Sleeping explore this concept, especially in regards to belonging. Characters from each text reveal that though belonging in its many forms is an inner need, it comes from, and is either nourished or left unfulfilled by interactions with the outside world.

In Act One of The Crucible, Arthur Miller uses an omniscient overture to reinforce the secrecy of something no hint of [which] has yet appeared on the surface that John Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a fraud. The next scene reveals the source of this dramatic loss of self-respect Proctor has committed adultery with Abigail Williams, his former servant girl. This infidelity has resulted in Proctor no longer identifying with the honest reputation of his former self, a man who had a sharp and biting way with hypocrites, having effectively become one himself by violating the moral code impressed and instilled in him by his upbringing and surrounding culture. With no judgment coming from the ignorant Salem, and grudging forgiveness from his wife Elizabeth, Proctor is left to judge himself, as described by Elizabeth in Act II The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. Thus the Proctor first introduced to the audience possesses an extremely limited, if not non-existent, experience of belonging to self, fundamentally caused by his interactions with the outside world firstly with Salem, who provided him with the Christian ideals he needed to live up to in order to respect himself (self belong), and secondly his interactions with Abigail, which violated those ideals.

However, Proctors life does not only illustrate the limiting impact human interactions have on the experience of belonging. In Act IV, consumed with self-disgust, Proctor is about to confess to contrived charges of witchcraft, forever ruining his honour and reputation, because he knows that those who hang for their silence will be martyred, and does not consider himself worthy of such a glorious form of notoriety. I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint, he justifies to his wife. It is a fraudI am no good man, and again, Let them that never lied die now to keep their souls. It is pretence for me. However, when commanded to sign his name to his confession by the judge of the High Court, Danforth, Proctor cannot bring himself to do so for the sake of the reputation he so recently despised. When pressed as to why, he cries, Because it is my name! ...Because I lie, and sign myself to lies! ...I have given you my soul; leave me my name! These short, impassioned cries enlighten both the audience and Proctor himself to what he previously could not understand that his name, although soiled, still belonged to him. This realization enables Proctor to finally refute the witchcraft charges Theres your first marvel, that I can [remain truthful]now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. That it was not until this altercation with Danforth that Proctor could find a sense of self belonging, unable as he had been to find it simply within himself, shows that human interactions also enrich and even define the experience of belonging within the individual.

The life of Lucy Moderatz, a young woman working as a Chicago railroad clerk in the 1990s, contrasts to the point of being almost at opposites with that of John Proctor. However, Lucy follows a nearly parallel discovery of the positive and negative effects that engagement with the outside world has on belonging, although instead of seeking self acceptance, Lucys most desired form of belonging is within a family. Jon Turteltaub begins Lucys story the same way Proctors story began a narrators voice recounting her dramatic fall from the comfort that belonging brings. However, this narrator is not a mysterious third party needed to introduce the unknown, but Lucys own voice used to emphasise the extremely personal nature of what she is describing the death of her father. After this tragic event, Lucy finds the world around her a constant reminder of her single and lonely state, highlighted to the audience by repeated shots of her sitting alone in the heavily shadowed and dramatically washed-out ticket booth, contrasted with shots of the families and couples around her as the holiday season approaches. Her isolation is encapsulated in a scene with her boss, who informs her that though she worked Thanksgiving, she will have to work Christmas as well. When Lucy protests, he reminds her unsubtly that no one else can do it, as she is the only one without family. In this way, Lucys engagement with the world around her pushes her further and further towards a limited sense of belonging.

Just as Proctors insecurity led him to the extreme of confessing to false charges, Lucys extreme loneliness causes her to fall in love with a man who comes to her platform everyday, though he remains a complete stranger, Lucy not even knowing his name. After a mishap one day on the platform results in Lucy saving this man (Peter)s life, the hospital and Peters family mistake her for his fianc, and immediately embrace her as one of their own, despite her protests. As she later describes it, Suddenly, I went from being all alone to being a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister and a friend. Again, it was these new interactions with people, rather than something inside of Lucy herself, which gave her this sense of belonging.

A situated more closely related to Lucys in Salem is that of Abigail Williams. Correspondingly, and in contrast to Proctor, Abigails limited experience of belonging comes not through her own actions, but through the death of her parents. The stigma of being an orphaned young woman in Salem, with no family name or power to support her, meant that Abigails position in the social hierarchy was firmly fixed towards the bottom, as described in Act I until this crisiseveryonein Salem never conceived that [Abigail] was anything but grateful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes lowered, arms at the sides, and mouth shut until bidden to speak. Because of this, and the consequent interactions she faced with the women of Salem, the sense of belonging that Abigail was most lacking in, and most desired, was that of belonging socially. Like the other two characters, she also found the benefit of certain interactions with the outside world to belonging, but in stead of having these situations almost happen without personal influence, Abigail purposefully makes the decision to change her social standing, and subsequently manipulates her interactions with the outside world to that effect. Her leadership in the constant accusations of witchcraft towards the women of the town is fundamentally an act of revenge to those who previously shunned her (gave her a limited sense of belonging), and empower her in a way she has never felt before (enriching her sense of belonging). Once more it is clear that it is through Abigails interactions with the outside world, heavily manipulated so as to have the desired effect, which provide her with this feeling of social acceptance, which she previously did not have.

In fact, it may be said that the town of Salem itself shares this journey through belonging. The large majority of pilgrims having migrated in order to pursue religious freedom and developing ideas that were unwelcome in Europe, to whom the whole province was a barbaric frontier inhabited by a sect of fanatics, the town and its people find a new sense of belonging in the Americas, where their engagement with surrounding towns result not in persecution or ridicule, but in agreement and encouragement. In this way, even Americas early beginnings spring from the need for an enriched sense of belonging that only positive interaction with the surrounding world can bring.

These texts continuously highlight the idea that the impact of human interaction on the experience of belonging is not to be underestimated. While You Were Sleeping explores this in a modern, everyday setting, to provide relatable examples who explore this concept, whilst The Crucible pushes its characters to extremes, to show the far reaching and sometimes dramatic effects produced by such engagement with the outside world. The combination of these two settings, and their various reaches into historical, social and psychological truths underline the notion that belonging, although an inner feeling, is highly if not completely influenced by human interaction with others and the world around them.

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