This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on language. As a play, Arthur Miller's The Crucible consists almost entirely of dialogue. And as historical drama based on events which took place in seventeenth-century New England, this dialogue is deliberately archaic. Most of the characters speak in simple language, since they lack formal education. Their language is also heavily influenced by the Bible and by Calvinist teachings, and all of the characters use phrases which hold specific meanings for Puritans. The judges and the ministers speak in more elevated language. Miller has also marked the language as archaic through the use of grammatical constructions unfamiliar to speakers of modern English. The characters often rely upon metaphor because much of what they discuss relates to the invisible, spiritual world which is their primary concern.
Language is the primary medium through which a reader understands a text. In a text which is meant to be performed, however, you will also be able to visualise scenes and to “hear” how the dialogue might be spoken.
Authors choose the language they use with precision. Always pay close attention to words, considering the wealth of symbolic meanings and associations beyond the obvious literal meanings. Authors carefully select and combine words to create imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects. Setting, characterisation and dialogue each depend on an author’s ability to use language skilfully.
Greater understanding will result from your close attention to the details conveyed through language. Linger over words and imagery, exploring language choice rather than being content with the surface meaning. Consider the possible meanings being suggested through the specific use of language. What else comes to mind as you read? The time and care you devote to your analysis should correspond in part to the care with which the author has chosen and deployed language.
Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect the audience’s interpretation of The Crucible.