In Arthur Miller’s 1953 masterpiece, The Crucible, we glimpse a world that shadows our own, yet where all the social interactions and inter-reactions are magnified, and make the literal difference between life and death. Jaggedly shadowing this harrowing landscape are several social, religous, and legal institutions. Though these institions-- such as the Church, the courts, and the town council-- were created to help build a sense of community, they often lead to the splintering of the town’s identity. Not only do these institutions destroy the communal identity, but also the individuals identity and ideals as well. The Crucible explores how the Church and the Courts destroy this identity, and how the individualists like John Proctor are actually the ones who retain their humanity and freedom.

The courts and legal system also steal the humanity of those who work with them. An example of this is the “bitter, remorsless” (78) Judge Hawthorne, who so believes in his authority that often he tries to bait the defendents in his cases, spewing “contempt of court” (90) charges at the slightest provocation. Reverend Hale also demonstrates how the courts authority corrupts, because rather then relying on evidence he instead uses the baselessauthority” (34) of his textbooks. Later, he forsakes the textbooks in favor of his instincts, and he is redeemed as a character through this breaking with the court.

The Church’s main goal is to bring together a community in communion with God; however, the Salem church seems to do the exact opposite. The self-rightous Parris is often worldly and possessive, thinking more of his pay check and prestige then on the good of his flock: “I am paid little enough without I spend six pounds on firewood” (27). His constant greed for money has turned away many parishoners, “who stay away from the church these days because you Parris hardly ever mention God anymore.” (27)

Like Hale, Proctor also reaches his redemption by breaking with the court and the Church. For much of the play, Proctor is troubled because he is a “sinner … against the moral fashion of the time…” (18), yet he can neither serve penance for this sin or be content with what he sees as hypocrisy, which abounds in all around him. Because of this, Proctor is constantly struggling with himself and the hypocritical institutions that surround him. In order to remain true to his beliefs, Proctor is willing to give up his name by confessing publicly his most secret sin: “I have made a bell of my honor! I have rung the doom of my good name…” (103). Yet when again his integrity is challenged, he faces even death forced upon him by the courts and the church, climactically showing their ruinous affect on all those who work with or against them.

Miller believed in the individual's rights over the institutions, which often trample the individual’s rights. John Proctor is the embodiment of this freedom while the Church and Courts represent the institutions in general. Although in this story the individual lost out to the institutions, he retained the moral high ground which in the end is all that matters: a person’s character.