Somewhat bewildered

Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible (1996).
Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible (1996).

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, there’s an exchange between Elizabeth and John Proctor that goes like this:

PROCTOR: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more.

ELIZABETH: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John, only somewhat bewildered.

(Miller; my emphasis)

That line, to me, has always been both the play right there and the most succinct demonstration of Miller’s craft as a playwright.

In contemporary usage, “bewildered” often means perplexed or puzzled.

In certain instances, the word could also refer to someone being confused as to the direction or situation they are heading or in.

In the case of The Crucible, it’s also instructive to return to the more archaic meaning of the word.

Miller aptly uses it, both in the context in which the play is set, as well as to describe Proctor: to be thoroughly led astray or lured into the wild.

To some extent, Elizabeth is describing Proctor’s dalliance with Abigail as an example of his being led astray by her. It’s also a reference to how he has been “bewitched” by her, hence his seemingly odd behaviour.

Yet, bewilderment goes beyond more than just the transgression of sexual and marital mores.

At its core, The Crucible is about identity, in terms of the individual, society and the individual in relation to society.

While the different characters each have their own struggles with identity, Proctor’s struggle is his search for who he truly is as a person.

His bewilderment, then, is not just about how Abigail’s womanly wiles have lured him into the wild.

Much like how Salem has, ironically, corrupted itself in its attempts to retain some semblance of goodness, John’s bewilderment is a result of how he has has lost his way in the wilderness of this corrupted society and, from which, he has to find his way out, if he is to hang on to his self, and all that is good about it.

Off Centre: A Necessary Resource

OFF CENTRE: A NECESSARY RESOURCE
WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY ALVIN TAN, LAREMY LEE AND AKANKSHA RAJA

Off Centre: A Necessary Resource is the much-awaited guide to Off Centre, one of Singapore’s most celebrated plays. This resource guide comprises material that will greatly benefit all educators and students of Off Centre. It features pedagogical notes, insights on the play, as well as a question and answer section with the playwright, Haresh Sharma.

Off Centre made history in 2007 by being the first Singapore play selected by the Ministry of Education to be offered as a GCE O- and N-Level literature text. The play, best remembered for presenting an honest and unflinching look at mental illness and the social prejudices surrounding it, has been back on the syllabus since 2018.

Off Centre: A Necessary Resource also features:

  • Founder and Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage, Alvin Tan shares his insight on directing and staging Off Centre
  • Educator Laremy Lee provides a useful guide on approaching narrative, characters, themes, and theatrical and stylistic devices in the play
  • Journalist Akanksha Raja reflects on her experience studying Off Centre

Off Centre: A Necessary Resource is available at The Necessary Stage and other select bookstores.

Email admin@necessary.org to purchase a copy now.

Retail Price: $16.00
ISBN No. 978-981-11-8956-2

Satire in an age of fake news

Trump and the "very, very stupid people" (IMAGE: Tom Toles)
Trump and the “very, very stupid people” (IMAGE: Tom Toles)

As an aside, this Ministry of Chindian Affairs thing is a long-running joke between me and my friends.

The last time I posted about it was in 2014 – and in how things have changed since then.

I thought it was telling – and a bit sad, really – that today, I had to explicitly tag/indicate that this post was #satire.

I had a conversation a while back with a fellow writer about art, where we talked about the tension between accessibility and obscurity when it comes to writing.

We don’t have to be too obvious, she said. The reader should get what it is we want to say, without us trying too hard.

And if they don’t get it, so what? Their loss.

It’s a different age now.

It’s become compulsory to make clear that what is written is satirical, just to prevent keyboard warriors from coming up with trumped-up charges of “fake news”.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall in late 2016, after Trump got elected.

Back then, I noticed how The Borowitz Report’s slogan quietly changed from “The news, reshuffled” to “Not the news”.

Subsequently, the column name itself evolved from “The Borowitz Report” to “Satire from the Borowitz Report” sometime in 2017.

It’s sad when the assumption is that the reader will wilfully misinterpret what it is we are say, so all subtlety has to be forsaken.

And it doesn’t say much about the state of intelligence in society, as well as skills of critical thinking, media literacy and all that jazz.

Then again, maybe it might make for a more compelling reason for why learning literature should be compulsory.

Because if a child can’t even interpret irony, then how is she going to begin to figure out fake news?