Pontius Pilate Indeed
The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller, is set in Salem, Massachusetts. The hysteria begins with suspicion that a group of teenage girls found dancing in the forest are guilty of witchcraft. The reverend of Salem then calls on Reverend Hale, who hails from Beverly, to come ascertain the truth. Threatened with severe punishment girls tell lies that Satan had possessed them and falsely accuse others of working with the Devil. One of the girls has an infatuation with John Proctor, a married man, and her determination to get rid of his innocent wife, Elizabeth fuels the hysteria. Reverend Hale is a unique character because he is both a catalyst and a preventer of this hysteria. His main character flaw, like many a people, is failure to defend his beliefs. In order to characterize Hale as a naïve outsider, Miller shows Hale as misled because he defends the justness of the court and later as guilt-ridden because he realizes the court is false.
In portraying Hale as a naïve outsider, Miller describes him as a misled stranger to the inner workings of Salem, Massachusetts. Hale's own words and actions characterize him as misled or uninformed in relation to the hysteria. Since he is a "stranger [in Salem]" (Miller 198), Hale knows "it [will be] hard to draw a clear opinion" (198) those accused. He then "[goes] from house to house" (198) to learn more about the people of Salem because he does not trust his current knowledge them. Next, the narrator's privilege of knowing the character's thoughts reveals that despite "[him] [resisting] it" (200), "it is [Hale's] own suspicion [that people are lying in order to live]" (200). He already has a notion, whether or not he admits to it, that the confessions of witchcraft given are false and serve only to save the lives of the accused seeing as an accusation is the same proof of guilt and the only way to avoid punishment is by confessing. Lastly, John Proctor accuses Hale of being "Pontius Pilate" (204) insinuating that Hale knows that the people accused are innocent but absconds from telling the truth because he wants to stay in right standing with the powerful officials of the court. Throughout the rising of the hysteria, Hale, confused as he is, refuses to acknowledge to the people of Salem, much less himself, that the court is not just.
Miller uses Hale's words and actions to describe him as a guilt-ridden man. Statements from Hale's mouth show that he has realized the error of his ways. He decides to "shut my [his] conscience" (223) to the fact that "private vengeance is working" (223) through court no more and quits it. After hearing John Proctor's confession, Hale can no longer lie to himself or the court, and consequently quits the court when Proctor is condemned to be hanged. This is his attempt to, as Pilate did, absolve himself from the proceedings of the court. Words from Hale's own mouth are used to show the immense amount of guilt that rests on hales shoulder. Hale walks the prisons of Salem and in knowing that "there is blood on [his] head" (234) bases his redemption on whether or not Proctor is hung. If Proctor is to be hung, Hale promises to "count himself his murderer" (234). He blames himself for those already hung for witchcraft and doesn't want anymore blood to be spilled. He cares so much so that he dares to deteriorate his reputation by declaring himself guilty of a crime he never commits. Lastly, as the guilt-ridden self-proclaimed murderer that he is, Hale "weeps in frantic prayer" (240) for any such mercy or redemption that God can bestow upon him as he watches Proctor being taken to be hung. Hale realizes that his activism against the unjust has come along to late into the hysteria to prevail and therefore looks to God.
At the beginning of The Crucible, Hale is portrayed as confused but later on as guilt-ridden as he learns the unjustness of the court whish he so fervently supported before.