Representation of people and politics are often based upon past events and experiences. As authors compose political perspective that reveal their purposes and motives, an inevitable tension emerges between the individual conscience and political compliance. Hence, past events can have significant impact on individuals and their societies. The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a political parody play set in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It captures the tension between individual perceptions of goodness and faith against the constraint of a theocratic society. Paul Keating’s Redfern Sorry Speech (1992) as well as the extract from the film, “To Kill a Mocking Bird” (1962) also explore the impact of past events on people and politics through competing perspective of race relations. Thus, we perceive the impact of past events on people and politics through core thematic concerns of each text such as: society’s demand of conformity and obedience, the representation of good and evil, and the power of individual conscience.
Where people and politics are involved, there is an inherent tension between individual views and the demand by society for political compliance. Both the Crucible by Miller and the Sorry Speech by P.M Keating explore the ways in which political motives are imposed upon the individual by public compliance. For the Crucible, both the context of the New World inhabited by the Protestant migrants to America in the 17th century and the McCarthy Era Communist witch-hunts demand political obedience. The metaphor, “a weapon… designed to whip men in to surrender to a particular church or church state,” exemplifies this absolutist perspective. However, through authorial intrusion, Miller explores the perverse necessity of such modes of thinking. “The edge of wilderness was close by… and it was full of mystery… dark and threatening over their shoulders day and night…” The accumulation of such dark motifs creates the necessity of compliance and the political narrative that Salem is “the candle that would light the world.” Conversely P.M Keating highlights that the injustice of colonial history cannot be justified. His use of pathos and analogy captures that reality that, “we hide behind the contemporary version of Social Darwinism which says that to reach back for the poor and dispossessed is to risk being dragged down.” Thus, Keating advocates the supremacy of the individual conscience over that of societal demand for political compliance. This is achieved through the accumulation of, “We brought… we took… we committed… we practiced… the disease… the murders… the alcohol… it was our ignorance.” Which draws a ‘black armband’ view of the neglectful and sinful colonial past committed against the indigenous people of Australia. Therefore, both texts demonstrate strongly how the past can impact significantly the political compliance placed upon the individual.
A key tenant of the representation of people and politics is to position yourself as the ‘good’, and the opposition as the ‘malignant devil’. In this manner, the truth becomes a product of the way composers represent past events. Keating demonstrates how past receptions to Indigenous ‘Black Arm Band” history has shaped “out breaks of hysteria and hostility,” resisting reconciliation to Australia’s colonial past. He points out the hypocrisy of those in opposition as having, “the bizarre conceit that this continent had no owners,” and representing Australia as ‘Terra Nullius’. In contest, Keating points out the ‘unhappy past’ as a product of the deliberate political ignorance of Aboriginal rights. Instead, he advocates a conscience vote, “imagine that the descendants of people …fifty thousand years old … will be denied their place in modern Australia…” With the lack of contemporary political accede to the rights of Indigenous Australians, he instead asks us to engage in simple acknowledgement the impact of our colonial past. The film adaption of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird also elucidates the mid-20th century absurdity of racial segregation. The statement by Atticus Finch “She did something that in our society was unspeakable… she kissed a black man… a strong, young Negro man!” illustrates the inherent, deeply entrenched racism of the Deep South. However, the absurdity of such an, “Assumption… the evil assumption… that all Negros are immoral beings…not to be trusted around our women… an assumption on associates with minds of their caliber…” deliberately pits the personal conscience of the jury against the public assumption of African American moral inferiority. Atticus’ attack on the orthodox, “That is in itself a lie,” further places the right of judgment on the individual conscience – position the jury and the audience in the position of knowingly condemning an innocent man. Therefore, both texts demonstrate how authors draw upon the past to shape our our conscience in perceiving good and evil.
If the past has such an impact on our perceptions of truth, then it falls to the individual conscience to make the right decision. In cases where competing political motives manipulate ethics, the human conscience stands as the bulwark. The film adaption of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird highlights this fact. Atticus must convince the jury to see the truth, and to make a judgement of conscience that opposes the orthodox. He highlights the ironic ‘truth’ that Tom Robinson is not guilty of a crime, but rather at the mercy of a jury who “feel sorry for a white woman” and whom is made to pit a Negro’s word “against two white people.” Nevertheless, Atticus’ invocation of Lincoln’s immortal words, “In our courts… all men are created equal,” places the jury in the shoes of Tom, for if a civil society is to exist, all must, “believe in the integrity of the court and the jury system… that is a working reality!” Therefore, with conviction, ethos, and pathos, Atticus uses a powerful anecdote of the past to sway the jury. Finally, the Crucible also pits the politics of compliance against the conscience of the individual. Danforth’s ultimatum, “those who weep for these, weep for corruption!” as well as the acclaim, “he must be with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between.” Highlights the fact that Salem only exists because of the rules that make it so. However, against this tyranny stands Proctor who demonstrates that no rule or law can overcome the purity and power of the individual conscience. The stage direction and symbolism of his, “His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect” perfectly points to this fact. That Elizabeth accepts her husband’s suicide act, “He has his goodness now,” acknowledges that facing the sins of our past is the only way to goodness. Therefore, both texts demonstrate strongly how past events can impact our personal conscience and propel us to act morally.
Henceforth, all three texts have demonstrates through their characters the complexity of the representation of people and politics. They have acknowledge the ways in which past events shape and impact the conflict between the individual conscience and political compliance.