Well, my students are of two minds about this play. The vast majority of them loved it. I even had one of my female students crying at the end (she also screamed out "why?" and threw her book on the ground in frustration. I can understand that feeling). The smaller group of students absolutely hated it.
We had heated discussions about why those accused of witchcraft in the play didn't just admit it so they could be free. It took awhile for it to sink in as to why characters, like John Proctor, didn't want to sully their names,
"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"
Proctor's dilemma at the end of the play was a scene we discussed AT length. For so many of my students, they didn't understand why Proctor valued his reputation so much that he would be willing to give up everything to protect it.
To get them to understand, I painted a scenario for them. I told them to imagine that their peers started a nasty vicious rumor about them (I had them decide for themselves what that might mean). They are given a choice: they may continue to proclaim their innocence and therefore protect who they REALLY are, or, they can admit to the fault and forever be remembered as the kid who did such and such.
They wrote about those experiences and those reactions were powerful. For many of them, it finally stuck-that power of reputation. I was happy that they finally understood. And we were finally able to bridge the connection to the McCarthy era, which really helped them "get" why Miller wrote the play in the first place.
They also took a vote and decided that Giles was their favorite character with his saying of "More weight." We had a lengthy discussion about the significance of those two words.
Besides the more emotional aspects of the play, the kids had a lot of fun reading it out loud and taking on parts. We had some good laughs in both hours near the end of Act 3, when the girls "see" a bird and start freaking out. They got really into it, which inevitably led to giggles. :) But it was productive, and I am glad that they were willing to "act" it out as much as possible.
As for myself, I had the opportunity to remember how much I love this play. I found myself getting emotionally invested as well. Of all literature pieces I have taught in my young career, this has been, by far, my favorite unit. The discussions, the insight, and the passion really drew me in.
I feel I should also point out that we did watch the film version after we read it (with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder). The film obviously takes some liberties with the story, but it closely follows the play. It is definitely worth watching for any of you who are interested.
What did you think of this one if you've read it? If not, what are you waiting for?