The Crucible Summary

Overview

The Crucible

Summary of the Play
A group of teenage girls from Salem, Massachusetts, is discovered dancing naked in the woods by the town minister. Knowing that the punishment for their behavior will be severe, the girls claim that they were possessed by the spirits of members of the community who are trying to initiate them into witchcraft. Because of the gravity of the accusations (witchcraft is punishable by hanging), a court is set up to determine the guilt or innocence of those accused. Judges are sent to Salem from the Boston area to hear the cases. As each case is heard, the girls scream and faint to indicate whether the accused is afflicting them.

While at first only a handful of citizens are indicated, the number soon grows to over a hundred. The children, quite suspiciously, have prior grievances against many of those accused, who had in some way offended them or made their lives miserable. Abigail Williams, the niece of Salem’s minister, accuses her previous employer, Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail was dismissed from her duties as the Proctor’s servant when Elizabeth discovered that her husband and Abigail were having an affair. As the town of Salem is overtaken by mass hysteria, John Proctor knows from Abigail’s own admission that the charges are false. He fights not only to save his wife, but also for the truth and for reason.

Elizabeth Proctor is not sentenced to hang because it is found that she is pregnant; however, John Proctor’s attempts to uncover the truth bring dire consequences. Proctor brings to the judges one of the original accusers, Mary Warren, who admits that the entire group of girls is faking their “fits.” This, of course, threatens to undermine the entire court, and the girls are summoned for questioning. The girls, led by Abigail, deny the charges. In a desperate attempt to discredit Abigail as a witness, Proctor then admits his adultery; however, when his wife is brought in to verify the story, she tries to save his reputation by denying the affair. Terrified of the other girls and of the punishment for lying to the court, Mary Warren soon turns against Proctor. She accuses him of being aligned with the devil and afflicting her.

While many of those found guilty of witchcraft avoid hanging by confessing a connection to the devil, 19 others are hanged. On the day that John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, another innocent victim with high standing in Salem, are to hang, many attempts are made to coerce them to confess and save their lives. Proctor knows that he has sinned in the past and feels unworthy to die now as a saint or martyr. Thinking of his three children and of his wife, he chooses to sign a confession; however, he immediately regrets his decision and refuses to give up the paper. He cannot bear the knowledge that his signature will be used to condemn other innocent citizens. He tears up his confession, and the play closes with Elizabeth Proctor’s reaction to deaths.

Estimated Reading Time

As a play, The Crucible was designed to be performed in one sitting. Hence, it should take you no longer than three to four hours to read it in its entirety. The play is broken up into four acts, and some editions also include an appendix, which is meant to follow Act Two. Arthur Miller himself, however, removed this scene after the original production, and it is now rarely included in performance. The appendix will not be discussed in these notes. Also, each act has been broken down into “scenes”. These divisions were incorporated into this Enote and do not appear in the actual play.

The Crucible Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch-hunts of 1592 but full of allusions to Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ persecutions of the 1950’s, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a masterful play that ultimately transcends both historical contexts with its message of resistance to tyranny. The play focuses on the moral struggles of John Proctor, a New England farmer, who is sucked into a witch-hunt that rages through his Puritan society. By deftly juxtaposing the religious paranoia that permeates a Fundamentalist community suddenly convinced that the devil is loose in its village with the less lofty but more powerful forces of human greed, envy, and revenge, Miller exposes the core of hypocrisy that is cloaked by the guise of authority.

The play opens in the attic bedroom of the Reverend Samuel Parris, minister of Salem, the night after Parris surprised his daughter Betty, his beautiful and sensual niece Abigail, and a number of other girls from Salem village dancing in the woods (a forbidden act). Parris all too quickly assumes that the girls have been bewitched, and soon Parris’ bedroom is packed with Salemites convinced that witchcraft is afoot. As the act closes, the logic and sense of Proctor’s doubts are overwhelmed by hysteria as Abigail and Betty launch the witch-hunt by screaming out the names of those who have supposedly consorted with the devil. They initially name, for the most part, those of the community who are vulnerable, and they name names in order to escape punishment. This pattern of accusation and betrayal has a close resemblance to McCarthy’s anti-communist tactics.

The remainder of the play pits Salem’s authority structure, as typified by Deputy Governor Danforth with his smug self-righteousness, against its helpless individual victims. Since “the accuser is always holy,” the innocent—Proctor, Proctor’s wife Elizabeth, and the saintly Rebecca Nurse—have no defense. It is clear that the accusations have nothing to do with witchcraft but are the result of long-standing animosities. Abigail, who has had a sexual relationship with Proctor, wants Proctor for herself, and so Elizabeth is named a witch. The play’s climax comes as Proctor, who has long struggled with the guilt over his infidelity and with his powerlessness to assert his innocence in the face of an implacable and tyrannous authority, realizes that he cannot destroy his true identity by signing a false confession: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” The play’s final image of an innocent Proctor going to his unjust hanging was to be uncannily echoed three years after the play was written when Miller was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress.

The Crucible Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Reverend Samuel Parris prays over his daughter, who lies stricken with a nameless malady. As he prays, he is angered by the interruption of his Negro slave, Tituba, whom he brought with him from the island of Barbados. Parris is frightened and furious, for he discovered his daughter Betty, Tituba, and some of the village girls dancing in the woods. Now two of the girls, Betty and Ruth Putnam, are ill, and witchcraft is rumored about the village. His daughter Betty and his ward and niece, Abigail Williams, were been participants in a secret and sinful act. Parris feels his position as minister to the community of Salem is threatened. Moreover, he suspects that more than dancing took place.

The frightened Parris sends for the Reverend John Hale, a reputed scholar familiar with the manifestations of witchcraft. While waiting for Hale to arrive, the parishioners reveal the petty grievances and jealousies hidden beneath the veneer of piety of the Puritan community. Parris feels that the community failed to meet its financial obligations to him. He suspects John Proctor, a respected farmer, of undermining his authority. Proctor resents Parris for preaching of nothing but hellfire and the money owed to the parish. Thomas Putnam, a grasping landholder, disputes the boundaries of his neighbors’ farms. Ann Putnam lost seven babies at childbirth, and she suspects witchcraft of mothers with large families, most especially Rebecca Nurse, who has eleven healthy children.

Amid this discontent, the learned Hale arrives with his books of weighty wisdom. Under Hale’s close questioning concerning the girls’ illicit activities in the woods, Abigail turns the blame away from herself by accusing Tituba of witchcraft. Terrified by the threat of hanging, Tituba confesses to conjuring up the devil. Putnam asks Tituba if she saw the old beggar Sarah Good or Goodwife Osborne with the devil. Sensing her survival at stake, Tituba names both women as companions of the devil. Abigail picks up the accusations and adds the names of other villagers. Soon the rest of the girls begin hysterically chanting out the names of village men and women seen in company with the devil.

At the Proctor farm, Proctor tells Elizabeth that Abigail revealed that the dancing in the woods was only “sport.” When Proctor hesitates to go to the authorities with this information, Elizabeth quietly reminds her husband of his past infidelities with Abigail. Their argument is interrupted by the arrival of Hale, who comes to inquire into the sanctity of the Proctor home. Elizabeth suspects that Abigail means to destroy her so that she might become Proctor’s wife. Mary Warren, another of the afflicted girls and the Proctors’ servant, returns from court where she gave testimony. She gives Elizabeth a rag doll that she made in court.

At this point, officers of the court arrive at the Proctor farm with an arrest warrant for Elizabeth on the charge of witchcraft. They search the house for poppets (dolls) and find the one Mary gave to Elizabeth. They discover a pin in its stomach and take it for proof that Abigail’s stomach pains are the result of Elizabeth’s witchcraft. Elizabeth is taken away in chains. Proctor confronts Mary, demanding that she tell the court the truth. At the court of Deputy Governor Danforth, Giles Corey, Francis Nurse, and John Proctor present evidence to save their wives from the charge of witchcraft. Danforth confiscates the list of names brought by Francis testifying to Rebecca Nurse’s good character and marks the petitioners for arrest. Giles refuses to name the people who back him, so the deputy governor has Corey arrested. When Proctor brings Mary to court to recant, Abigail pretends to be possessed by the evil spirits brought by Mary. Proctor accuses the girls of lying and confesses to committing adultery with Abigail. Danforth refuses to believe that Abigail can be guilty of so great a sin, but Proctor swears that Abigail was dismissed as the Proctors’ servant by Elizabeth because she knew of the affair. Danforth brings Elizabeth to the court and questions her regarding Proctor’s adultery with Abigail. Elizabeth lies to Danforth to save Proctor’s name and ironically condemns him as a perjurer.

In the Salem jail, Parris and Hale beg Rebecca and Proctor to confess to witchcraft in order to save their lives. Hale and Parris realize too late that the accused were victims of the girls’ hysteria and the townspeople’s private grievances. Rebecca remains firm in her convictions, refusing to confess, but Proctor wavers. Proctor thinks that in lying to the court, he will be only adding a lie to the sin of adultery. Full of self-contempt, Proctor confesses to witchcraft. Having confessed, he refuses to let the court keep his signed confession. He recants his confession and goes to the gallows to save his name.

The Crucible Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Crucible is about the right to act upon one’s individual conscience. In Puritan New England, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, demanded his right to act according to his personal conscience. In the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau considered the exercising of this right a moral obligation, even if exercising it resulted in breaking the law. The individual’s right to follow his conscience is part of the American heritage. In The Crucible, Miller shows how an ordinary individual living in a repressive community gains tragic stature by sacrificing his life rather than betraying his conscience.

Salem is a divided and disturbed community. Hidden behind its sacred crusade are the petty grievances of the self-interested and the vengeful. The town’s minister, the Reverend Paris, is desperately trying to stabilize his power and is more interested in maintaining his social position than in ministering to his congregation. When his daughter Betty, with Abigail Williams, Tituba, and other young girls, is seen dancing naked in the forest, he fears the scandal will bring down his ministry. Thomas Putnam is disturbed because he wants an excuse to confiscate his neighbor’s land. His wife, Ann, is jealous of Rebecca Nurse, who has more children than she. Abigail Williams consciously seeks to avenge herself on Elizabeth Proctor, who dismissed her from the Proctors’ service.

Miller clearly shows that in a community like this, which is at odds with itself, all that is needed to ignite hysteria is the specter of Satan, the epitome of insidious evil behind which small-minded people hide their own hostility and their quest for power. Soon experts such as John Hale are brought to Salem to find evil, even where it does not exist. Next, a high court invested with infallible judgment acts on the testimony of finger-pointing witnesses who indiscriminately accuse innocent people. Miller shows how judges at a purge trial lead witnesses to give the appropriate testimony. Tituba, a Barbados native, confesses to witchcraft because she knows what the authorities want to hear. The young girls accuse innocent people to deflect blame from themselves and to gain power and publicity.

In this climate of hysteria, John Proctor, a simple farmer, is called upon to act. Proctor, an independent man who is not afraid to oppose his minister and to work on the Sabbath, knows that the young girls are lying. At first, Proctor is reluctant to act. He withdraws from the town and tries to prevent his wife from incriminating herself. He not only knows that the young girls are making a sham of human justice but also knows that, deep down, he does not believe in witches—yet he will not confess to this heretical view.

Moreover, Proctor is a guilty man, a sinner, with hidden sin gnawing at his conscience. He has betrayed his wife and has committed adultery with Abigail Williams, so he also faces the judgment of his wife and has shaken her trust in him. Miller follows a theme in American literature, one that is especially pronounced in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. This theme examines the ways that private sin and nagging guilt intermingle with public sin. To save his wife and the town, Proctor must discredit Abigail, but to do so, he would have to expose his own guilt.

Proctor’s battle with the court is doomed, for the repressive court is implacable. He first tries to present concrete evidence, but in the Puritan court such evidence is suspect. A list of character witnesses becomes a source for suspicion and further interrogation. To question the court is blasphemy. In times of political and religious hysteria, everyone, including the witnesses, is on trial. Mary Warren, a young girl who strives to act justly and responsibly, breaks down under the pressure of the court and the hysterical antics of Abigail. Proctor tries to expose Abigail as a morally loose woman and openly implicates himself as an adulterer, but his wife lies to protect him. Even though Governor Danforth can see that the accusations of witchcraft are questionable, he continues to commit himself to a course of injustice rather than admit a mistake and discredit the court.

Not being a saint like Rebecca Nurse, Proctor is willing to lie and confess to witchcraft so that he can live and raise his family. However, when he is asked to name names and sign a public confession, his conscience will not allow him to ruin the names of others or to have his name used to justify evil. Only if he can retain his individual dignity can he pass on to his children anything of value. Proctor, an ordinary man, takes extraordinary action and is resigned to dying for his convictions.

The Crucible opened on Broadway in 1953 to a lukewarm reception, but it was later revived Off-Broadway with more success. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the screenplay for the French film version of The Crucible, Les Sorcieres de Salem (1955). In 1961, The Crucible was converted into an opera, and in 1967, it was adapted for television with George C. Scott in the lead role. The Crucible is Miller’s most frequently produced work both in the United States and abroad.

The Crucible Summary

Act I
The play opens in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692, with the Reverend Samuel Parris praying over the bed of his...

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The Crucible Act Summary and Analysis

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Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Reverend Samuel Parris: minister of Salem who is not popular with everyone in town. He gave up a prosperous business in Barbados to become a minister.

Betty Parris: Reverend Parris’ daughter and an accuser in the court

Tituba: slave of Reverend Parris. She is from Barbados and practices island rituals.

Abigail Williams: niece of Reverend Parris. Parris took her in after her parents were murdered by Indians in a raid.

Susanna Walcott: an accuser in the court

Ann Putnam: townswoman who spreads the rumors of witchcraft

Thomas Putnam: husband of Ann and a prosperous landowner

Mercy Lewis: servant of the Putnam’s...

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Act I, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
John Proctor: husband of Elizabeth, one of the few townspeople who try to stop the court

Rebecca Nurse: wife of Francis, accused of being a witch

Giles Corey: landowner of Salem who tries to save his wife, who is accused

Summary
Mary and Mercy take their leave as John Proctor enters the stage. As he and Abigail speak alone, it becomes obvious that the two have had an affair. Abigail had been a housekeeper for the Proctors until John’s wife, Elizabeth, became aware of the situation between the two and dismissed her. Abigail’s attempts to revive the spark are rebuffed by Proctor, who has put the episode behind him. Abby tells Proctor...

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Act I, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Reverend John Hale: minister from Boston, who is summoned to determine if there is witchcraft in Salem

Summary
A short narrative section discusses Reverend Hale’s arrival and some theology involving the devil. Hale then listens to an account of the events that have taken place and consults the large books about witchcraft that he has brought with him. Rebecca makes it clear that she strongly disapproves of this effort to seek the devil, and exits. Giles, however, is caught up in the appearance of greatness. He asks Hale why his wife reads strange books and why the reading of them seems to stop his prayers. Another narrative points out that Giles has only...

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Act II, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Elizabeth Proctor: wife of John Proctor, accused of witchcraft

Summary
Act Two is set in John Proctor’s house, in the common room downstairs, several days after the events of Act One. As the curtain opens, Elizabeth is heard singing to the children upstairs. John enters, tastes the soup in the pot over the fireplace, and re-seasons it. Elizabeth comes downstairs and the two sit down to dinner, making small talk about the crops. It is apparent that there is a tension between them. Elizabeth informs John that their housekeeper, Mary Warren, is now an official of the newly-formed court in Salem. Four judges have been sent from Boston, headed by Deputy Governor...

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Act II, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

Summary
As John and Elizabeth wrangle over John’s guilt, Mary Warren enters. John grabs her immediately, furious that she should shirk her duties and go to Salem without his permission. Mary responds by offering Elizabeth a doll that she sewed for her during the trials that day. Elizabeth is puzzled by the gift, but accepts it. Mary then reveals that there are now 39 arrested, and that Goody Osburn will be hanged. Sarah Good, however, confessed to making a pact with the devil and will not hang. Mary also reveals that Sarah is pregnant, and the court will surely spare her to save her unborn child.

Mary then tells John and Elizabeth that she must go to Salem every day to sit on the court. John...

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Act II, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Francis Nurse: husband of Rebecca Nurse

Summary
Reverend Hale appears at the door as John is about to leave to talk to Abby. He tells the Proctors that Elizabeth’s name has been mentioned in the court. His mission is to determine the Christian character of the Proctors. Hale is concerned that John does not attend every Sunday and asks him for a reason. At first John offers the reason that Elizabeth had been sick. Soon, however, he cannot keep from telling Hale of his differences with Reverend Parris, who is always looking for more money. When Hale asks why one of his sons is not baptized, John tells him that he does not want the minister’s hand on his baby....

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Act II, Scene 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Ezekiel Cheever: clerk of the court, responsible for serving warrants to the accused

Marshal Herrick: an officer of the court, charged with chaining the accused to bring them to the prison

Summary
Shortly after the disturbing news that Goody Nurse and Goody Corey have been charged, Ezekiel Cheever and Marshal Herrick enter the room. Cheever bears a warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest and has been ordered to search the house for poppets. The two men are uncomfortable with their position and a bit afraid of John Proctor. Cheever spots the poppet that Mary made for Elizabeth that day in court. Upon examining the doll, a long needle is found stuck in its...

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Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Judge Hathorne: one of the judges in the witch trials

Deputy Governor Danforth: the chief judge of the witch trials

Summary
Act Three is set in the side room of the Salem meeting house, which has now become the General Court. The proceedings of the court, taking place in the next room, are audible. Judge Hathorne questions Martha Corey, who has been accused of reading fortunes and harming the accusing children. She denies the charges, and her husband Giles speaks out that he has evidence to present, accusing Thomas Putnam of attempting to acquire more land.

Giles is promptly thrown physically out of the courtroom and into the side room...

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Act III, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

Summary
As Danforth considers the claim, he tells Proctor that his wife asserts she is pregnant. The men at first suspect Elizabeth has said this to prevent hanging. John, however, insists that Elizabeth would never lie. On this basis, Danforth offers to let Elizabeth go free until she has delivered. Even so, John cannot in good conscience drop his charge of fraudulence against the court. Danforth reads a deposition stating the good characters of Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Martha, which has been signed by 91 landholding Salem farmers. He then orders all 91 arrested for examination by the court.

Giles Corey has also written a deposition accusing Putnam of having his daughter cry witchery against...

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Act III, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Danforth studies the deposition and calls for the other girls to be brought in for questioning. Mary, meanwhile, is questioned by the judge and asserts several times that she has lied in court. Susanna Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Betty Parris, and Abigail are led into the room and told of Mary’s confession. Abigail, asked if there is any truth to it, flatly denies it. As Abigail calmly refutes all of Mary’s assertions, her character is called into question by Proctor, who tells the others that she has led the girls to dance naked in the woods. Parris is forced to admit that he discovered them dancing. Mary is then asked to fake fainting, as she says she did in the courtroom. She is unable to comply....

(The entire section is 926 words.)

Act IV, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Sarah Good: an old beggar woman of Salem accused of witchcraft

Hopkins: a prison guard

Summary
Act Four is set in a cell at the Salem jail the following fall. Sarah Good lies sleeping on one bench, and Tituba on another. Marshal Herrick enters and wakes them, ordering them to move to another cell. Both women carry on about how the devil is coming to fly with them to Barbados.

Deputy Governor Danforth and Judge Hathorne enter, followed by Cheever. From their talk it is apparent that there will be hangings the following day and that Reverend Hale is in the prison praying with those who are to hang. As Herrick is sent to fetch Parris, the...

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Act IV, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The judges decide to bring John and Elizabeth together, hoping that his pregnant wife will soften John’s resolve. When Elizabeth arrives, Hale pleads with her to convince her husband to confess and save his life. John is dragged in and the two are left alone.

Elizabeth reveals that a hundred or more of the accused have confessed and gone free. The two weigh the merits of confession against the value of remaining in the truth. When Hathorne returns for his answer, John asserts that he wants his life. As Hathorne cries out the news, John immediately doubts his decision, struggling with the evil of the lie.

Discussion and Analysis
By this point, Hale’s...

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Act IV, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The others reenter the cell, and Cheever prepares to take a statement. John begins to answer the questions put to him, agreeing that he saw the devil and that he did the devil’s work on the earth. Soon after the formal confession is begun, however, Rebecca Nurse is brought in to witness it in the hope that it will, in turn, cause her own confession. Rebecca is astonished that John would do such a thing. When John is pressed to name those he has seen with the devil, he refuses to taint their good names. Danforth finally asks him to sign his confession and he at first refuses, then signs. Afterward, however, he snatches up the paper and refuses to give it back to be posted on the door of the church....

(The entire section is 800 words.)