Salem and Puritanism
The government of Salem in 1692 was a Puritan theocracy. In other words, the town was under the unbending authority of the church. The leaders of the church, and especially the minister of the church, were very powerful figures, comparable to our elected officials. A person who was not a member in good standing of the church was not allowed to live in the community. All citizens were expected to conform to the teachings of the church at all times and to know its catechism, which contained the written statements of the church’s beliefs.
Puritan theology was largely based on the teachings of John Calvin. Calvin was one of a group of theologians who protested against the Roman Catholic church’s departure from the Bible as the ultimate authority. Based on their reading of Saint Paul in the New Testament, they particularly disagreed with the Roman Catholic emphasis on earning your salvation through good deeds on earth. These protesters, or Protestants, believed that salvation could not be earned. The only way to get to heaven was to be chosen by God and to have faith that He would save you from eternal damnation. Some people were predestined, or chosen to be saved, while others were not. While good works would not earn your salvation if you had not been chosen, believers desired to do good works on earth and thus follow the example set by Jesus Christ. Good works were visible signs of your commitment to God.
At the time of the Reformation most of Europe was ruled by a theocracy of its own; that of the Roman Catholic church. The Protestants were compelled by their beliefs to disregard many of the practices of the Catholic church, including buying indulgences and approaching God only through a priest. The church was not pleased with this rebellion against its authority, and the Protestants were greatly persecuted. Many of them left Europe and settled in America to escape this persecution and practice their religion in peace. This was the case with the colony at Salem....
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Crucible is based on actual persons and events. While some dialogue and characterizations are based on legal records of the Salem witch trials, other details crucial to the play are inventions or suppositions by the author. The published version of The Crucible includes occasional prose discussions of the characters and themes that are not part of the play in performance. The play as published begins with several pages describing the Puritan environment in which the events take place. Arthur Miller explains that the witch trials occurred because of a theocratic government that repressed individual freedom.
The play opens in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, where his daughter Betty is suffering from a mysterious ailment. Parris had discovered Betty and his niece Abigail Williams dancing naked in the forest and fears that Betty’s ailment is supernatural in origin. Other Salemites—including Ann Putnam, who has lost several children—believe that witchcraft has been responsible for local misfortunes. The girls have, in fact, been playing at witchcraft, a crime that carries a penalty of death. In order to protect themselves from punishment, the girls confess that they were under the spell of other witches within the community, and they provide Parris with the names of those witches. Parris is a vain man who seeks to be the central power within the community. His sermons have more often concerned his desires for increased pay and...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Salem. Small Massachusetts town on the Atlantic coast, about twenty miles northeast of Boston. A small community sandwiched between the ocean and the wilderness, Salem felt itself surrounded by danger, a danger that could be combated only by hard work, perseverance, and strict religious observance. The Native Americans living in the area presented a threat, but the devil, who lurked in the nearby wilderness, was a far greater threat, tempting villagers to worship him. The theocracy that governed Salem was designed to prevent this from occurring; thus any departure from orthodoxy was condemned, and any opposition was summarily crushed.
Parris’s house. Home of the Reverend Parris in Salem. It is symbolically appropriate that the home of Parris, the congregation’s minister, is the site of the first outbreak of witchcraft hysteria. Act 1 occurs in an upstairs bedroom of the Parris house. The room contains only “a narrow window,” a metaphor for the narrowness of Puritan beliefs, through which not much light is allowed to shine. The somber room “gives off an air of clean spareness,” and the “raw and unmellowed” nature of the wood coincides with the nature of Puritan life.
Proctor home. Farmhouse five miles from Salem. Act 2 takes place in John and Elizabeth Proctor’s home. The room where the act is set seems cold; although it is spring,...
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The Play (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Crucible begins at daybreak in the house of the Reverend Samuel Parris, who is praying at the bed of his motionless daughter, Betty. Her apparently incurable illness sets in motion the action of the play, which centers on the historic Salem witch trials. In quick succession, key characters enter; the first is slave Tituba, on whose exit follows Parris’ ward, the seventeen-year-old Abigail Williams. Interrogating her sparks off Parris’ fear that “unnatural things” may be going on, occult practices that could wreck his career; he has already been shocked to discover the “sinful” dance of Tituba and the girls in the forest.
Ann and Thomas Putnam enter, two characters who have strong motivations for crying “witch”: Ann has no living children and envies happier mothers, while land-rich Thomas stands to gain still more if some of his neighbors are indicted. One neighbor is John Proctor, who appears while the adults are offstage praying, and after Abigail and her girlfriends have discussed what to reveal about Tituba, who indeed performed voodoo rites. Abigail even drank chicken blood to cast a deadly spell over Proctor’s wife Elizabeth, so that she could marry Proctor, with whom she had an affair before his wife cast her out.
When her girlfriends leave, Abigail attempts to seduce Proctor, who refuses and threatens her with the whip. As the adults come back, new characters appear, such as wily old Giles Corey, a friend of Proctor’s, and Rebecca Nurse, who looks at one of the sick girls and states calmly that “a child’s spirit is like a child . . . for love, it will soon itself come back.” Only Proctor and Giles listen; all others await the arrival of the demonologist, the Reverend John Hale. The moment he arrives, Hale starts his interrogation of Abigail, who confesses and turns against Tituba, who admits her dark practices.
Act 2 opens at Proctor’s house, where he tries in vain to regain the respect of his wife. Afraid of Abigail, Elizabeth implores Proctor to testify at the witch trials in Salem that he heard her earlier claims that the dancing was...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Crucible is a drama in the tradition of American realism, and Arthur Miller strives for historic verisimilitude both through his deliberate use of archaic language in the dialogue and by prescribing settings with a distinctly realistic look. Proctor’s house has the “low, dark, and rather long living room of the time.” Samuel Parris’ house, with its “air of clean spareness,” where “the roof rafters are exposed, and the wood colors are raw and unmellowed,” accords with the audience’s preconception of a Puritan minister’s home. Clearly, Miller is also re-creating the myth of Puritan drabness here: His theatrical setting eschews the bright blues and reds with which the Puritans actually decorated their homes.
The lighting of the opening moments of the play has its obvious diegetic source in “the morning sunlight” that streams through the leaded panes of a narrow window at the left. Against this appropriate backdrop, the events of the previous night are brought to light. Characters are neatly grouped into units by the possibility of having some go “downstairs,” into the meeting room offstage. Thus, there is private space created for the girls and, later, for a key scene between Proctor and Abigail. To reinforce the audience’s sense of a coming eclipse of Proctor’s fortunes, and to create an outer manifestation of the inner darkness of the characters and the city of Salem, his house is visited in the evening, after a...
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Act I, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. What do we learn in the opening narrative that is important to the events that follow?
2. What happened in the woods the night before Act One -begins?
3. How did the events come to light, and what was the effect on Betty and Ruth?
4. Why is the town so stirred up by these events?
5. What is Reverend Parris’ first reaction to the crisis?
6. What reason does Ann Putnam have to be resentful?
7. What reason does Thomas Putnam have to be resentful?
8. Why do the girls argue about whether or not to tell the truth?
9. How does Abigail eventually get her way?
10. What is a crucible?...
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Act I, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. Why was Abigail dismissed from her job at the Proctor’s house?
2. What does Abby tell Proctor about the events in the woods?
3. How have Proctor’s feelings toward Abby changed?
4. When does Betty cry out?
5. How is this cry interpreted?
6. How is Betty finally calmed?
7. How does Rebecca explain the events in the woods?
8. Why would anyone resent the Nurses?
9. Why does Proctor dislike Parris?
10. Why does Parris dislike Proctor?
1. Abigail was dismissed from her job when Elizabeth discovered her affair with John.
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Act I, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Hale invited to Salem from Boston?
2. Has Hale ever found a witch?
3. What is significant about the timing of Hale’s entrance?
4. What do we learn about Rebecca Nurse from Hale?
5. What does Giles mention to Hale about Proctor?
6. What does Giles mention about his wife?
7. What are Rebecca and John’s roles in the proceedings?
8. What does Abigail do when questioned?
9. How is Tituba treated when she finally concocts a conversation with the devil and names a Salem woman as a witch?
10. What does Abby do when she sees this reaction?
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Act II, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. What is the significance of John’s re-seasoning the soup?
2. What is the relationship between John and Elizabeth like?
3. What new position does Mary Warren now hold?
4. Who is in charge of this court?
5. What action has the court taken?
6. What will happen if the accused do not confess?
7. How has Mary’s personality changed since her involvement in the court?
8. What issue does Elizabeth continue to hound her husband about?
9. What does Elizabeth’s lack of mercy and understanding foreshadow?
10. Why does John hesitate to go to the court and reveal Abigail’s fraud?
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Act II, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. What does Mary Warren give Elizabeth?
2. What is Elizabeth’s reaction to the gift?
3. How many people have now been arrested?
4. What will happen to those who do not confess?
5. Who has confessed?
6. What does this mean for the others?
7. What would spare Sarah Good from hanging?
8. What shocking news does Mary offer regarding Elizabeth?
9. What cause does Elizabeth immediately suspect?
10. Now that Elizabeth is accused, does John go quickly to the court to clear her name?
1. Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet, or doll, that she had sewn that...
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Act II, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Hale appear at the Proctor house?
2. Why would John’s Christian character be in question?
3. What reason does John first give for not going to church regularly?
4. What reason does John finally admit to for his behavior?
5. Why is John’s not going to church significant to the play?
6. What does Hale request the Proctors do to show their faith?
7. Are the Proctors successful in fulfilling this request?
8. Why is this particular commandment significant?
9. What news briefly shakes Hale’s belief in the court system?
10. What is his ultimate conclusion about the system at...
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Act II, Scene 4 Questions and Answers
1. What orders do Cheever and Herrick have at the Proctor house?
2. What has happened to Abigail?
3. Why is this related to the poppet?
4. Did Elizabeth keep poppets in her house?
5. What is found in the poppet?
6. How did the needle get there?
7. Do the authorities believe Mary’s admission?
8. What does John do with the warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest?
9. What does Proctor believe is motivating the court at this point?
10. What does Mary warn will happen if Proctor attempts to interfere with the court?
1. Cheever and Herrick are to search...
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Act III, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. What is the significance of lighting described in the stage directions?
2. Who is being charged as Act Three begins?
3. What possible motive does Giles Corey offer for the accusations against his wife and others?
4. How are these charges received?
5. Why does Giles feel guilty?
6. What do Proctor and Mary Warren bring with them as -evidence?
7. How does Judge Danforth measure his worth?
8. What does Parris do when Proctor attempts to make his case?
9. What is happening to Hale at this point?
10. How is Mary’s statement that the accusations are mere pretense received?
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Act III, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. What news does Danforth give John Proctor about his wife?
2. Why did the court not believe this assertion at first?
3. What does Proctor tell Danforth about his doubts?
4. What offer is made to Proctor by Danforth?
5. What happens to the people who signed the deposition upholding the three women?
6. What does Giles Corey charge in his deposition againstThomas Putnam?
7. How does Putnam answer, and who is believed?
8. What does Mary Warren’s deposition claim?
9. What does Hale suggest after the deposition is read?
10. Why does Danforth not allow Proctor to obtain a lawyer?
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Act III, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
1. What does Abigail do when confronted with Mary’s accusation of pretense?
2. What behavior of Abby’s does Proctor bring to the judges’ attention?
3. Why does he choose to reveal these things?
4. What is Reverend Parris’ reaction to these charges against his niece?
5. How is Mary asked to prove that the girls were lying?
6. How does Abigail respond to Mary’s assertions that the girls were all lying?
7. What does Proctor finally call Abigail?
8. Who is brought in to back up this accusation, and what does she do?
9. How does Mary finally respond to Abby’s behavior?
(The entire section is 250 words.)
Act IV, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. What are Tituba and Sarah Good discussing as the act opens?
2. How does Tituba describe the devil in Barbados?
3. What has happened that has made Parris so anxious?
4. What happened in Andover?
5. Why is Parris afraid to hang John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse the next morning?
6. Why is Parris more frightened to hang Proctor and Nurse than anyone else?
7. Why does Parris request a postponement of the hangings?
8. What does Hale request instead of postponement?
9. Why does Danforth refuse Hale’s request?
10. What has Hale been advising those condemned to do?
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Act IV, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. What does Hale plead with Elizabeth to do?
2. Why does Hale believe a lie would not be a sin in this case?
3. Why is Hale so adamant in his attempts to convince Elizabeth?
4. Have any of the other prisoners confessed?
5. What reason does John give for not confessing?
6. What further reason keeps John from confessing?
7. What has John decided to do before he sees Elizabeth?
8. What does Elizabeth advise him to do?
9. How has Elizabeth changed?
10. What reason does John have for not telling the truth and going to his death?
1. Hale pleads with...
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Act IV, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Rebecca Nurse brought in to witness Proctor’s confession?
2. Why does Proctor refuse to name the names of other witches?
3. Why does Proctor refuse to give Danforth the paper with his signature on it?
4. What is the climax of the play?
5. What does Proctor do with the signed confession?
6. How has Proctor earned his death?
7. How does Elizabeth react to his choice of death?
8. When does Proctor claim his good name?
9. What reaction does Rebecca Nurse have to John Proctor’s confession?
10. Does Rebecca Nurse confess?
1. It is hoped...
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Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bigsby, C. W. E. “Arthur Miller.” Williams, Miller, Albee. Vol. 2 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Bonnet, Jean-Marie. “Society Versus the Individual in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.” English Studies 63, no. 1 (February, 1982): 32-36. Solid analysis of the central themes. Contends that The Crucible explores the balance between social responsibility and individual freedom.
Budick, E. Miller. “History and Other Spectres in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible,” in Modern...
(The entire section is 340 words.)