Explain how the structure of Arthur Miller's The Crucible affects the enjoyment and understanding of the audience.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In terms of the structure Miller adopts to tell the story of the Salem witch trials in the late 17th Century, the most important aspect is the parallel he was able to draw to the McCarthy trials, searching for communist activity most especially in the circles of Hollywood actors, writers, artists, etc. This parallel was especially important because it brought the terror and hysteria close to the audience is seeing that madness that governed the witch-trials could also take place in "modern America."

Miller demonstrates his style with the strict and concise presentation of the facts portrayed in the play creates an almost factual commentary, much like a news reporter would baldly present the facts allowing the actions of the players to tell their own story without commentary.

Miller presents the story from a third person point of view. Unlike Shakespearean drama where a character might address the audience, forming a bond of sorts, the characters do not address the audience. The impersonal third-person point of view allows the audience to clearly witness the mass hysteria and "mob mentality" found in Miller's The Crucible. It also holds the Puritan community and judicial system up to close scrutiny, demonstrating the imperfections of this pious and devout community, as well as the failure of the judicial system to maintain objectivity and protect the rights of the community members. The line between church and state did not exist; therefore, no one was able to protect the innocent, although Rev. Hale tries.


Excellency, it is a natural lie to tell; I beg you, stop now before another is condemned! I may shut my conscience to it no more—private vengeance is working through this testimony! From the beginning this man has struck me true. By my oath to Heaven, I believe him now...[Pointing to Abigail] This girl has always struck me false!

Miller impressively moves the audience with a sense of fear and helplessness—in his use of four acts, which parallels Gustav Freytag's dramatic structure. Act One contains the introduction or exposition: it allows the audience to learn (through "reported speech") what has occurred for so many to believe witchcraft is being practiced in Salem. Act Two provides the rising action as people accuse others, and testimony is offered to the judges. Act Three (the climax) presents the accusations of witchcraft against the Proctors—Elizabeth first. This is an exciting segment as the audience watches John Proctor struggle to save his life and keep his honor in tact. Act Four shows Proctor as a hero: a man who will not lie to save his body, only to damage his soul.

The falling action occurs as John refuses to sign the confession:

His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect...


Man, you will hang! You cannot!

PROCTOR, his eyes full of tears:

I can. And there's your first marvel, that I can.



He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!

The resolution or denouement occurs as John marches off to be executed.

Characterization is excellent—we respect John Proctor; are amazed at the power Abigail and the other girls have been given; and, are horrified (but maybe not surprised) in Rebecca Nurse's arrest. A saint, she exemplifies the extent of the mass hysteria. The ineffectual action of the court is frustrating—they are no better than the young girls in responding to fear and hysteria.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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