How does the setting contribute to the overall effectiveness of the drama The Crucible by Arthur Miller?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator


The Crucible by Arthur Miller takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. Remember that the new world was populated in 1607; therefore, the country was still less than one hundred years old as far as having people trying to survive in a somewhat hostile environment.  

The wilderness surrounding Salem was untamed and filled with unknown threats. There were few roads with communication between communities sketchy at best.   Filled with the threats of witchcraft and devil worship which often came from the puritanical pulpit, the puritans feared and dreaded anything outside of their immediate connections. The devil and the witches lived and conspired in the woods surrounding the villages which often led to accusations of anyone who was found out in the forests.

At this time, Salem was still a small puritan community with many other little towns in the surrounding area. Actually, there was Salem Town and Salem Village, which were divided by economy and education.

There was a long standing rivalry between the  Salem Town and Village. The Town was more affluent and looked down on the farmers who were the heart of Salem Village. In addition, the area had recently been hit with an epidemic of small pox in which no one knew the cause nor was there a cure.  Everyone was afraid that the other person carried the disease.

The weather was much harder for the puritans than it was in the old world. The winters were brutally cold with blizzards and days of below zero weather.  The animals and the people also suffered in the humid, hot summers of over ninety degrees heat. 

To add to the difficulties of life, the Indians were not always friendly.  There had been many threats and some actions by the local Indians who resented the encroachment of the land that they considered as theirs.

 …for the wilderness they had once mastered was one of thick underbrush and wild animals, dangerous seasons and marauding Indians, while the wilderness which awaited them contained an entirely different sort of peril. "The Wilderness thro' which we are passing to the Promised Land," Cotton Mather wrote in a volume describing the state of New England at the time of the witchcraft difficulties, "is all over fill'd with Fiery flying serpents.

The puritanical life was hard.  The rigid rules of living were difficult and hard to follow.  People were suspicious of each other not only in other families, but sometimes in their own. Having fun and laughing was considered to be against the will of God.  Only little children were allowed to play.  The older ones were expected to work hard like an adult and conduct themselves accordingly.


For children, the services were torturous lasting as long as three and four hours.  Then, for a few minutes they were allowed to communicate with each other before joining their families for meals.  The only education at the time in Salem was religious instruction. 


This was the life that the girls were living when they decided to dance in the woods.