The word crucible means "a container for purifying metals" and "a severe test." Explain how the characters are both reduced to their essences in The Crucible.

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The Reverend Parris is also tested. As a minister, he ought to be interested in upholding truth, but he is clearly more concerned about retaining, and even growing, his authority within the town. It is no wonder that so many people dislike him; when he is tested by his daughter's...

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The Reverend Parris is also tested. As a minister, he ought to be interested in upholding truth, but he is clearly more concerned about retaining, and even growing, his authority within the town. It is no wonder that so many people dislike him; when he is tested by his daughter's illness, he jumps to witchcraft and claims that he's rooting it out in order to help the community. He doesn't out the Putnams for sending their daughter to conjure the spirits of their dead babies; instead, he hides their involvement, as well as the fact that he caught the girls dancing in the forest, from Deputy Governor Danforth. When he is tested, he is revealed as "brainless" (as Danforth eventually puts it) and spineless.

Danforth is tested as well. When it seems to become clear in act four that Abigail was lying and that the people scheduled to hang that day are actually innocent of wrongdoing, Danforth could do the right thing and call off the hangings in order to pursue the truth and preserve the lives of the innocent; however, he chooses, instead, to uphold his own authority and power. He knows that pardoning these people will call into question the executions that have been done before, and he doesn't want to "crack" his authority with "whimpering." Instead of choosing to do the right thing, he chooses to look out for himself, revealing himself to be morally corrupt.

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Reduced to essence: When Abigail is finally directly challenged at the court by Mary Warren's confession and John Proctor's confession, she exposes her truest self. She lies and she lies very convincingly. Abigail, reduced to her final defense, is seen as a manipulator who is incapable of putting herself at risk. Her dishonesty is thorough and this is made clear by her response to extreme circumstances. 

Severe Test: John Proctor confesses adultery in public, sacrificing his great pride in an effort to save his wife. He is later tempted with an offer to save his own life by signing a false confession which would condemn others to certain death. He is brought low by his plight, at points nearly giving in to despair and self-effacement. He does not believe that he is good enough to meet the challenge that faces him, which is, ultimately, a challenge to his integrity. 

After having made mistakes (adultery), Proctor worries that his true nature is weakness. Yet, in the end, he is shown to be strong. He needs the help of Elizabeth to see himself as a good and strong person, but he comes to see that he can grasp his final chance at integrity and he does. 

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