What are the main conflicts in The Crucible and why?

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Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I suggest that the main conflict in this play is the inner conflict of John Proctor. As a result of his extramarital affair with Abigail Williams, he "has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud." To the world, he presents the upstanding Christian, farmer, and citizen, but he knows that he has broken some of the most fundamental rules of Christian doctrine—injunctions against lying and adultery. His continued guilt and frustration at his wife for her perceived judgment of him clearly continues to plague him. He tells her, "Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not." She replies, "The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you."

It is clear that she is right, as, in the final act, when John has decided not to confess to a crime he did not commit in order to save his life, he says, "You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor." He had lost sight of his own goodness, his own value, and he struggled all along to regain it; in the end, he finally does.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that John and Elizabeth Proctor really are in conflict. She is somewhat distrustful of him since his affair, and he is a bit embittered by her continued distrust, but they do love one another and seem to be trying to work through the challenges to their marriage. I think the conflict between Elizabeth and Abigail is of more significance in the play because Abigail wants John to herself so badly that she is willing to see Elizabeth hanged to accomplish it.

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jilllessa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are several conflicts taking place in the Crucible, but the major conflict is between the reason of the human mind and the irrational fear of hysteria.  Miller was using the story of the unreasonable hysteria of the Salem trials to comment on the anti-communist husteria of the MacCarthy era.  This conflict in the story is seen most clearly in Act II scene II when John Proctor, Giles Corey and Francis Nurse try to speak with Judge Danforth about the trials.  The reason of these men is appealing and believable to Reverend Hale, but it is the hysteria of the girls' accusations that wins the outcome and Hale removes himself from the proceedings. 

Other conflicts in the story include the conflict within the Proctor household because of John's unfaithfulness to Elizabeth as well as the conflict between Abigail Williams and the Proctors as a result of her infactuation with John.  There is also a conflict within the the Church in Salem between Reverend Parrish and his supporters and those who do not like his preaching or his leadership of the church.  John Proctor seems to be a leader in the faction that does not support Reverend Parrish.  All of these personal conflicts contribute greatly to the witchcraft hysteria which tears the town apart claiming a great many lives. 

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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are several conflicts. 

Elizabeth and John Proctor are in conflict with one another because John has had an affair with Abigail Williams, a young woman who used to work for them and whom Elizabeth fired due to her involvement with John.

Abigail hates Elizabeth for firing her and taking her away from close proximity to John.

The Putnams are in conflict with almost everyone since he wants everyone else's land and has attempted on several occasions to get it, and all of their children except one has died.  Goody Putnam is jealous of others whose children and grandchildren are healthy when hers have not survived--Goody Nurse is especially the target of Goody Putnam's ire.

Tituba is in conflict with almost the entire town when they accuse her of dancing with the devil.  She finally admits it and names names of others in the community whom she has supposedly seen with the devil.  She does this to protect her own life--they target her since she is a foreigner and because she was caught with the girls dancing and casting spells in the forest.

Mary Warren is in conflict with the other girls when she wants to tell the truth about the accusation against Elizabeth Proctor and they all continue to play along with Abigail's farce.

Goody Nurse, John Proctor, and others are in conflict with the town when they face the charges of being witches and dealing with the devil.

John is in conflict with himself--to lie and save himself or stand for his honor.

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