What question does Giles Corey have for Reverend Hale in The Crucible?

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In Arthur Miller's play The Crucible , Giles Corey asks Reverend Hale, whom he considers a "learned man," "what signifies the readin' of strange books?" Giles is talking about his wife, Martha. She has been hiding some books, and he catches her reading them at night. As she is...

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In Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, Giles Corey asks Reverend Hale, whom he considers a "learned man," "what signifies the readin' of strange books?" Giles is talking about his wife, Martha. She has been hiding some books, and he catches her reading them at night. As she is reading her book, Giles finds that he cannot say his prayers. When she closes the book and goes outside, he can pray again.

Of course, Giles is not much of one for praying in any case, and he likely does not know his prayers very well to begin with. As the narrator says, "it didn't take much to make him stumble over them." Yet with all the talk of witchcraft in the air, Giles wonders.

Giles is quick to say that he doesn't really think that Martha is in league with the devil or anything. But he is irritated that she won't tell him what she is reading. This seems to be merely a matter between a wife and a husband, but it shows how people can take an innocent incident or a small conflict and blow it all out of proportion. The fear of witches takes over, and situations fly out of control quickly.

Giles has reason to regret his curious question, for later in the play, Martha Corey is arrested as a witch. He tries to retract what he said before. "I never said my wife were a witch, Mr. Hale," he exclaims, "I said she were reading books!"

Giles eventually becomes convinced that the whole hysteria is a fraud. He calls out to Reverend Hale, "And yet silent, minister? It is fraud, you know it is fraud! What keeps you, man?" He tries his best to save his wife, but by the end of the hysteria, they are both death: Martha hanged for witchcraft and Giles pressed to death because he refused to incriminate anyone else.

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