In his play "The Crucible", the author provides helpful descriptions of his characters in commentaries embedded in the action.
About Reverend Parris, he says,
"At the time of these events Parris was in his middle forties. In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went...He was a widower with no interest in children, or talent with them" (Act I, Scene 1).
Tituba, the second character to be introduced after Parris, is described as
"his Negro slave...Tituba is in her forties. Parris brought her with him from Barbados...her slave sense...warn(s) her that...trouble in this house eventually lands on her back" (I,1).
Abigail, the third character to appear in the play, is
"strikingly beautiful, an orphan, with an endless capacity for dissembling" (I,1).
Abigail provides further insight into her own hardened, ruthless character when she warns the girls,
""I saw Indians smash my dear parents' heads on the pillow next to mine...and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down" (I,1).
In contrast to Abigail, Mary Warren is
"seventeen, a subservient, naive, lonely girl" (I,1).
A quotation about Reverend Hale that seems particularly revealing about him appears in Act I when he arrives in Salem; he has come at the request of Reverend Parris.
Parris greets Hale with delight, and as he takes some of the books Hale will use in his witchcraft investigation, he remarks on their heaviness. Hale's response, "They must be; they are weighted with authority" suggests that he enjoys the fact that he has been summoned as an expert to investigate what the girls have been up to, and that he also enjoys the fact that his word will carry some significant weight. At this point in the play, it seems that Hale has a high opinion of his own abilities and authority. Parris also seems pleased with himself; he looks like a leader and a problem-solver who has brought in a knowledgeable consultant.
One of the most powerful lines, I think, is in Act 2 when the men come to apprehend Elizabeth and Proctor declares - \"We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!\" Proctor is the only adult who really knows that the children are lying and sending innocent people to their deaths. He is also one of the first to declare Salem\'s hypocrisy. Witchcraft is a tool people use to take their revenge on those who have wronged them in the past.
Later in that scene Proctor declares, \"It is providence, and no great change; we are only what we always were, but naked now.\" He is relating to Marry Warren\'s guilt at having pretending to see spirits. Proctor knows this because he has been lying about his adultery.
In that same scene Hale states \"remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.\" Hale is using this as justification for believing the girls\' accusations. Someone can appear holy but really be wicked. Here he is condoning the apprehension of Rebecca Nurse, even though she appears holy.
In Act 3 Hale declares \"I have signed seventy-two death warrants . . I dar not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscious may doubt it.\" Here Hale reveals the severity of the Hysteria. The court is ready to kill 72 people. Hale is starting to wonder about the spectral evidence the court is believing.
One of my favorites moments of the play is at the very end when Proctor, having given a false confession to save his life realizes that Danforth means to make his confession public and renounces it :
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name!
The agonized Proctor feels that he has sold his soul, his goodness, to stay alive compared to those who refused to lie and died such as Rebecca Nurse. Now not only do they want his soul, they want to ruin his name, his reputation so that everyone will either think he indeed was a witch or know that he lied. He cannot bear that shame so he renounces his confession and goes to the gallows.
His wife, Elizabeth gives the last word as Hale begs her to convince her husband to live with his confession when she says:
He have his goodness now, God forbid I take it from him.
Proctor has struggled with his feeling that he was not a good man because of his liaison with Abigail . Later he suspects his goodness because he wants to live enough to confess a lie just to save his life. After he recants his lie, he is at peace with himself. Elizabeth sees this and although she resents it because he will die and leave her, she loves him enough to give him this peace for the sake of his soul.
I can provide two for you.
One of my favorites is Abigail's threatening of Betty and the other girls. She snarls, "'I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you . . .. I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!'" Act 1, Scene 2. Abigail's referece to a "pointy" fate is meant to make the girls envision satan's pitchfork.
Another important quote belongs to Proctor. He argues, 'I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation. Take it to heart, Mr. Parris. There are many others who stay away from church these days because you hardly ever mention God any more.'" Act 1, Scene 4. Here Proctor is establishing himself as a thinking man, a questioner of "moral authority" and in doing so, will open up a world of trouble for himself and his family.
In Miller's commentary on the play, he states that there is one line that has never drawn a laugh from the audience in the many times that the play's been performed, and it's the following from Hale in Act I: "We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone, and I must tell you all that I shall not proceed unless you are prepared to believe me i I should fine no bruise of Hell upon her."
This is a particularly revealing moment for Hale. It tells us that first of all, he is clearly deeply religious and believes that there is most definitely a Devil and that the study of Satan is an exact science (Hale very much resembles a doctor attempting to make a diagnosis). It also reveals that Hale is an honest man and determined not to find witches, but truth.
I've also always liked the following line from Proctor in Act III, one that I consider to be the funniest in the play: "There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it."
This occurs during the argument over the poppet found in the Proctor's house after Danforth says that perhaps the reason Mary never saw a Poppet is because there could be things in hidden places. It does hold, however, some significance. It's yet another display of Proctor's realization of the absurdity of the trials and the constant paradoxes created by by sheer ignorance.