What is the story behind the poppet in The Crucible by Arthur Miller?
In act two of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Mary Warren comes home to the Proctors' (where she is a servant) and is exhausted. The trials have begun, but the Proctors really have no idea how significant they have become until Mary tells them tonight.
When Mary arrives, John Proctor scolds her for not doing her work, the work she is being paid to do; as a kind of peace offering, the stage directions say Mary presents "Elizabeth with a small rag doll." Of course Elizabeth finds this to be an odd gift for a grown woman, but she graciously accepts the doll. These are the next lines they speak.
Mary Warren: I made a gift for you today, Goody Proctor. I had to sit long hours in a chair, and passed the time with sewing.
Elizabeth, perplexed, looking at the doll: Why, thank you, it’s a fair poppet.
Mary Warren, with a trembling, decayed voice: We must all love each other now, Goody Proctor.
This is a very odd thing for Mary to say, but the poppet is soon forgotten as they discuss the trials. The Proctors are horrified, and Mary is clearly upset, as well. She goes up to her room and the Reverend Hale arrives to do some questioning of the couple. It is an awkward and uncomfortable exchange, but just as Hale is about to leave, more company arrives.
A distraught Francis Nurse and Giles Corey have arrived to announce that their wives have been arrested. Before that news really has time to register, the authorities have come to arrest Elizabeth. Before he does, Cheever requires one piece of evidence: the poppet.
Cheever, turning the poppet over in his hands: Why, they say it may signify that she - He has lifted the poppet’s skirt, and his eyes widen in astonished fear. Why, this, this -
Proctor, reaching for the poppet: What’s there?
Cheever: Why - He draws out a long needle from the poppet - it is a needle! Herrick, Herrick, it is a needle!
He has discovered damning evidence and shows Hale for corroboration. Cheever is frightened by the story he tells next about Abigail Williams. With considerable trepidation, Cheever tells the following story:
[Abigail] sat to dinner in Reverend Parris’s house tonight, and without word nor warnin’ she falls to the floor. Like a struck beast, he says, and screamed a scream that a bull would weep to hear. And he goes to save her, and, stuck two inches in the flesh of her belly, he draw a needle out. And demandin’ of her how she come to be so stabbed, she - to Proctor now - testify it -were your wife’s familiar spirit pushed it in.
When Mary is questioned, she is appalled and denies intending any harm to Elizabeth. When we learn that Abigail sat next to Mary in court today, everything begins to come clear--Abigail planted the needle (or noticed Mary put it there) and staged a scene to "prove" that Elizabeth is practicing witchcraft on her in order to get Elizabeth arrested.
This demonstrates the lengths to which Abigail will go to get John for herself; however, it also marks the beginning of the end of the trials, as John Proctor is finally motivated to takes some action.