Why did Arthur Miller name his play "The Crucible"?
A crucible is a small bowl or cup that must withstand the extremely high temperatures used in order to melt the substance within it. We can certainly think of Salem in 1692 as a figurative crucible. Miller describes the developing antagonism between political rivals, and then there is the anxiety created by the possibility of Indian raids and the ever-present Puritan fear that the Devil is in their midst, trying to corrupt them: all of these create tension that seems to slowly "heat up" the town, making it ready to respond to the girls' outlandish accusations in the terrible way it does.
Moreover, the accusations begin with women who are already outcasts in the community, people who it is easy to believe could be witches in league with the devil. But then, the accusations become more and more high profile, and soon, highly respected members of the community suddenly find themselves in trouble. This also seems to mirror the idea of a crucible slowly heating up and whatever's inside getting more and more volatile as its temperature increases. Certainly, the people of Salem become more and more volatile as the accused grow in number and importance, and the situation worsens as some individuals, like Mr. Putnam, realize the use to which these accusations could be put. Just as the temperature rises in a crucible, so do the tensions rise in the crucible that is Salem.
A crucible can be defined as a container capable of withstanding intense heat. In the play The Crucible a number of characters finds themselves having to do much the same thing. Heat in this sense is not just allegorical; it's also literal. The standard punishment for those convicted of witchcraft was public burning. Anyone so condemned effectively had to go through three crucibles, or trials: first, the trial of public opinion; then, a formal criminal trial in a court of law; and finally, the trial of the actual execution itself.
Each test is significant as it removes the individual's outer shell—the first two metaphorically, the last one literally—to reveal the true self underneath. The feverish witch-hunt hysteria exposes the mental and emotional depths of each individual to sustained and uncomfortable public scrutiny. Psychologically, this is the toughest test of all, as damaging secrets and lies come bubbling to the surface to be picked over and minutely examined by the townsfolk's withering gaze.
Just as the crucible cannot control the heat to which it is subject, the people of Salem can no longer control the level of frenzied hysteria that has descended upon their town. In such a toxic, over-heated environment, all each individual can do is to withstand the burning intensity.
A "crucible" is a severe test or trial, which is exactly what happens in the play. Miller intended "The Crucible" as an allegory to McCarthyism. The events that took place during the time the play was written were very similar to the Salem witch hunts. Innocent people were being put on trial or jailed practicing or being associated with what people believed to be evil- communism. Miller himself was accused of being a communist sympathizer. Like the people put on trial during the witch hunts, McCarthyism accused also had their reputations damaged or even their lives ruined.
According to the Miriam Webster dictionary there are three definitions of crucible.
1 : a vessel of a very refractory material (as porcelain) used for melting and calcining a substance that requires a high degree of heat 2 : a severe test 3 : a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development
Arthur Miller could have been referring to either one of these definitions.
The vessel could be a symbol of the people, courts, and town heated with fear and greed. This creates a change of emotions and feelings that effect their actions.
The test may represent a test of the people's beliefs, morals, and values.
The last definiton seems to fit most appropriately. The concentrated forces (people, courts, town) interact to cause change. The change ultimately would result in less religion in courts as well as less acceptance of hearsay