Why is The Crucible called The Crucible?

The play is called The Crucible because a crucible, a tool used to heat and melt metal under high temperatures, is a perfect metaphor for the intense, heated, and pressure-filled atmosphere that descends upon Salem during the witch trials. The term "crucible" can also refer to a trial or challenge that leads to change, lending a double meaning to the play's title.

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A crucible is a piece of laboratory equipment used to heat chemical compounds and melt bits of metal. As one can imagine, the temperatures inside crucibles can get extremely hot—this heat and pressure builds, provoking chemical reactions and dissolving pieces of metal.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Arthur Miller was inspired to use a crucible as the title of his play and as the play's governing metaphor. Salem during the witch craze has an intense, overheated atmosphere, not unlike that inside a crucible, where the extreme heat generates violent reactions and melts even the hardest of substances.

There are certainly plenty of violent reactions in The Crucible: Abigail Williams reacts violently to being dumped by John Proctor, swearing revenge upon him and his wife Elizabeth, and other townsfolk who ought to know better react violently by using the witch hunt as an opportunity to settle scores against their enemies. Just as metals are melted and transformed in a crucible, the characters in The Crucible are forever altered by their experience during the witch trials. Some, like Reverend Parris and Reverend Hale, are unable to withstand the pressure in the figurative crucible that is Salem and compromise their integrity; others, like John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse refuse to abandon the truth, even to save their life.

The term "crucible" can also refer to a trial or test in which multiple elements interact and are changed as a result. This definition applies in a more literal way to the Salem witch trials, which forever changed the lives of the participants and impacted the entire town. In titling his work The Crucible, Miller plays off both of these two definitions of the word.

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