What is the significance of the title in Arthur Miller's The Crucible?

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A crucible is a kind of container in which substances are melted or heated to a very high temperature. The town of Salem in The Crucible is certainly in the grip of a very high temperature, as feverish emotions run wild due to the uncontrollable witch craze. The innocent townsfolk caught up in the enveloping madness are just like the pieces of metal dropped into a crucible and forced to endure extreme temperatures. Most people are familiar with the expression “feeling the heat,” meaning to experience considerable pressure, and that’s precisely what John Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and so many others in Salem have to go through.

Just as some metals placed in a crucible are stronger and more enduring than others, so some people in Salem have greater strength and fortitude. Not everyone in the town subjected to the heat of the witch craze hysteria melts, so to speak. John Proctor, for one, shows immense courage in the face of extreme adversity. The crucible of Salem has become a testing ground for his endurance; he must dig deep and draw upon every last resource of strength to get through this terrifying ordeal.

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Numerous suggestions are always made regarding an author's choice of title (if the author fails to provide his or her reasoning). In the case of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, the title's significance lies in the definition of what a crucible is. 

The first meaning found in the dictionary is as follows: 

"a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures."

In this case, one could look at the crucible as a metaphor for the village of Salem. The villagers put "heat" upon one another until they begin to "melt" (metaphorically) under the pressure. The accused villagers then either bend and break (as does heated metal) under the pressure put on them by the courts to confess to witchcraft. 

The second definition is far more apparent: 

"a difficult test or challenge."

In this case, numerous villagers must face a crucible. John must face his adultery. Giles must face the fact his accusations about his wife reading led to her being charged with witchcraft. Elizabeth must face the challenge of forgiving John. Parris must face the faction created against him. Numerous villagers must face a difficult test. 

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