Discussion Topic

The significance and implications of the title "The Crucible" in Arthur Miller's play

Summary:

The title "The Crucible" signifies a severe test or trial, reflecting the intense scrutiny and moral challenges faced by the characters in Arthur Miller's play. It also symbolizes the heated environment of the Salem witch trials, where individuals' true natures are revealed under pressure, leading to both personal and communal transformations.

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Why do you think Arthur Miller chose "The Crucible" as the title?

This title seems to fit the story because the characters are exposed as "what they really are", rendered as a crystalization of their basic elements of personality and character just as materials are reduced in a crucible. 

The play, in another way of speaking, presents a high pressure situation that reveals the truth of a person behind the social trappings, feints and postures of everyday life. 

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Why do you think Arthur Miller chose "The Crucible" as the title?

Great definition above, and it seems as if the entire story is a test of character. The Putnams' test is whether they will take advantage of the chaos and courtroom proceedings to further their own agendas regardless of the truth. They failed. The Court's test is whether it is able to administer justice. It failed. Reverend Parris's test is one of godliness, and he certainly fails. In fact, the entire episode is one of the great failures in American history. A few people in the story pass the test (Proctor, Elizabeth, Martha and Giles Corey, Reverend Hale, and Rebecca Nurse), but for most of them the series of events known as the Salem Witch Trials exposes the flaws and failings of their moral character.

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Why do you think Arthur Miller chose "The Crucible" as the title?

I think that it is because Miller is trying (among other things) to look at the ways in which people respond to stressful times.  As the previous post says, the word "crucible" implies heat and stress and change.  Miller uses this title because he is interested in the way in which people's characters change when exposed to the sorts of "heat" and stress that we see in the play.

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Why do you think Arthur Miller chose "The Crucible" as the title?

 Let's start with the definition of the word. According to the Webster dictionary, a crucible is:

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   If you combine these three definitions, you come up with a container where under high heat (or in Miller's case...the stress of being accused of witchcraft (or communism under McCarthy)), there comes a severe test (the trials), where forces interact (the girl's false accusations and the people's fear about doing the right thing), to influence change (the hangings and murders of innocent citizens due to false accusations).
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What is the significance of the title in Arthur Miller's The Crucible?

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

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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How does the title of Arthur Miller's The Crucible highlight key ideas in the play?

It's probably best to explain what a crucible is before finding quotes. In science, a crucible is a container that will hold materials that are likely to be subjected to extremely high temperatures. The things inside the crucible change by being melted or even destroyed, yet the crucible remains in tact. Things are tested inside of a crucible, and that is how the title is well applied to this play. The town of Salem could be the crucible that holds the people that are being tested, or the witch trials themselves are the heat that is being applied to the situation. The people that withstand the heat are the people that are crucibles. Either interpretation is able to be defended.

I would say the best character to illustrate the idea of standing firm and withstanding the outside pressures of the witch trials is John Proctor, Giles Corey, or Rebecca Nurse. Granted, those three are not the only three people accused of witchcraft that refused to confess and were killed because of it, but the play does a nice job of highlighting their strength. The Puritan beliefs in witchcraft were very real, and the accused were between a metaphorical rock and hard place. They could deny the accusations and hang, or they could confess the lie, live with damaged reputations, and a belief that they were going to hell for telling that lie.

PROCTOR, sensing her weakening: Mary, God damns all liars!
DANFORTH, pounding it into her: You have seen the Devil, you have made compact with Lucifer, have you not?
PROCTOR: God damns liars, Mary!

Toward the end of the play, John is seriously considering the lie in order to save his life and stay with his wife and kids; however, after seeing that Rebecca Nurse was holding firm, he can't go through with signing his name to the confession.

DANFORTH: Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let—
PROCTOR, with a cry of his whole soul: 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!
DANFORTH, pointing at the confession in Proctor's hand: Is that document a lie? If it is a lie I will not accept it! What say you? I will not deal in lies, Mister! (Proctor is motionless.) You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope. Proctor does not reply. Which way do you go, Mister?
His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it.

Hale and Parris beg Elizabeth to go to John and convince him to change his mind, but Elizabeth knows how important it is for John to stand firm. He's being tested, and he is coming through it with a pure and good heart.

Hale: Woman, plead with him! He starts to rush out the door, and then goes back to her. Woman! It is pride, it is vanity. She avoids his eyes, and moves to the window. He drops to his knees. Be his helper! - What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms declare his truth? Go to him, take his shame away! Elizabeth, supporting herself against collapse, grips the bars, of the window, and with a cry: He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!
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How does the title of Arthur Miller's The Crucible highlight key ideas in the play?

The word crucible has several definitions that fit the ideas explored in the play. First, a crucible can be a small cup or bowl in which some substance can be melted using high temperatures; it can also refer to a severe test; finally, it can refer to a situation in which volatile forces can come together to provoke change.

To begin, then, we can read the title symbolically, where Salem becomes like a crucible, in which relationships of the town are "heated up" and tested by fear and hysteria that result from the girls' witchy activities in the forest. At the beginning of the play, Reverend Parris is especially upset with his niece Abigail, telling her "if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it." He believes that a faction who wishes to "drive [him] from [his] pulpit" is working against him and will use this new information to do just that. In his own fear, he invites Reverend Hale, a known witch-hunter, to town, increasing people's anxiety and fear of danger. Hale's appearance results in Tituba's accusation of two local women, which leads to Abigail and the other girls accusing yet more people.

Certainly, these events seem to constitute a test. Will people retain their wisdom or will they give in to their fear? Will people remain loyal and honest, or will they turn on friends and neighbors? John Proctor's frustration at the end of act 2 provides evidence for the latter. He asks,

Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God's fingers? I'll tell you what's walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. 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!

The people of Salem are being tested, and they are failing. They are allowing themselves to be completely taken by the children's accusations, many doing so without questioning or critically thinking. Some are also exploiting the children for their own selfish, greedy reasons, often to do with the stealing/buying of land. Fear and greed seem to compel them to turn on people they've known their whole lives. They are, indeed, failing this test.

Certainly, volatile forces combine here to provoke change. In the end, most people seem to realize that they have responded to fear, hysteria, and greed by failing to exercise good sense and compassion. They begin to ask for it; however, Deputy Governor Danforth will not listen. Reverend Hale demands the pardon of the convicted. Reverend Parris begs for a delay, at least. Parris says,

it were another sort that hanged till now [....]. Let Rebecca stand upon the gibbet and send up some righteous prayer, and I fear she'll wake a vengeance on you.

Respect for Danforth's authority has all but disappeared, and people now feel more compassion for the convicted—now seen as victims—rather than the magistrates, who are now viewed as antagonists.

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