Discussion Topic

The significance behind the title "The Crucible."


The title "The Crucible" is significant because it symbolizes the intense heat and pressure in Salem during the witch trials, akin to a laboratory crucible that provokes chemical reactions. Characters are metaphorically subjected to a "trial by fire" that reveals their true natures but also causes pain and destruction. The title reflects both the literal and metaphorical trials that transform the characters and the town.

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Why is The Crucible named so?

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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Why is the play "The Crucible" aptly named?

Miller takes the title of this play from the name of a vessel typically subjected to fire to burn out the impurities in a substance contained inside. Metaphorically, then, the characters in the play are subjected to "fire" that burns away their impurities. Notice the many references to fire. Judge Danforth, for instance, says, "We burn a hot fire here" in reference to the intensity of the court as it attempts to reach the truth. Fire is used as a metaphor for the judicial process that will burn away the lies to get to the truth of the accusations about witchcraft. The crucible represents this "trial by fire" experience that those who unfortunately are accused of witchcraft must endure. This symbolic crucible, however, produces only pain, not truth because the court is blinded by religious fervor.

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