Introduction

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 617

So you’re going to teach Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, The Crucible has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots—depictions of racism and sexism, as well as archaic language—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying The Crucible will give them unique insight into American colonial culture, the roots of moral panic, and the shortcomings of justice systems. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1953 
  • Recommended Grade Levels: 10th and up 
  • Approximate Word Count: 43, 600 
  • Author: Arthur Miller 
  • Country of Origin: United States 
  • Genre: Historical Drama, Tragedy 
  • Literary Period: Post-WWII Theater 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society 
  • Setting: Salem, Massachusetts, 1692 
  • Structure: Four-Act Drama 
  • Tone: Tense, Accusatory, Tragic


Texts That Go Well With The Crucible

Death of a Salesman is, alongside The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s best-known and most-produced play. Published and first produced in 1949, it won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Award for best play, cementing Miller’s role as a central figure in American theater. The play is about Willy Loman, a salesman who undergoes a series of personal, familial, and professional crises. 

The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey is a landmark historical study of the Salem witch trials, first published in 1949. Starkey brings a modern set of lenses to the study, inspecting the psychological and sociological dimensions of the witch-hunt hysteria. The Devil in Massachusetts served as perhaps Miller’s most important source for The Crucible. Miller borrowed numerous ideas from Starkey, including the central concept of the witch trials following a tragic dramatic arc. 

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem is a 1986 novel by French author Maryse Condé. The novel tells the story of Tituba from her perspective, describing the events of her life up until her death in the 1692 Salem witch trials. Condé alters Tituba’s background; whereas in reality Tituba was from South America, in the novel Tituba is from the West Indies and is born of an African woman who was raped by an English sailor. This twist allows Condé to more deeply explore the history of European colonialism in the Americas. 

In the Devil’s Snare is a 2002 study of the Salem witch trials by historian Mary Beth Norton. Unlike Starkey, Norton eschews a psychological approach to the material in favor of a political, military, and theological view. Norton foregrounds the ongoing conflicts between New England colonists and the surrounding Native American tribes. In Norton’s view, the ever-looming threat of violence created a tense, hectic atmosphere in which the Salem settlers were eager to identify the devil as the cause of their woes, rather than confront their own errors and mishandlings. 

Naming Names by Victor Navasky is an in-depth study of the McCarthy era. The book, which won the 1980 National Book Award, dives into McCarthy’s attacks on Hollywood and his attempts to blacklist potential communists in the entertainment industry. Navatsky’s study contains excerpts from interviews with Arthur Miller in which he discusses his involvement in McCarthy’s hearings. 

Wonders of the Invisible World is Cotton Mather’s “Account of the Tryals of Several Witches, Lately Executed in New-England.” Mather was one of the key judges in the Salem witch trials, and Wonders represents his justification for his own severe decisions in the cases. Published shortly after the end of the trials in 1693, the book lays out Mather’s vision of witches, witchcraft, and the doings of the devil.

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Key Plot Points