The Crucible Analysis

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The Crucible Analysis



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What are the Key Themes in The Crucible?

Abigail tells Ruth that Rev. Parris knows that Tituba conjured Ruth's sisters, and that Parris saw Mercy naked. Mary Warren , the Proctors' current servant, enters in a panic because the town is talking witchcraft. Betty suddenly sits up and cries that Abigail drank blood to kill Goody Proctor. Abigail threatens the other girls: if they say anything other than that they danced and Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam's sisters, Abigail will make their lives difficult. John Proctor arrives and orders Mary Warren to go home. Abigail speaks tenderly to him and references an affair between them, but Proctor states that he will cut off his hand before he ever touches her again. As they hear the people downstairs sing a hymn downstairs, Abigail insists that Proctor loves her yet.

He fends her off, firmly but not without sympathy. Hearing the hymn outside, Betty sits up and screams. Abigail calls for Rev. Parris, who believes that Betty cannot bear to hear the Lord's name. Rebecca, who has eleven children and twenty-six grandchildren, claims that Betty's illness is nothing serious. She is skeptical of the claims of witchcraft. Putnam suspects Proctor, because he has not been at Sabbath recently, but Proctor claims there is no need for attendance since all Parris ever talks about are finances. Parris warns that there must be obedience or the church will burn like Hell, and Proctor wonders whether Parris can speak one minute without mentioning Hell. Reverend John Hale of Beverly then arrives, bringing with him half a dozen heavy books.

He introduces himself to Rebecca Nurse, and has heard of her great charity. Giles Corey tells Hale that Proctor does not believe in witches, but Proctor says he did not speak one way or another. Hale says that they cannot look to superstition in issues of witchcraft, because the Devil is precise. Parris admits to the dancing and the conjuring, while Mrs. Putnam claims that witchcraft must be the cause of death for her seven children. Giles Corey asks Hale what the reading of strange books signifies. He says that he often awakes to find Martha reading in a corner and cannot say his prayers, but Hale dismisses his concerns for the moment.

Hale asks Abigail what happened in the forest. Parris claims he saw a kettle, but Abigail says it contained only soup, although a frog may have jumped in it. Parris asks whether they drank anything in it, and Hale asks Abigail if she has sold her soul to Lucifer. Finally Abigail blames Tituba, claiming that Tituba made her and Betty drink chicken blood. Abigail says that Tituba sends her spirit on her in church and makes her laugh at prayer. Putnam declares that Tituba must be hanged. Hale confronts Tituba. He says that if she loves these children she must let God's light shine on her. Hale asks if the Devil comes to her with anybody else. Tituba admits that the devil has come to her, and that the devil promises to return her to Barbados.

Furthermore, she shows how he has white people working for her, including Goody Good and Goody Osburn. Betty claims that she saw George Jacobs with the Devil, while Abigail claims she saw several others with the devil, and the curtain falls on a rising chorus of accusations. First performed in January of at the height of America's red scare, The Crucible is first and foremost a political argument, relating the Salem witchcraft trials to their contemporary equivalent in Miller's time, the McCarthy hearings.

The figurative 'witch hunt' of McCarthyism becomes literal in Miller's play, which is constructed to illustrate how fear and hysteria mixed with an atmosphere of persecution may lead to tragically unjust consequences. Miller presents the play with traditional theatrical devices, relying on the dialogue and situations to illustrate his themes, but finds these somewhat insufficient. In the first act, the play therefore contains a number of historical digressions that reveal the motivations of each character and which cannot be accurately conveyed through a strict stage interpretation. Through these prose passages that interrupt the dialogue and action of the play, Miller establishes the particular quality of Salem society that makes it particularly receptive to the repression and panic of the witch trials.

The Puritan life in Salem is rigid and somber, allowing little room for people to break from the monotony and strict work ethic that dominated the close-knit society. Furthermore, the Puritan religious ethic informed all aspects of society, promoting safeguards against immorality at any cost to personal privacy or justice. The Puritans of Massachusetts were a religious faction who, after years of suffering persecution themselves, developed a willful sense of community to guard against infiltration from outside sources.

It is this paradox that Miller finds to be a major theme of The Crucible: in order to keep the community together, members of that community believed that they must in some sense tear it apart. In the final events of Act 4, John Proctor has a tough choice to make between losing his dignity and losing his life. The price he has to pay in reputation to save his own life is ultimately too high.

I have given you my soul; leave me my name! Here are a few discussion questions to consider after you've read my summary of how the theme of reputation motivates characters and plot developments in The Crucible :. If you're an old beggar woman who sometimes takes shelter in this creepy shack, you better believe these jerks are gonna turn on you as soon as anyone says the word "witch. The desire to preserve and gain power pervades The Crucible as the witch trials lead to dramatic changes in which characters hold the greatest control over the course of events.

Where before she was just an orphaned teenager, now, in the midst of the trials, she becomes the main witness to the inner workings of a Satanic plot. The main pillars of traditional power are represented by the law and the church. These two institutions fuse together in The Crucible to actively encourage accusers and discourage rational explanations of events. The girls are essentially given permission by authority figures to continue their act because they are made to feel special and important for their participation. The people in charge are so eager to hold onto their power that if anyone disagrees with them in the way the trials are conducted, it is taken as a personal affront and challenge to their authority.

Danforth, Hathorne, and Parris become even more rigid in their views when they feel they are under attack. As mentioned in the overview, religion holds significant power over the people of Salem. Reverend Parris is in a position of power as the town's spiritual leader, but he is insecure about his authority. He believes there is a group of people in town determined to remove him from this position, and he will say and do whatever it takes to retain control. This causes problems down the line as Parris allows his paranoia about losing his position to translate into enthusiasm for the witch hunt.

Abigail, on the other hand, faces an uphill battle towards more power over her situation. She is clearly outspoken and dominant, but her initial position in society is one of very little influence and authority. Abigail accuses Tituba first because Tituba is the one person below her on the ladder of power, so she makes an easy scapegoat. If Tituba was permitted to explain what really happened, the ensuing tragedy might have been prevented. No one will listen to Tituba until she agrees to confirm the version of events that the people in traditional positions of authority have already decided is true, a pattern which continues throughout the play.

By Act 2, there have been notable changes in the power structure in Salem as a result of the ongoing trials. This new power is exciting and very dangerous because it encourages the girls to make additional accusations in order to preserve their value in the eyes of the court. Abigail, in particular, has quickly risen from a nobody to one of the most influential people in Salem. No one thinks a teenage orphan girl is capable of such extensive deception or delusion , so she is consistently trusted.

She openly threatens Danforth for even entertaining Mary and John's accusations of fraud against her. Though Danforth is the most powerful official figure in court, Abigail manipulates him easily with her performance as a victim of witchcraft. He's already accepted her testimony as evidence, so he is happy for any excuse to believe her over John and Mary. John finally comes to the realization that Mary's truthful testimony cannot compete with the hysteria that has taken hold of the court. The petition he presents to Danforth is used as a weapon against the signers rather than a proof of the innocence of Elizabeth, Martha, and Rebecca.

Abigail's version of events is held to be true even after John confesses to their affair in a final effort to discredit her. Logic has no power to combat paranoia and superstition even when the claims of the girls are clearly fraudulent. John Proctor surrenders his agency at the end of Act 3 in despair at the determination of the court to pursue the accusations of witchcraft and ignore all evidence of their falsehood.

By Act 4, many of the power structures that were firmly in place earlier in the play have disintegrated. Reverend Parris has fallen from his position of authority as a result of the outcomes of the trials. In Act 1 he jumped on board with the hysteria to preserve his power, but he ended up losing what little authority he had in the first place and, according to Miller's afterward, was voted out of office soon after the end of the play. The prisoners have lost all faith in earthly authority figures and look towards the judgment of God. The only power they have left is in refusing to confess and preserving their integrity. I n steadfastly refusing to confess, Rebecca Nurse holds onto a great deal of power.

The judges cannot force her to commit herself to a lie, and her martyrdom severely damages their legitimacy and favor amongst the townspeople. Here are some discussion questions to consider after reading about the thematic role of the concepts of power and authority in the events of the play:. Mary Warren when she comes back from Salem in Act 2. These are themes that could be considered subsets of the topics detailed in the previous sections, but there's also room to discuss them as topics in their own right. I'll give a short summary of how each plays a role in the events of The Crucible. The theme of guilt is one that is deeply relevant to John Proctor's character development throughout the play. John feels incredibly ashamed of his affair with Abigail, so he tries to bury it and pretend it never happened.

His guilt leads to great tension in interactions with Elizabeth because he projects his feelings onto her, accusing her of being judgmental and dwelling on his mistakes. In reality, he is constantly judging himself, and this leads to outbursts of anger against others who remind him of what he did he already feels guilty enough! Hale also contends with his guilt in act 4 for his role in condemning the accused witches , who he now believes are innocent. There's a message here about the choices we have in dealing with guilt.

John attempts to crush his guilt instead of facing it, which only ends up making it an even more destructive factor in his life. Hale tries to combat his guilt by persuading the prisoners to confess, refusing to accept that the damage has already been done. Both Hale and Proctor don't want to live with the consequences of their mistakes, so they try to ignore or undo their past actions. Miller's portrayal of women in The Crucible is a much-discussed topic. The attitudes towards women in the s, when the play was written, are evident in the roles they're given. The most substantial female character is Abigail, who is portrayed as a devious and highly sexualized young woman. She is cast as a villain. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Rebecca Nurse.

She is a sensible, saintly old woman who chooses to martyr herself rather than lie and confess to witchcraft. The other two main female characters, Elizabeth and Mary Warren, are somewhat bland. Elizabeth is defined by her relationship to John, and Mary is pushed around by other characters mostly men throughout the play. The Crucible presents a view of women that essentially reduces them to caricatures of human beings that are defined by their roles as mothers, wives, and servants to men. Abigail, the one character who breaks from this mold slightly, is portrayed extremely unsympathetically despite the fact that the power dynamic between her and John makes him far more culpable in their illicit relationship.

Deception is a major driving force in The Crucible. This includes not only accusatory lies about the involvement of others in witchcraft but also the lies that people consistently tell about their own virtuousness and purity in such a repressive society. The turmoil in Salem is propelled forward by desires for revenge and power that have been simmering beneath the town's placid exterior. There is a culture of keeping up appearances already in place, which makes it natural for people to lie about witnessing their neighbors partaking in Satanic rituals when the opportunity arises especially if it means insulating themselves from similar accusations and even achieving personal gain. The Crucible provides an example of how convenient lies can build on one another to create a universally accepted truth even in the absence of any real evidence.

Even before the witch trials, the people of Salem are doing lots of little magic tricks to make all their unholy thoughts and actions disappear. It's one thing to understand the major themes in The Crucible , and it's another thing completely to write about them yourself. Essay prompts will ask about these themes in a variety of different ways. Some will be very direct. An example would be something like:. Choose a single character and discuss how this person embodies one of the themes. In a case like this, you'd be writing directly about a specific theme in connection to one of the characters. Essay questions that ask about themes in this straightforward way can be tricky because there's a temptation to speak in vague terms about the theme's significance.

Always include specific details, including direct quotes, to support your argument about how the theme is expressed in the play. Other essay questions may not ask you directly about the themes listed in this article, but that doesn't mean that the themes are irrelevant to your writing. Here's another example of a potential essay question for The Crucible that's less explicit in its request for you to discuss themes of the play:. Explain who you believe is the central tragic character in the play. What are their strengths and personal flaws? How does the central tragic character change throughout the play, and how does this relate to the play's title? How do outside forces contribute to the character's flaws and eventual downfall? In this case, you're asked to discuss the concept of a tragic character, explaining who fits that mold in The Crucible and why.

There are numerous connections between the flaws of individual characters and the overarching themes of the play that could be brought into this discussion. This is especially true with the reputation and hysteria themes. If you argued that John Proctor was the central tragic character, you could say that his flaws were an excessive concern for his reputation and overconfidence in the power of reason to overcome hysteria. Both flaws led him to delay telling the truth about Abigail's fraudulent claims and their previous relationship, thus dooming himself and many others to death or imprisonment.

Even with prompts that ask you to discuss a specific character or plot point, you can find ways to connect your answer to major themes. These connections will bolster your responses by positioning them in relation to the most important concepts discussed throughout the play. Now that you've read about the most important themes in The Crucible , check out our list of every single character in the play , including brief analyses of their relationships and motivations. Once he signs his confession, he refuses to hand it over. His name is all he has left, he says, and he won't ruin it by signing lies. Danforth says that if Proctor is not honestly confessing, then he won't accept the confession. Proctor tears up the statement. Parris and Hale are horror-struck as Proctor goes to the gallows, but Elizabeth says he has gotten his "goodness" back.

The Crucible. Plot Summary. All Symbols The Crucible. LitCharts Teacher Editions. Teach your students to analyze literature like LitCharts does. Detailed explanations, analysis, and citation info for every important quote on LitCharts. The original text plus a side-by-side modern translation of every Shakespeare play. Sign Up. Already have an account? Sign in. From the creators of SparkNotes, something better. Literature Poetry Lit Terms Shakescleare. Download this LitChart! Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Crucible can help.

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