By Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
A Study Guide
......................................................................By Michael J. Cummings © 2004......................................................Film Version
.......His slave, Tituba, enters to inquire about Betty’s condition. Parris brought Tituba to Salem from Barbados, in the West Indies, where he was a merchant before becoming a man of God. His niece, Abigail Williams, 17, an orphan living in his house, comes in shortly after Tituba with Susanna Walcott, who bears news from a doctor: He knows of no medicine to treat Betty and suggests that Parris consider a supernatural cause for the little girl’s illness. The doctor’s opinion reflects the view of many citizens of Salem–that the devil, through spell-casting witches, afflicted Betty with a strange malady. Already, worried townspeople are convened in the parlor of the Parris home to discuss satanic influence in their town.
.......When Abigail asks her uncle to go downstairs to still the rumors, Parris barks back: “And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest?” (Miller 10).
.......His angry reply is a reprimand for obscene behavior exhibited by Abigail and other Salem girls. While walking in the forest, he caught them dancing around a boiling cauldron, apparently conjuring spirits. With them was Tituba, who has knowledge of occult practices. Before he happened upon the girls, they had invoked–under Tituba’s instruction–spirits of the darkness to help them attract young men and, in Abigail’s case, to visit revenge upon an enemy. Abigail drank the blood of a rooster to cause the death of John Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, who dismissed Abigail from employment as a servant at the Proctor home outside of town after discovering that John and the beautiful Abigail had been intimate. When Parris arrived on the scene, the girls were whirling in a frenzy. One of them was naked.
.......Now he is worried that the shameful behavior of Abigail and Betty, along with Betty’s mysterious illness, will undermine his standing in the community and jeopardize his position as minister at the Salem meetinghouse. In fact, he seems as much concerned about his own welfare as he does about Betty’s. He has good reason to worry, for certain members of his church despise him and his hellfire style of preaching.
........Abigail admits that she and the others danced but denies that they summoned evil spirits. Parris questions her further, believing that Betty’s stupor resulted from conjuring. If his own daughter and niece took part in a satanic ritual, he says, he needs to know the details in order to defend his reputation against the hostile faction in his congregation. Abigail, who has a talent for bending truth and telling outright lies, sticks to her story. Parris presses his case, saying he has heard rumors against her reputation and asks why no other family has hired her since she her dismissal from the Proctor home seven months before. Abigail accuses Mrs. Proctor of spreading lies that damaged her reputation and made her unemployable.
Parris Sends for Help
.......To protect his own reputation, Parris has sent for the Rev. John Hale, an expert in detecting malicious spirits, to investigate the alleged supernatural events in Salem. Parris believes Hale’s investigation will result in a finding against witchcraft–as did a witchcraft investigation by Hale in a nearby town–and thereby protect Parris from charges that witchery exists under his own roof.
.......John Putnam and his wife, Ann, wealthy Salem citizens, come up from the parlor to look in on Betty and talk with Parris. They report that their daughter, Ruth, has symptoms similar to Betty’s and claim witchcraft caused them. In fact, they seem to promote the witchcraft theory. Here’s why:
.......The possible presence of witches in the community would provide Mr. Putnam, a grasping landowner, an opportunity to expand his holdings. First, he would implicate rival landowners as witches. Then, after the court jails them, he would buy up their forfeited land. Ann Putnam, jealous that other women gave birth to healthy children while seven of the eight she bore all died within hours of their birth, would have an opportunity to accuse one of these women of using witchcraft to kill her children.
But what about Ruth? How would the Putnams respond to charges that their own daughter, like Betty, is infected with evil? Mrs. Putnam already has an answer and freely delivers it. She tells Parris that she ordered her daughter to consult with Tituba. According to Mrs. Putnam, Ruth has been “turning strange” and has begun “shriveling” (15)–as if the same person who sickened and killed her infants now wants to kill Ruth. Noting that Tituba knows how to “speak to the dead” (15), Mrs. Putnam says she hoped her daughter would learn from Tituba who in Salem has been causing the deaths of her children.
.......“There is a murdering witch among us” (16), Mr. Putnam says.
.......When Mercy Lewis, the Putnams’ servant, arrives to inquire about the condition of Betty, Parris and the Putnams go downstairs to pray with the crowd, leaving Mercy alone with Abigail and Betty. Mary Warren, the Proctors’ servant, arrives shortly thereafter, saying the town will accuse all of them of witchcraft if they withhold the truth about the night in the forest. Witchcraft is a hanging offense, Mary says, but the dancing and other misbehavior will only result in a whipping.
.......Abigail then attempts to rouse Betty from her stupor. If she succeeds, she will be able to show the townspeople that the little girl was only pretending to be ill and thus help to quiet talk of witchcraft. Betty indeed awakens. But she immediately accuses Abigail of drinking blood and of drinking a charm to cause the death of John Proctor’s wife.
Abigail Makes Threats
.......Abigail, shaken, threatens violence against all them–Betty, Mary, and Mercy–if they don’t keep quiet about what really went on.
.......“We danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sisters. And that is all. [If] you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things . . . I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you” (20).
.......Abigail says she well understands violence, for she witnessed the deaths of her own parents at the hands of Indians. Betty collapses back into a stupor.
.......John Proctor comes in to tell Mary she is needed at his home to help his wife. After she and Mercy Lewis leave, Abigail speaks seductively to Proctor and nuzzles against him, but he pushes her away, telling her their relationship has ended and that he is now totally committed to his wife. Abigail’s desire for revenge against Mrs. Proctor deepens.
.......When the visitors downstairs sing a psalm, Betty awakens screaming. Parris, the Putnams, and Rebecca Nurse–a saintly but practical 72-year-old–rush upstairs to investigate, followed by Giles Corey, a hardy, tough-as-leather 83-year-old of independent mind, who says, “Is she going to fly again? I hear she flies” (25 ).
.......Mrs. Nurse calms the child by simply standing near her. She concludes nothing is seriously wrong with Betty. As the mother of 11 children and the grandmother of 26, Goody Nurse says children have their “silly seasons” (27) of mischief; Betty will come around in time. She dismisses witchcraft as the cause of Betty’s “illness” and says the Putnams’ daughter, Ruth, will recover when her stomach cries out in hunger.
.......The Rev. John Hale arrives from Beverly, a town about eight miles north of Salem, and immediately begins his inquiry. Under intense questioning, Abigail, believing her life could be in jeopardy if a charge of witchcraft is leveled against her, blames Tituba for leading the town girls astray. “She comes to me every night to go and drink blood,” Abigail says (43). When Hale questions Tituba, he says, “You have sent your spirit out upon this child, have you not? Are you gathering souls for the devil?” (44). Daring to defend herself, Tituba says Abigail begs her to conjure and make charms.
.......Putnam says Tituba must be hanged. Terrified, Tituba admits to seeing the devil but says it is the spirits of Salem residents appearing with him who are responsible for working sorcery in the town. She names Sarah Good and Goody Osburn as the devil’s helpmates. Abigail, seeing her opportunity to vindicate herself, says she also saw Sarah Good and Goody Osburn with the devil–and Bridget Bishop, too. Betty awakens and says she saw George Jacobs, Goody Howe, and Martha Bellows with the devil. Abigail adds Goody Sibber, Goody Hawkins, and Goody Booth to the list, and Betty names Alice Barrow and Goody Bibber.
.......The witch hunt is on.
Martha Corey Jailed
.......In the ensuing days and months, many people in and around Salem are accused and jailed for the flimsiest of reasons. For example, Giles Corey’s wife, Martha, is named as a witch simply because he happened to mention one day that she reads books kept in secret places. Books can be dangerous, the Salem witch-hunters believe, especially hidden books. So Martha Corey goes to jail.
.......Abigail incriminates Mrs. Proctor, claiming she poked a pin into a poppet (a doll resembling a puppet) representing Abigail and, in so doing, inflicted a painful wound in Abigail’s stomach. When investigators find a poppet in the Proctor home–one with a pin lodged in the poppet’s belly–they arrest and imprison Elizabeth Proctor. They ignore Mary Warren’s statement that she made the poppet, inserted the pin, and gave the doll to Mrs. Proctor. They also ignore Mary’s statement that she made the poppet while seated next to Abigail during a court proceeding. Meanwhile, Mr. Putnam implicates a local landowner in order to buy up his property, and Mrs. Putnam names Rebecca Nurse.
.......Chief Judge Thomas Danforth presides at the witch trials with Associate Judges John Hathorne and Samuel Sew. (In the actual 1692 trials, the presiding judge was William Stoughton. There were ten associate judges, including Hathorne and Sewall.) Danforth, deputy governor of the Massachusetts colony, is a man of sober temperament and intimidating demeanor. He means to root out the witches and give them early passage to eternity. The judges accept spectral evidence (testimony of citizens who claim to have witnessed supernatural events) without corroboration. During the trials, Abigail and the other girls who participated in the conjuring all pretend to be victims of witchcraft rather than instigators of wrongdoing–all, that is, except Mary Warren. John Proctor prods her to tell the truth about the girls and, specifically, about the poppet she made for Proctor’s wife. She agrees to do so, although she is terribly anxious about contradicting the other girls.
.......By this time, the hangman is busy, and the jail is full. Some children have no parents or home. Farms go untended, and cows wander the roads. The Rev. John Hale realizes the witch trials are a perversion of justice and vigorously protests the action of the court–to no avail.
.......When Proctor appears with Mary Warren in court, he submits as evidence a written statement, or deposition, signed by her that renounces stories of witchcraft. But Judge Danforth refuses to accept the deposition. Parris then accuses Proctor of attempting to sabotage the court proceedings. When Danforth questions Mary, she says she and the other girls only pretended to see spirits. Doubting her testimony, Danforth turns his gaze to Proctor and warns, “We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment” (89). When Danforth asks Proctor whether he is attempting to subvert the court proceedings, Proctor says he wants only to reveal the truth. However, Ezekiel Cheever, an officer of the court, speaks up with what he believes is important information: “When we came to [arrest] his wife,” he tells the judge, “he damned the court and ripped your warrant” (90). When asked whether Cheever is telling the truth, Hale, who is in court to support Proctor, reluctantly acknowledges that Cheever’s statement is true. (Hale was present when Elizabeth Proctor was arrested.)
Mrs. Proctor Pregnant
.......Parris and Cheever also reveal that Proctor goes to church only once a month and that he plows his fields on Sundays. As the evidence against Proctor mounts, the judge tells him that his wife claims to be pregnant. “Then she must be,” Proctor says. “That woman will never lie” (92). Danforth replies that Mrs. Proctor will live at least another year so she can bear her child. However, this effort to soften Proctor fails, for he refuses to change his story. What is more, he submits a statement signed by 91 citizens of Salem attesting to the good character of his wife and two other accused women, Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey. But this tactic prompts Danforth to summon all 91 signers to court for questioning–and possible accusations of witchcraft against them.
.......Old Giles Corey then presents a deposition charging John Putnam with falsely accusing George Jacobs of witchcraft so that Putnam can buy up Jacobs’s land. Corey claims that a reliable witness overheard Corey making an incriminating statement. However, when Corey refuses to name the witness for fear that the witness will be arrested, Danforth jails Corey.
.......Next, Danforth turns his attention back to Mary Warren. Proctor stands by her while she tells the judges that she made the poppet for Goody Proctor. She also reaffirms her previous testimony against Abigail and the other girls. However, under further intense questioning by Danforth and Judge Hathorne–and under the searing gazes of the other girls–Mary’s resolve weakens. Abigail and the other girls then cry out in terror, claiming Mary has sent out her spirit in the form of a menacing yellow bird perched in the courtroom. Danforth appears to believe them.
.......Panic-stricken, Mary recants her testimony, allies herself with Abigail, and denounces John Proctor. Desperate to save his innocent wife, Proctor then lays a heavy charge on Abigail: She is a whore. To back up this testimony, he admits that he lusted after her and had sexual relations with her. For this reason, he says, his wife fired Abigail; now Abigail is seeking revenge against Mrs. Proctor.
.......Danforth summons Elizabeth Proctor to court and asks her why she fired Abigail. To protect her husband’s name, Mrs. Proctor does the one thing that her husband says she could never do: She lies, denying that her husband committed adultery. Danforth concludes that John Proctor has been lying all along. In addition, he charges Proctor with conspiring to disrupt the court proceedings. Over Rev. Hale’s vigorous objections, Proctor is arrested and jailed.
.......While Proctor, his wife, and Rebecca Nurse languish in jail, executions proceed. Hanging is the preferred method, but old Giles Corey is pressed to death, a torture in which heavy stones are placed on the chest, one after the other, to force the accused person to own up to witchcraft. But Corey refuses to confess and, in a remarkable display of courageous defiance, asks his tormentors to pile on more weight. When they grant his request, piling on another heavy stone, he dies.
.......Meanwhile, the townspeople begin to come to the their senses, realizing the court is sentencing and executing innocent people. But Danforth refuses to halt the proceedings, maintaining that doing so would suggest that all the guilty verdicts and executions were unjust.
.......Parris–who has been a leading promoter of the witch trials in order to deflect findings of guilt against Betty and Abigail and thereby save his ministry–now worries that the growing opposition to the trials threatens him anew. Consequently, he recommends postponing further executions unless the court can extract a confession from John Proctor, whom most of the townspeople believe is an upright man. Danforth accepts Parris’s logic and offers Proctor and his wife their freedom if he signs a statement admitting his guilt. If Proctor confesses, Danforth believes, Goody Nurse and the remaining condemned prisoners will follow his example. Whatever happens, Abigail Williams will not be around to witness it: She has run away after stealing 31 pounds from Parris–his entire life savings.
.......Proctor signs the statement out of a desire to return to a normal life with his wife and his children. But moments later, overcome with a desire to preserve his good name and to stand fast against hypocrisy and injustice, he tears up the statement. Goody Nurse and the other condemned prisoners stand with him.
.......Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and others under a death sentence are then hanged.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin, 1976.
Protagonist: John Proctor
Antagonist: Abigail Williams
John Proctor Honest farmer forced to defend his wife and himself against witchcraft charges. While his wife was ill, he succumbed to temptation and was intimate with Abigail Williams, a beautiful but malevolent 17-year-old. Although Proctor later rejects Abigail and admits his wrongdoing to his wife, Abigail continues to pursue him.
Elizabeth Proctor John Proctor’s loyal and upright wife. She comes to realize that she may have been partly at fault for her husband's unfaithfulness because she was not always as warm and loving as she could have been.
Rev. Samuel Parris Salem's current minister. A faction in his congregation is attempting to replace him. He at first attempts to silence rumors of witchcraft because his own daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail Williams, were involved in conjuring rites. However, he later vigorously supports the witch trials when he sees that they will work to his advantage.
Betty Parris Daughter of the Rev. Parris. At the beginning of the play, she lies in a stupor supposedly caused by witchcraft.
Abigail Williams Seventeen-year-old orphan whose parents were killed by Indians. She lives with her uncle, the Rev. Parris, and his daughter, Betty. In a conjuring rite in the forest, where Abigail and other girls dance wildly around a cauldron, Abigail drinks rooster blood in attempt to summon spirits to kill Elizabeth Proctor. Mrs. Proctor had fired Abigail from her job as a servant at the Proctor farm because Abigail seduced her husband.
Tituba Slave of the Rev. Parris. The minister brought her to Salem from Barbados, where she learned occult practices. She presides at a conjuring session involving teenage and adolescent girls from Salem.
John, Ann Putnam Wealthy husband and wife who use the witchcraft frenzy implicate rivals and enemies.
Rev. John Hale Expert in detecting spirits. Well educated, he takes pride in his knowledge of the occult, but he is fair-minded. Although he first believes townspeople may be practicing witchcraft, he later defends accused persons, in particular Mr. and Mrs. Proctor.
Rebecca Nurse Charitable Salem resident whom Ann Putnam accuses of witchcraft.
Mary Warren Eighteen-year-old servant of the Proctors who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest. She first agrees to testify against Abigail and the others. But, under pressure from her peers and the court, she renounces her testimony and sides with Abigail.
Deputy Governor John Danforth Presiding judge who conducts the witchcraft hearings and trials. He admits spectral evidence (testimony of witnesses who believe they saw townspeople in the presence of the devil) but refuses to accept a deposition presented by John Proctor. The deposition, signed by Mary Warren, is intended as evidence that could lead to the exoneration of Elizabeth Proctor and others.
John Hathorne Associate Judge.
Giles Corey Innocent citizen accused of witchcraft after he attempts to defend his wife, Martha, and expose scheming John Putnam. A courageous 83-year-old who defies the court, he is pressed to death with heavy stones. Martha Corey is hanged.
Mercy Lewis Teenage servant of the Proctors who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest.
Susanna Walcott Teenager who took part in the rite in the forest.
Sarah Good Poor, homeless woman accused of witchcraft.
The action takes place between spring and autumn in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the town of Salem and the surrounding countryside. Salem was a theocracy in which the Christian moral law, as interpreted by the Puritan settlers of the town, was supreme.
Source: The Salem Witch Trials
Arthur Miller based his play on historical accounts of the Salem witch trials of 1692. According to those accounts, more than 150 people were accused of witchcraft and jailed. Twenty of them were executed. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill near Salem and one was pressed to death with heavy stones laid on his chest. To suit the dramatic design of The Crucible, Miller altered some of the facts. For example, he changed the ages of some Salem residents and merged others into a single character. During the actual trials, William Stoughton was the presiding judge, assisted by nine associate judges. In the play, there are only two judges. Thomas Danforth, of Boston, an associate judge in the actual trials, becomes the presiding judge. Thomas Hathorne, of Salem, an associate judge in the actual trials, is the associate judge in the play. Hathorne was an ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the 19th Century author of two outstanding works on old Salem: The Scarlet Letter, a novel, and “Young Goodman Brown,” a short story. Hawthorne inserted a “w” into his surname to disassociate himself from Judge Hathorne. Belief in evil forces such as witches, warlocks, and diabolical spirits was widespread in America and Europe during and before the 17th Century.
Type of Work
The Crucible is a tragic stage play based on accounts of the Salem Witch trials of 1692. When it was first performed, it was presented as an allegory for Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's notorious "Red Scare" hearings that accused many innocent Americans of being subversive communists.
Year of Publication and Link With McCarthyism
Arthur Miller published The Crucible in 1953, and debuted it that year at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City. He wrote the play in part to renounce the unfair tactics of congressional committees investigating Americans suspected of subversive behavior. The House Un-American Activities Committee, established in 1938, began holding hearings in the late 1940's to identify Americans with communist sympathies, focusing on Hollywood actors, directors, and writers. Witnesses who refused to identify acquaintances exhibiting suspicious behavior were blacklisted, a penalty that ruined reputations and made it difficult for many in the film industry to get work. When Senator Joseph R. McCarthy began conducting his own investigation in the U.S. Senate in the 1950's, he accused hundreds of innocent people of having communist ties, using tactics not unlike those used in the Salem witch trials. For example, instead of asking a witness “Are you a communist?” he was more likely to ask “Are you still a communist?” The insertion of the word still made it impossible for a witness to answer yes or no to the question while maintaining his innocence. In response to McCarthy’s unfair tactics, journalists coined the term McCarthyism to describe the use of groundless evidence and accusations in public inquiries. Miller himself appeared before Congress in 1956 but refused to provide the names of persons under suspicion. He was found guilty of contempt, but he appealed the verdict and was exonerated.
(1) The forest is a primordial archetype of the kind identified by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). It represents darkness and evil inside the human soul. (2) The boiling cauldron appears to represent the wild emotions of the girls. (3) The poppet (puppet) used to incriminate Mrs.Proctor represents the superstition and stupidity that incite the zealots of Salem--and zealots of any other place and time. (4) The witch trials symbolize injustice springing from intolerance, fanaticism, mass hysteria, and desire for revenge. (5) The heavy stones used in the pressing death of Giles Corey symbolize the weight of the sins committed by the Salem accusers. (6) The pregnancy of Mrs. Proctor appears to represent hope that the next generation of Salem residents will be righteous, truth-telling people, like John Proctor, the condemned father of the soon-to-be-born child.
Theme 1 Look for the devil within. While the witch-hunters and the judges search for the workers of evil in Salem, they train all their energies on what is outside of them–for example, reported sightings of malicious spirits, a doll with a pin in it, suspicious books, offensive neighbors, sick children. However, they fail to examine the real source of evil, the perversity in their own beating hearts. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote: “A goodly apple rotten at the heart. / O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath.” In 1692 Salem, there were many goodly apples rotten at the heart.
Theme 2 Group pressure is powerful. The adolescent and teenage girls who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest all lie and pretend to be victims of witchcraft in order to remain in good standing with their peers. Even Mary Warren, the one girl who tries to tell truth, falls victim to group pressure and, in the end, joins the other girls in their chicanery.
Theme 3 Revenge is a deadly game. Several characters–including Abigail Williams and Mr. And Mrs. Putnam–seek revenge against their enemies by accusing them of witchcraft. As a result, the enemies–all innocent–go to the gallows.
Theme 3 The will of the people can be unjust and uncivilized. Democracy follows the will of the people. However, the people are not always right. In fact, as The Crucible shows, the will of the people can be the will of injustice and barbarity.
The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of The Crucible occurs, according to the first definition, when the court finds John Proctor guilty after he admits that he had been intimate with Abigail Williams. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when John Proctor decides it is more important to tell the truth than to save his life with a lie. So he tears up his false confession to witchcraft and gives himself over for hanging.
.......Puritanism began in England in the 1500's when reformers attempted to purify the Protestant Church of England of the elaborate ceremonies, rituals, and hierarchical structure it carried over from Roman Catholicism. For the Puritans, the pure word of the Bible, presented in part through inspired preaching, took precedence while direct revelation from the Holy Spirit superseded reason. Puritan ministers were generally well educated.
.......Puritanism agreed with Calvinism that human beings inherited a sinful condition and that certain men and women were destined to be saved through the suffering and death of Christ. But the Puritans also believed that if a member of their community underwent a conversion experience–in which the Holy Spirit caused the member to focus on piety and instead of sin, that member had evidence that he or she was singled out for salvation. Consequently, the conversion experience was an important aspect of Puritanism. To foster conversion and maintain a covenant with God, Puritans lived a strict moral life.
.......Several thousand Puritans came to America, settling in Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to establish and practice their religious without interference from religious or political opponents who insisted on preserving church hierarchy. In New England in 1648, they adopted the Cambridge Platform, a document authorizing self-government for local Puritan congregations and thus purifying Puritanism of a hierarchical structure. This brand of Puritanism was known as Congregationalism. This form of self-government helped lay the foundation for American democracy. However, because of their strict moral code, the Puritans were ever on the lookout for satanic influence and, unfortunately, sometimes saw evil where none existed. One of the forms in which evil manifested itself, the Puritans believed, was witchcraft.
Names of Executed Salem Residents
Listed in Alphabetical Order
Jacobs, George, Sr