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The Crucible Essay

the crucible essay

Example #1 – The Crucible’s Tragic Hero

A tragic event should bring fear and pity to the reader and the hero should be courageous and noble, hence when combined a tragic hero is presented. The protagonist, John Proctor, portrays a tragic hero in The Crucible. His hamartia of treachery caused great internal struggles, he displays hubris by challenging authority and encountered catastrophe as the play went on.

John Proctor’s decision to betray his wife caused internal turmoil and ultimately lead to his ruin at the end of the play. Proctor?s tragic flaw was that in which he committed treachery, which provoked part of his misfortune. Proctor?s serious mistake of adultery delivered problems with Abigail and caused an accusation of his wife practicing witchcraft. Abigail was a grown young woman, and yet she was an orphan who mistook John Proctor’s sexual urge for true love. When Proctor told Abigail that the relationship could no longer continue, the girl became angry and did not accept this.

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In order to prove Abigail’s sinfulness and to discredit her in front of the court, Proctor proclaimed that he had an affair with this evil whore. This outraged the court officials and they summoned Elizabeth Proctor to find the truth. When asked about her husband, Elizabeth’s soul was twisted, for revealing the truth could destroy her husband’s reputation, but lying meant breaking her solemn oath to God. Because she was noble to her husband, Elizabeth chose to lie and save her husband, but perhaps condemn herself to hell for such a sin. This scene indicates dramatic irony, for Proctor knew he had already confessed, and Elizabeth was unaware of the confession.

The court jailed Proctor; Elizabeth Proctor?s selfless act backfired. Proctor committing adultery with Abigail directly caused his jailing and indirectly caused his wife?s allegation as a witch; for Proctor starting the spark to Abigail’s intense lascivious emotions toward him resulted in his death. The court viewed his real truth as a lie and believed he defied authority. Although John Proctor did not truly defy authority in that scene of the play, for he told the truth and his wife lied, he challenged control in many other aspects.

John Proctor exposed pride through his hate of Reverend Parris. John Proctor proclaimed that he did not go to Church, an act the court and townspeople viewed as a revolt on the supremacy of God, because the Reverend Parris was corrupt. Parris was materialistic and cared more about the sake of his reputation than the health of his own daughter. Proctor resented the Church because Parris ran it.

In the eyes of officials, this casual negligence of God turned Proctor into an unchristian, sinful rebel. Though Proctor’s reasons for disregarding the Church were quite reasonable, people did not accept them in a particular time period.

Near the end of The Crucible, Proctor believed that he had lost the battle of witchcraft. He felt there was no longer any hope that the court would free him from execution, and he panicked. A person can be strong for his entire life, but when the moment of death comes, he will crack. If given a choice between life, but by lying, or death, but through honor, the decision is made more difficultly through the hysteria

experienced. At first, John Proctor chose life, though he knew this meant a life of regret and dishonesty. Proctor did, however, realize his mistake in choosing this sort of life over an honorable death before it was too late. Proctor?s decision to ultimately choose the death of honor over a life of shame was the major reversal of the play. John Proctor’s recognition was his discovery that he contains goodness. “For now, I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor.”

When Proctor believed that he was a man of no decency, he chose to live by confessing witchcraft, since this lie fit his personality. Through Elizabeth’s support, this tragic hero saw the goodness he possessed and acted upon it by reversal and by choosing an honorable death. He realized that this action was one that would bring about Elizabeth?s forgiveness and her mercy were what he searched for throughout the play.

John Proctor’s sudden change was a major crisis in the play, and from this stemmed his catastrophe. The catastrophe tied up the drama. The catastrophe revealed the tragedy and integrity of John Proctor, making his character a tragic hero, for he accepted his death with silence and showed a capacity for suffering.

John Proctor showed that he was a tragic hero through his struggles within the play. He struggled with his sin of adultery, for it caused breaks in his bond between him and his wife. He grappled with authority, for Proctor was not one to listen to authority simply because it was the excepted thing to do. He also faced death because he chose to keep his name and deny all charges of witchcraft.

Though John Proctor was not a perfect man, his beliefs and values were in the right place; he listened to his heart. When his head told him to listen to the court because it is the law and when Hale told him to choose to live as an accused witch, Proctor did not listen because he knew that these acts were not in the best right thing to do. He followed his soul, a lesson that everyone should learn, rather than following a particular human being (or monster Osama Bin Laden) and or group.


Example #2

The deterioration of Salem’s social structure precipitated the murders of many innocent people. Arthur Miller’s depiction of the Salem witch trials, The Crucible, deals with a community that starts out looking like it is tightly knit and church loving. It turns out that once Tituba starts pointing her finger at the witches, the community starts pointing their fingers at each other.

Hysteria and hidden agendas break down the social structure and then everyone must protect themselves from the people that they thought were their friends. The church, legal system, and the togetherness of the community died so that children could protect their families? social status. Being isolated from any other group of people with different beliefs created a church led Puritan society that was not able to accept a lot of change. The church was against the devil, at the same time it was against such things as dancing and other premature acts.

The reputation of the family was very important to the members of the community. When the girls were caught dancing in the woods, they lied to protect not just themselves but the reputation of their families. They claimed that the devil took them over and influenced them to dance. The girls also said that they saw members of the town standing with the devil. A community living in a puritan society like Salem could easily go into a chaotic state and have a difficult time dealing with what they consider to be the largest form of evil.

Salem”s hysteria made the community lose faith in the spiritual beliefs that they were trying to strictly enforce. The church lost many of its parishioners because the interest of the town was now on Abigail because people wanted to know who was going to be named next. When the church was trying to excommunicate John Proctor, there were not enough people at church to do it.

The people were getting misled so far as to leave a dagger stuck in the door of their minister?s house: “Tonight, when I open my door to leave my house – a dagger clattered to the ground…There is a danger for me.” (128) were Parris? exact words. With the conveyer of God-fearing for his life, there was no longer anyone but Abigail to lead the community. The justice system is designed to protect the people that it serves but during the trials, the accused witch had two choices, death or imprisonment.

The punishment of death was given to all people that pleaded not guilty; the other punishment was to plead guilty and go to jail. John Proctor gave his view of the justice system when he said “I like not the smell of this “authority” (29). “And do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails from Marblehead to Lynn, and upon my signature?” (85) said Danforth, describing the number of people that were in jail on charges of witchcraft. There were so many people executed that Hale commented “there are orphans wandering from house to house; abandoned cattle bellow on the highroads, the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere…” (130) Salem was turning into a ghost town.

With Abigail controlling the community, the church no longer getting the whole town to prayer, and an unjust legal system, it is natural that the people were in a state of total chaos. The unexplained was caused by the devil, so some members of Salem used the unexplained to their advantage. Mrs. Putnam told the truth when she said, “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!” (26) Mrs. Putnam did her share of spreading rumors after she heard that the girls were flying, so she asked Parris “How high did she (Abigail) fly, how high?” (11).

These rumors happened because people did not want any blame put on to themselves. This “passing the buck” made people start fighting with one another such as Corey charging Putnam of having his daughter accused a resident of witchcraft in order to get Corey’s land. Abigail used her power of getting people to listen to her advantage when she charged Proctor’s spouse with being a witch so Abigail could live with John. This again proves that Abigail had control of the town and the unexplained turned neighbor against neighbor.

The social breakdown in Salem was the major factor in the tragedy that took the lives of many innocent people. There was more than one tragedy in The Crucible. The first was the murdering of many innocent people, and the second was that a community that was once very close had been broken apart.

It appeared that the people of Salem were like a family but isolation actually made them unable to adapt to a troublesome situation. If the community could have had a greater influence from another group of people then the social structure would have been able to adapt.


Example #3

In Author Miller’s book The Crucible, there are many passages of literature that can teach us valuable life lessons. The characters portrayed in this novel all seem to have their own interpersonal issues, but one character seems to stand out. John Proctor is a troubled character and continues to contribute toward his own downfall.

It isn’t until the last play when John Proctor finally regained his self-respect and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Proctor’s character sheds knowledge and life lessons on his audience such as the importance of self-reflection, taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes, and the power of integrity.

Self-reflection is held and created in the mind of an individual and serves as the way that person sees themselves. We all see ourselves in a different manner than those who see us and we are responsible for how we see ourselves. Our actions, beliefs, and our sense of belonging all contribute to our self-perseverance. The Crucible portrays many different aspects of self-reflection, the most notable being John Proctor’s character.

However, Proctor’s self-reflection diminished rapidly due to his affair with Abagail. In the book The Crucible, John Proctor says, “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!” (Miller 133). Here, Proctor is refusing to testify because he’s standing with his self-image. Only if John Proctor had stayed true to his self -image would the affair be non-existent, but his life would be spared.

Taking responsibility for one’s own actions seems to be a very rare occurrence in The Crucible and even in today’s society. The media is constantly covering issues with politics, and the mistakes made within the government. More specifically, the media is currently covering presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and the lies upon lies she is creating to try and cover her tracks. Between John Proctor, and Hillary Clinton it could be concluded that they are relative in some way.

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However, only one admitted to his wrongdoing thus far. Perhaps if John Proctor took responsibility for his actions earlier in the book, the repercussions of his actions would not be so severe. Also, maybe Hillary Clinton can use Proctor’s experience to help her understand the importance of owning up to her own mistakes. His mistakes started with Abagail Williams, and led to a downhill spiral or slippery slope, significantly worsening the situation. This life lesson can apply to anyone, as everyone makes mistakes.

When Proctor finally admits to his affair with Abagail Williams, he showed that integrity still remained within his morals. The power of his integrity saved his wife Elizabeth from death. Also, Proctor concludes that if he keeps this secret, he will be acting like a coward and the end result would be betraying his wife again. Arthur Miller set a heavy emphasis on John Proctor’s integrity, pushing the importance onto the readers or audience. Integrity is not instilled into each and every person and it is very apparent that today’s society is filled with integrity violators.

Today, people with no sense of integrity can run for president, be president, and fail to be prosecuted for excessive integrity violation. Reading The Crucible during this point in time sheds extreme concern for society as a whole. In 1692 integrity was treated in a more serious matter than it is today, and it shows completely. Arthur Miller’s life lesson here is, have integral pride, and do not be afraid, to tell the truth.

Self-reflection, owning up to mistakes, and one’s integrity are just very few of many traits that stood out to the audience as a learning experience. The events of the crucible, and the literature in the book brings a different perspective for its audience, once a correlation is devolved in similarity 1692 to 2016. Even though John Proctor is 324 years old, his reflection, mistakes, and integrity are still easily recognizable in most aspects of today’s society.


Example #4

Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power (William Gaddis). Puritanism was a powerful religious, social, and political order in New England colonial life. In Puritan society, humans wanted to reform the Christian church and believed that the devil had servants that worked for him on Earth.

Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, explains the persecution of persons falsely accused of being witches in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The play portrays the power and how that power shifts among the characters. It shows which characters have power and how power can overtake people causing them to abuse it for material gain, self-preservation, or revenge. Two minor characters, Samuel Parris and Thomas Putnam acquire power; one desperate to keep it and one hungers for more.

Power and authority are the epitome of this Patriarchal Society where men control all: wives, children, servants, courts, and the church. Reverend Samuel Parris holds an important position of authority and places himself even higher than others in the community. He is a weak man, obsessed with power and control, and throughout the play is only concerned with his reputation and money.

When challenged, especially by John Proctor, Parris resents this opposition and reminds others that Proctor does not attend church on a regular basis; therefore, his opinion doesn’t matter about reforms to the church. Proctor, a well-respected man in the community, is quick to point out that he dislikes Parris sermons because [he] hardly even mention[s] God anymore (Miller 27).

Parris is supposed to be a man of the Lord and live a simple life, but his materialistic demands on the community continue throughout the play. Using his religious position, Parris assumes that his newly made contract will support and maintain firewood to last him a lifetime. Much to his dismay, Parris is met with constant opposition and wonders why he cannot offer one proposition but there be a howling riot of argument (Miller 28).

Proctor reminds Parris that his salary is sixty-six pounds, including six for firewood. When Parris expresses the need for new, gold candlesticks, Proctor once again openly disagrees and is adamant that he will not attend church in a place where he preaches nothing but golden candlesticks until he had them (Miller 62).

Parris’s fear of being put out like the cat, relieving him of his position in Salem, pushes him to demand the deed to his current residence (Miller 28). Never before in Salem had such a demand been made by a minister, only to be denied. Free firewood, gold candlesticks, and the deed to the house represent Parris’s greed for material items and his desire for power over anyone who challenges his authority.

Creating chaos throughout the town, Thomas Putnam uses the witch trials to accuse others in order to buy their land and destroy their lives. Although Putnam is a wealthy, land-owning man, nothing seems to satisfy his wants and wishes. After inheriting an extravagant amount of land from his grandfather, Putnam continues to want more. He is not willing to share the land with those in need and becomes angry if anyone enters what he believes is his property.

Putnam threatens Proctor that if [he] loads one oak of [his] and [hell] fight to drag it home (Miller 30). Putnam warns Proctor that if he attempts to take anything from his property, then he will have issues with Putnam. Because his brother-in-law is prevented from being voted into the office of ministers, Putnam holds a grudge against Francis Nurse. Along with gaining profit from the misfortune of his enemies, Putnam disciplines them.

The only thing Putnam wants is to see people suffer; it makes him feel powerful. Hungry for revenge and to display his power, Putnam encourages his daughter, Ruth, to accuse innocent people of committing witchcraft. Giles questions Putnam about why he would use his teenage daughter to cry witchery upon George Jacobs that is now in jail, but Putnam claims that it is a lie (Miller 89). Putnam’s plan is to accuse Jacobs of being a witch, so by law, he will be forced to forfeit his property. As Putnam’s neighbors are found guilty, his acreage expands.

No strong personal relationship can be found that connects Reverend Samuel Parris and Thomas Putnam; however, similarities in their hunger for power is shown throughout the play. Besides family, Putnam is one of the first people to call upon the Parrisr’s house after Betty falls ill. It seems as if Putnam is there to convince Parris that witchcraft is to blame for both Betty’s and his daughter, Ruth’s, sudden illness. Putnam encourages Parris to speak with the townspeople, blaming witches for his daughter’s sickness.

At first, it seems that Putnam wants Parris to denounce the devil and have the village bless him for it, but realistically it appears that Putnam is only looking out for himself. Putnam is angry with the people of Salem for not selecting his brother-in-law as the town minister, so he is going to use Parris’s position of authority to seek revenge on the people in the community he feels are his enemies.

Using unyielding pressure, Putnam is able to convince Parris to commit to the idea of supernatural forces, or witchery, which is the root of Betty’s sickness. Once admitted by Reverend Parris, the stage for what becomes Salem’s witch hunt is set and Putnamr’s desire for revenge and profit fall into place. Some of the primary accusations come from Putnam and are supported by Parris. These two men, among others, use their influence and power to accuse innocent people of illegal acts of witchcraft, which results in nineteen deaths by the time the trials are over.

With great power comes great responsibility (Voltaire); however, few are responsible enough to remain fair. Reverend Samuel Parris and Thomas Putnam use their power as a tool that causes a lot of harm to many people in the town of Salem. Miller reveals how having too much pride in oner’s self will end in your downfall or someone’s demise. The Crucible shows how these two men and their search for power did not gain the respect and social status they feel they deserve and ultimately ended up the same way they began the play.

Throughout history, the hunger for power has the potential to make an impact on a person’s life be it positive or negative. During the Salem Witch Trials, many lives were taken from people because of oner’s pride overpowered all. No one will ever know how or if these deaths could have been prevented, but one can take the lessons learned through the characters, and use them in reality.


Example #5

In Salem, Massachusetts, a dozen teenage girls, and a black slave woman are caught dancing in the woods around a bubbling cauldron. Today, you wouldn’t even use the word “caught.” You might think these girls were strange, but you’d hardly call the cops on them. But it’s 1692, and Salem isn’t just an ordinary small town; it’s a religious community of the strictest kind. The people and their laws are as harsh as the Massachusetts winter.

When two of the girls pass out from fright and can’t be revived, the others find themselves in serious trouble. Women who dance with the Devil are witches; and witches, when they are caught, are hanged. To get themselves out of their predicament, the girls try to spread the blame around. But the blame-spreading gets out of hand, and before long the whole town is in a panic, everyone accusing everyone else of witchcraft. Nineteen people will be hanged before the madness is stopped.

Well, you say, people were superstitious then. Nothing like that could happen today. Maybe so, but in the early 1950s, at the time The Crucible was written, a similar kind of hunt was taking place, not for witches, but for Communists. Today it bears the harmless-sounding name of the McCarthy Hearings on Un-American Activities, but for the people who got caught up in it–some of them our parents and grandparents–this “witch-hunt” was anything but harmless. in fact, to the playwright Arthur Miller, the McCarthy Hearings bore an alarming resemblance to the trials in Salem in 1692. The Crucible was his way of trying to keep history from repeating itself.

One of the most popular TV shows in 1953 was “I Led Three Lives.” It always began the same way: A man’s face appears on the screen. His expression is taut with anxiety. The narrator says something like, “This is the fantastically true story of Herbert A. Philbrick, who for nine frightening years did lead three lives–average citizen, member of the Communist Party, and counterspy for the FBI. For obvious reasons, the names, dates, and places have been changed, but the story is based on fact.” The show was scary and exciting, but it always left you worried, because Philbrick’s job never seemed to be done. Communist spies were everywhere, and one man could do only so much against so many.

There was a lot of talk in those days about the “Red Menace.” Red is the color of the Russian flag, and all Russians are Communists. So to say “Better dead than red” meant that you’d kill yourself before you let the Communists take over. The slogan was repeated over and over throughout America. My father said it; my teachers said it; I’m sure I said it myself, even though I was just five years old at the time.

And in fact, there were good reasons to be worried about the Russians. They had the atomic bomb, as we did. But a lot of people said they got the bomb by using spies, and that really made us worry. It was charged that secret agents, working undercover, had stolen our secrets and given them to the Enemy. Even worse, these spies supposedly were hardly ever Russians themselves, but often American citizens, as normal as you or me, the kind of people you see every day on the street and hardly even notice. Blacks are identifiable by their skin color, foreigners speak with an unusual accent. But a Communist could be anybody. It sort of makes a Communist sound like the bogey-man, doesn’t it? Well, to many people in 1953, a Communist was just as scary as the bogey-man, and a lot more real.

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Soon after it was discovered that the Russians had the bomb, the U.S. Congress started investigations into so-called Un-American Activities, and one of the men they put in charge was Joseph R. McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy claimed America was in great danger from a Communist conspiracy to take over the world. And, as if he were a surgeon hacking away tumors in a body riddled with cancer, he tried to root out every trace of Communism he could find. It soon became clear that very few people were completely free of any connection with Communism. To find out why we have to go back in time a little bit.

Arthur Miller had just turned 14 when His family’s savings were wiped out by the stock market crash of October 1929. Almost literally overnight, the lives of many of his friends changed from reasonable comfort to poverty. Over the next 12 years–the time of the Great Depression, as it is called–Arthur Miller came to know and work with people who had joined the Communist Party. These people weren’t spies, they simply were desperate, and they saw Communism as a way out of a desperate situation. And although Communism worried a few people in the 1930s, most were too busy with their own problems to give it much thought. Besides, Soviet Russia was not yet an enemy of the United States. In fact, Russian and American soldiers later fought side by side against the Germans at the end of World War II. It wasn’t until after the war, when–as so often happens–the victor’s turned against each other, that Communism began to be considered a very serious threat.

By the late 1940s when the Congressional hearings first began, there were quite a few people who had flirted with Communism at some time or other, although most had renounced it long before. But even if you had no Communism in your own past, you could easily be in the same position as Arthur Miller–you knew someone who did. That was more than enough to get you in trouble with Senator McCarthy and similar investigators.

Imagine what it was like being called in to testify. McCarthy or his aides might say, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” No. “Do you know anyone who is or was a Communist?” No. McCarthy holds up some cards. “We have the names of people who have already confessed. Your name came up in connection with their testimony. Why do you suppose that is?” You say you don’t know, but you can tell that no one believes you. Maybe you’re not so innocent after all, you think. Maybe you’ve been sucked into the conspiracy without realizing it. Have you signed anything, donated any money, said anything to anybody that might sound suspicious?

Once you start thinking like this, it’s almost impossible to stop. You begin to feel guilty either way: even if you don’t have any Communist connections, you’ve done nothing to stop the spread of this evil; You may have even helped the enemy by being stupid or naive. You did it, it’s your fault, their questions seem to say. And they won’t let you go until you make up for it in some way.

So you tell them about your friend who’s never home on Tuesday nights, or your mother’s uncle who used to quote Communist slogans all the time, or anyone you know who’s been acting a little odd the last few weeks. You name names, and they let you go.

And afterward, no one wants anything to do with you. You were called in to testify, there had to be a reason. You must be a Communist, or at least have been working for them. You lose your friends, your job, sometimes even your family. You become an outcast. Your life is ruined.

This was the fate of many innocent people. Those who were spared either joined in the witch-hunt or kept silent for fear the same thing would happen to them. A lot of the victims never recovered, even long after the rest of the country lost interest and Joe McCarthy had been discredited. By 1957 it was pretty much over, and America could look back with a sad smile, wondering how anyone could have been so foolish.

But in 1953 it was no joke. Arthur Miller already knew about the Salem witch trials from his college days at the University of Michigan (1934-38). In The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller he describes how The Crucible took shape in his mind:”… when the McCarthy era came along,” he says, “I remembered these stories and I used to tell them to people when it [the investigation] started. I used to say, you know, McCarthy is actually saying certain lines that I recall the witch-hunters saying in Salem. So I started to go back, not with the idea of writing a play, but to refresh my own mind because it was getting eerie”.

One day, while he was reading some documents in the Salem museum, some tourists came in and wanted to see the pins. There was no need to ask, “What pins?” During the trials in 1692, the so-called witches often “sent out their spirits” to stick pins into the flesh of the girls who were accusing them. Now, as Arthur Miller watched, “the tourists pass the books, the exhibits, and no hint of danger reaches them from the quaint relics. I have a desire to tell them the significance of those relics. It is the desire to write”.

The significance of those relics was, in part, that the same thing that happened in 1692 was happening all over again. “It was not only the rise of ‘McCarthyism’ that moved me,” he writes, “but something which seemed much more weird and mysterious. It was the fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the far-Right [Communists were said to be on the far left] was capable of creating not only a terror but a new subjective reality… and that such manifestly ridiculous men [as Senator Joe McCarthy] should be capable of paralyzing thought itself…. it was as though the whole country had been born anew, without a memory…. Astounded, I watched men pass me by without a nod whom I had known rather well for years….” And so Arthur Miller began to write The Crucible.

A few years before, Arthur Miller had become famous. His second play, Death of a Salesman, had won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize and a host of other awards. By the time he was 37, in 1952, he was a respected writer of established reputation, and people were looking forward to his next play. What he had to say was bound to be important.

There’s a saying that a prophet is honored everywhere except in his own country. This could certainly be said of the author of The Crucible when it first opened on Broadway on January 22, 1953. No one missed the parallels between 1692 Salem and 1953 America. “But,” many said, “witches never did exist, then or now. Communists are real.” Some critics complained that the play was too cold and intellectual. Others said it wasn’t a play at all, but some kind of outburst, a political speech. Most people found a way of saying that it wasn’t worth bothering with. The play ran for a few months, playing to almost empty houses. Then it closed. But the witch-hunt went on.

Arthur Miller had drawn a lot of attention to himself, and he soon got into trouble. In 1954 he was denied a passport to see a production of The Crucible in Belgium. In 1955 the New York City Youth Board began an investigation into his political beliefs. In 1956 he was called on to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He refused to name names. He was cited for contempt of Congress. He was finally exonerated by the courts, but not until 1958. By then, more and more people were refusing to testify against others, and the witch-hunt was running out of steam. The hearings had gone on for ten years, and the country’s attention span was near its end. In all that time, no real Communist conspiracy was ever uncovered. Just as no real witches were ever found in Salem.

Another important thing happened in 1958: The Crucible was put on again, this time in a small Off-Broadway theater. “The same critics reviewed it again,” Arthur Miller remembers, and “this time they were fairly swept away, the drama was as real to them [now, in 1958] as it had been cold and undramatic before [in 1953]. Reasons were given for the new impression; the main one was that the script had been improved.” Miller hadn’t changed a word in the script. He began to think that the real reason had more to do with the audience than the play: “…when McCarthyism was around, the… audience [was] quite simply in fear of the theme of the play, which was witch-hunting. In [1958] they were not afraid of it, and they began to look at the play” (Theater Essays, p. 245).

Most of the time when an author writes a play about current events, the play is forgotten as soon as the events are over. But The Crucible has come to be produced more often than even Death of a Salesman, which was long considered to be Arthur Miller’s most important play. Let’s see if we can figure out why.

If you’re watching a really scary film, say, The Exorcist, you can always reassure yourself by saying, “It’s only a movie.” But you can’t do that with The Crucible. The witch-hunt really happened. You can go to Salem today and still find the house where Rebecca Nurse lived, and see the door through which she was carried to her trial because she was too old and sick to walk. You can stand on the rock where the gallows was built, and look out over Salem Bay, the same bay 19 “witches” must have looked at just before they were hanged. You can go to the courthouse and they’ll show you the pins.

Nowadays we don’t believe in witches or the Devil, at least we say we don’t. But we’re still fascinated by the idea of supernatural forces and beings. And, for most of us, the scarier the better. The popularity of horror movies comes from this fascination. The Crucible also tells a strange and scary story. But in this play it’s not witches or demons that scare us–it’s people. Arthur Miller’s characters are ordinary folk. The terror that sweeps over them like a wave is real; the people who were hanged really died. In The Crucible there are no real witches; so what, then, “possessed” these people?

If you’ve ever built a wood fire, you know it doesn’t start itself. And the biggest logs won’t burn right away; you have to begin with smaller sticks, the kindling. But there can be no fire at all without a spark to set the kindling burning.

We can think of the Salem witchcraft as a kind of fire that, once started, could not be quenched until it had burned itself out.

By this analogy, the big logs would be the belief in witchcraft itself. This belief was an old one. In the ancient world, sorcery was everywhere–in Egypt and Babylon, even among the clear-thinking Greeks and the otherwise sensible Romans. Only the Jews, among all these ancient peoples, had laws forbidding the practice of witchcraft. It is first mentioned in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:18), where it says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” It was on the authority of this one sentence in the Bible that the 19 witches were hanged in Salem in 1692.

But until the end of the Middle Ages, no one had made a “scientific” study of the spirit world, and ideas about witches varied wildly from place to place and century to century. Then in 1486 two Christian monks brought out a book called the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), the first book of demonology. Others soon followed (King James I of England even wrote one himself), and by the time Reverend Hale walked into Salem in 1692 with an armload of such books, the study of witchcraft was considered an exact science.

When he says of his books, “Here is all the invisible world, caught, defined, and calculated,” he is being sincere. He has studied these books for years and he honestly believes himself to be an expert. So does everyone else. There is no reason to doubt him or his ability to deal with an enemy he knows so much about. Without this solid and specific belief in the reality of witchcraft, there might have been only a little brushfire in Salem.

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The kindling of the fire was to be found in the visible world. In 1623 King James I (the same one who wrote the demonology book) had granted a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, under which the Puritans could own their own land. This charter enabled the colony to thrive and grow over the next 60 years. But in 1684 the King revoked this charter, saying the land belonged to the Crown, thereby making the Puritans’ land titles null and void. A lot of squabbling resulted, finally coming to a head in 1689 when the Puritans overthrew the royal governor and reinstated the old charter. But they knew they had no legal right to do this, and by 1692 the insecurity of their position had taken its toll on their nerves.

Ownership of land wasn’t the only issue. The Puritans had come to Massachusetts in the first place not only to avoid religious persecution in England, as the history books say but to establish a New Jerusalem, God’s “visible Kingdome” on Earth. For this reason, it was natural for the Puritans to assume that God’s archenemy Satan would single them out for his most ferocious attacks.

In fact, when witchcraft first broke out, many believed it to be the beginning of Armageddon, the great battle between Darkness and Light that would signal the end of the world. But even before this, the Puritans had already spent several years in constant and growing anxiety about the future of God’s “visible Kingdome.”

There remains but the spark to set these dry sticks ablaze. The Puritans could hardly have picked a more difficult place to found their New Jerusalem. The ground was full of rocks, the winters were long and bitterly cold, and the forests surrounding their towns were infested with Indians, who continually raided the outlying farms. But the Puritans prospered by banding together. This process not only helped them overcome danger and difficulty but it gave them ample opportunity for minding each other’s business.

To the Puritans, the man was a creature steeped in sin, and there was nothing he could do to save himself from the eternal fires of hell. A few believers–the elect, as the Puritans called themselves–God had chosen to save, or “justify.” Because God had justified them already, the elect naturally obeyed his laws. But you could outwardly obey these laws yet still not be saved.

Puritan preachers never tired of railing against the “meritmongers,” those who thought they could buy their way into heaven with good works. On the other hand, it was easy to prove that you were damned–all you had to do was break the law. So there was tremendous pressure on everyone at least to appear to be one of the elect.

All of this is complicated, even to an adult. But put yourself in the place of a nine-year-old girl named Betty Parris. All you know is that the winter has been long and boring, that the grownups are more cranky than usual so they punish you more often, and that you must have sinned with your teeth because one of them aches. If all this isn’t enough, you have to be better than the other children in Salem Village, because your father is the minister.

For weeks now your older cousin Abigail Williams has been making you sit with her and listen to your father’s slave Tituba tell shocking stories of her former life as a heathen in Barbados. It was bad enough with just the two of you, but Abby never could keep a secret, and now there are ten or twelve of her friends who turn up at the back door as soon as your father walks out the front, begging Tituba for more.

At first, it was exciting, in a scary sort of way, but lately, Tituba’s taken to acting out her heathen rituals, showing how they used to conjure spirits to foretell the future. You know you’re damned if you keep this up, but Abby’s slammed the door on your only way out: she’ll kill you if you tell. Your soul is suffocating in sin, and you can’t sleep anymore for fear of the nightmares that always come.

The pressure was enough to give anyone a nervous breakdown. Betty Parris “freaked out.” Abigail Williams, for all her daring, wasn’t immune, and soon she began trying to fly and bursting into howls whenever her uncle prayed aloud or read the Scriptures, just like her cousin Betty. Then Betty, in one of her fits, let slip the name Tituba, and… but this is where the play starts.


Example #6 – The Plot

It’s the spring of 1692. The whole village of Salem is in an uproar. The Reverend Samuel Parris’ daughter Betty won’t wake up, and the Putnams’ little Ruth is walking around like a zombie. The night before, Reverend Parris had heard a funny noise in the woods outside his house, and stumbled onto a frightening scene: his black slave Tituba was waving her arms over a boiling kettle, muttering wild-sounding gibberish, and around the fire, a dozen girls were dancing–dancing, strictly forbidden by Puritan law. Among the girls were Betty and Ruth and his niece Abigail Williams. When he jumped out on them, everyone screamed and ran, all except Betty, who fainted dead away. And now she won’t wake up.

The house is buzzing with people, and every other word is “witchcraft.” Reverend Parris doesn’t want to believe it, but he’s sent for an expert just in case–the Reverend John Hale of the neighboring village of Beverly. When Hale arrives he tries to wake Betty, but she remains lifeless. Then he questions Abigail and Tituba. Some of the other village folk who look on are skeptical about witchcraft, especially John Proctor, a whose serving girl, Mary Warren, had been with the girls the night before. Whip the nonsense out of them, Proctor suggests. Another doubter is old Rebecca Nurse, “twenty-six times a grandma,” who believes the girls are just going through one of their “silly seasons.”

But Reverend Hale’s questions are so sharp, and Tituba is so scared for her beloved Betty, that she blurts out that she was conjuring the dead. And when Hale presses her, she realizes her only way out is to “confess.” She gets carried away and begins to name others that she “saw with the Devil.” Soon Abigail is swept up in Tituba’s ecstatic “confession,” and she too names. Betty wakes up and joins them.

In the next few days other girls–including Mary Warren–are added to their number, and within a week they have “cried out” (as they called it) 14 “witches.” An official court has been set up. John Proctor is particularly worried about Abigail Williams, who has become the girls’ ringleader. Abigail had been his maidservant before Mary Warren.

When John’s wife, Elizabeth, fell ill, he had turned to Abigail in his loneliness, and at least once made love with her in the barn. He repented it immediately and confessed to Elizabeth, who put Abigail out of the house. Now Proctor is afraid that Abigail means to “dance with him on his wife’s grave.” He doesn’t believe in witches, and he knows what mischief Abigail is capable of, so he decides to go to the court and denounce her. But before he can leave, the marshalls come to arrest Elizabeth: Abigail has “cried her out.”


Example #7

The Crucible written by Arthur Miller is a play that deals with the Salem witch trials in the 1690s. The main character, John Proctor, goes through a crucible, or severe test of his own, as the witch trials are taking place. The witch trials occur because a group of girls from Salem accuse some of the townspeople of making pacts with the devil or becoming witches. These girls were at first charged with being witches when they were caught dancing around a cauldron in the woods.

They admitted to being witches to avoid being hung and then told the court a list of names of people in the town who were also involved with the devil. The court then arrested the people on the list and charged them for being witches. If the people charged didn’t admit to being witches, they were hung, but if they admitted they would only spend a little time in jail.

The leader of the girls is Abby, and she lusts for John Proctor. After Abby was caught in the woods, she tells John Proctor that a whole thing is an act and no witchcraft has taken place. John Proctor knows this as the witch trials get started, but doesn’t go into Salem to stop them because he fears that Abby will charge lechery on him. The witch trials are a crucible for those who are accused, while John Proctor has his own Crucible to deal with.

John Proctor’s crucible starts with the decision of whether or not to go into town and testify against Abby and her clan of girls to save the people accused or save his good name and stay away from the witch trials. This is a difficult decision for Proctor. Should he go into town and put his good name on the line to save the accused people or stay out of the witch trials and save his name. When John finds out that his wife’s name has been mentioned in court, his wife urges him to go into town and settle this thing for once and all. Proctor decides to wait though, but when his wife is arrested he realizes that he must go to the court and straighten things out.

Proctor goes to court and testifies that this whole thing is an act. The judge asks him why he thinks this and he tells him about Abby and how he had “know” her. The judge doesn’t believe him and Proctor tells him to ask his wife. The judge brings in Proctor’s wife and asks her if Proctor had committed lechery with Abby. Proctor’s wife denies it, trying to cover for her husband, and this forces the Judge to believe the girls over Proctor. Proctor gets his wife free but he ends up going to jail. Proctor did the right thing in going to the court, but he ended up paying for it.

The next step of John Proctor’s crucible was should he admit to making a compact with the devil and save his life, or take his stand against authority and die a saint. At first, John Proctor decides to admit to witchery, and save his life and stay with his wife and three sons. But then they make him sign a confession, which he does.

Then they want him to rat out his friends by admitting that he saw them with the devil. He refuses to do that and then they tell him that they are going to nail his confession to the church door. He doesn’t like that idea at all, that will ruin his name forever. He decides to take back his confession and he rips up the papers that he signed. John Proctor takes his stand against authority and dies a man of integrity, a saint to all who know him.

John Proctor’s crucible ends up being a very severe test. A test that takes his life. John Proctor goes through this test and comes out on top in his eyes and in the eyes of his wife. He takes a stand against the authority of the court and becomes an individual against society. He ends up dying a saint.

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