The Crucible Study Guide

The Crucible Arthur Miller

Setting: The play takes place in Salem in 17th century Massachusetts, during the Salem Witch Trials.

Background Information: The play occurs during the seventeenth and eighteenth century Salem Witch trials and involves the Puritan beliefs and religion. They were very religious. They felt that people could form compacts with the devil. The devil would do actions for them in this life and then when they died he would have their souls. They believed in witches and felt that they could cast spells on people. The Puritans believed that there were certain signs of a witch.

There is a feud between the Putnam and the Nurse families. They are both wealthy land owners and the Nurses are very respected in town. These families each supported a different minister. The Nurses supported Reverend Parris.

The Proctors preferred to worship in their own house. They felt that the church under Reverend Parris was becoming too materialistic and drifted away from the purpose of the church. Rebecca Nurse was the midwife to the Putnams, she aided the delivery of the babies. Mrs Putnam had eight children, seven of which died, and the Putnams felt that Mrs Nurse had put a curse on the children when they died.

Major Characters:

  • Francis Nurse: He is the head of the Nurse family and was a respected man in town. He tried to stop the trials by aiding John Proctor.
  • Rebecca Nurse: She is a very kind woman who is the midwife to the Putnam's. They feel she is a witch because seven out of eight of their children died at birth.
  • Reverend Parris: He is the local Minister. He discovers the girls dancing. He is mainly responsible for the witch trials. He is a materialistic man and places gold candlesticks in the church.
  • Betty Parris: She is Reverend Parris' daughter; is caught dancing and pretends to see spirits.
  • Tituba: She is Parris' Negro slave who teaches the girls about spirits. All of what she learned she obtained from Barbados (her home land).
  • Abigail Williams: She is the niece of Parris and a very emotionally strong person. She scares people into doing what she wants them to do. She leads the girls in the accusations. She accuses Elizabeth Proctor, because she (Abigail) had an affair with John Proctor and thinks he still has feelings for her. Without Elizabeth in the picture she feels they can have a relationship together.
  • The Putnams: Attributed the death of seven of their children to Rebecca Nurse. They are wealthy land owners, holds many grudges in the town.
  • Mary Warren: She works for the Proctor's. She gives the poppet to Mrs. Proctor, which leads to her accusation of being a witch. She was going to testify against the girls but then in the end she accuses John of being a witch.
  • John Proctor: He opposes the expenditures of Reverend Parris in the church. He is well-known and respected in the town. He had an affair with Abigail, but after Elizabeth is accused by her, he no longer has feelings for her and realizes how many feelings he has for Elizabeth instead.
  • Elizabeth Proctor: She discovers that John is having an affair, but forgives him. She is incapable of lying, unless it is to help someone she loves.
  • Reverend John Hale: He is the minister who is called in to investigate the witch trials. At first he believes them, but later he returns to the town to try and stop the trials. He is also an exorcist; a human capable of drawing demons/spirits out of other humans.
  • Deputy Governor Danforth: He is the judge at the witch trials. He is dedicated to removing all witches. He rules by the law and will not allow exceptions or anyone to try to undermine his court.

Plot summary: Abigail and the girls are dancing in the woods. They conjure up spirits while dancing naked and they are discovered by Reverend Parris. This leads to the accusations of the girls as witches. Then to escape punishment, they accuse other women of the town of being witches. This leads to trials of these women with the girls as the jury.

John Proctor is having an affair with Abigail. Elizabeth Proctor knows of the affair. Abigail then accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch. A doll is found in the Proctor's house and this is overwhelming evidence that she is a witch. This doll is akin to a voodoo doll, in that it is stabbed at the “same time” that Abigail is stabbed.

Deputy Governor Danforth is the judge of the town. He believes the girls are telling the truth. Meanwhile, they are accusing the women whom they do not like. Reverend Hale is called in as an expert witness. He at first believes they are witches, but then he denies it and tries to help the accused.

Proctor gets Mary Warren to testify against the girls. When Mary Warren enters the court room, Abigail and the other girls start to scream that she is sending her spirit upon them. Mary then afraid, accuses John Proctor of sending his spirit out upon her.

John is now accused of being in league with the devil. He discusses the possibility of lying in order to save his life. Danforth wants him to sign a confession. This way it will show the townspeople that the witch trials are valid. John does not want to sign the confession because he doesn't want to incriminate his friends. He is then put to death, but retains his good name and pride.

Themes:

  • Pride - John does not want to sign the confession because he would loose his pride and good name.
  • Revenge - The girls and the accusers were naming people whom they did not like and wanted to harm them.
  • Fear - Fear of the devil allowed the witch trials to go on.
  • Conflict of authority - Danforth felt the law should be followed exactly, and that anyone who opposed the trials was trying to undermine him and his authority and the church.
  • Puritan Ethics - They believed lying and adultery were horrible sins.
  • Self interest - They were looking out for their own lives and took whatever actions necessary to save themselves.
  • Honesty- Elizabeth was "not able to tell a lie".

Key issues:

Fear, self interest: Shows what happens when emotions control your logic and thinking. Hysteria will occur. Shows how people will accuse others in order to save themselves. This leads to a wild finger pointing. Also when you were accused of being a witch, in order to save yourself you could accuse other women. People in the town allowed their fear of witches and the devil to interfere with their rational thinking.

Puritan Ethics: The church was very important in their daily life. The Puritans were very religious. They were scared of modern things destroying the old church. They believed in the devil and that you could make pacts with him. It was a horrible sin to lie.

Integrity: John had to deal with the fact that he had an affair with Abigail and broke the trust between Elizabeth and him. He sinned, and the people of the town would have condemned him, if they knew.

Lessons/morals/applications:

Honesty: Elizabeth cannot tell a lie says John Proctor, but she will lie to protect John. In some cases you have to lie. Hale agrees with this. He says "God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride."

Applications: The McCarthy trials. This story relates to these trials. During the 1950's Senator Joseph Mc Carthy accused many American leaders of being communists. This lead to many unfounded accusations that people were communists. Some people believed him because they were fearful of communism and he played on their fears. McCarthy was, in effect, conducting "witch hunts". If you opposed the Salem Witch trials you were accused of being a witch. If you opposed the Mc Carthy investigations you were accused of being a communist.

Act I

  1. Describe Reverend Parris.

     

  2. Why would the people of Salem not be allowed to read a novel?

     

  3. What do the people of Salem think of the natives? Why?

     

  4. Who is Tituba?

     

  5. What did Parris discover Betty and Abigail doing in the forest?

     

  6. Why is Parris concerned about what they did in the forest?

     

  7. Who else is “ill” besides Betty?

     

  8. Describe Thomas Putnam.

     

  9. Why does Mrs. Putnam send for Tituba?

     

  10. What does Betty claim Abigail did when she drank the blood?

     

  11. What do you learn about Abigail’s history (childhood) when she is threatening the other girls?

     

  12. What does John Proctor think of himself?

     

  13. What is the relationship between John Proctor and Abigail Williams?

     

  14. Why does Rebecca Nurse have enemies if she is such a nice person?

     

  15. What does Rebecca suggest is the reason for Betty’s delirium? What does this indicate about Rebecca’s character?

     

  16. What complaint does Proctor make regarding the way Reverend Parris delivers his sermons?

     

  17. What evidence is there that Reverend Parris is greedier than the average Reverend?

     

  18. Describe Reverend Hale.

     

  19. Why is Giles concerned about his wife?

     

  20. What jumped into the soup during the dancing?

     

  21. What is Abigail accusing Tituba of doing?

     

  22. How do Hale and Parris differ in their approaches with Tituba?

     

  23. Why does Mrs. Putnam believe Tituba when she accuses Goody Osburn?

 

Act II

  1. How many days have passed from the end of Act I to the beginning of Act II?

 

 

  1. What has Salem developed to handle with the witch situation?

 

 

  1. What does Elizabeth want John to do? Why is John apprehensive?

 

 

  1. Why are Elizabeth and John arguing?

 

 

  1. What gift does Mary Warren give to Elizabeth?

 

 

  1. How does Sara Good get away with not being sentenced to death by hanging while Goody Osburn is?

 

 

  1. What is John Proctor’s argument against what the court is doing?

 

 

  1. Why does Elizabeth assume that Abigail wants her dead?

 

 

  1. About what does Hale question the Proctors?

 

 

  1. What does Proctor claim is the reason he does not go to church often?

 

 

  1. Elizabeth denies that she believes in Witchcraft even though the gospels claim it exists.  What does this say about Elizabeth?

 

 

  1. What is the real reason Martha is charged?

 

 

  1. How does Abigail incriminate Elizabeth?

 

 

  1. What conflicts plague John Proctor at the end of Act II?

 

 

Act III.

  1. Why is Giles Cory so upset?

 

 

  1. How do Cheever and Parris degrade Proctor?

 

 

  1. What does John learn about Elizabeth’s condition?

 

 

  1. How did Proctor’s plan (having 91 people sign the affidavit) backfire?

 

 

  1. What is Giles trying to prove about Thomas Putnam’s motivation?

 

 

  1. Why is Giles arrested?

 

 

  1. Explain how Hale tries to defend Giles Cory.

 

 

  1. Why do you think Mary Warren was able to faint in the courtroom, but not when she is being interrogated?

 

 

  1. What stunt does Abigail pull to defer the blame away from herself?

 

 

  1. How does Elizabeth’s testimony backfire?

 

 

  1. Of what does Mary accuse Proctor?  Why do you think she does this?

 

Act IV

  1. Why is Hale spending time with the prisoners?

 

 

  1. Why does Abigail run away?

 

 

  1. What does Parris suggest to Danforth?

 

 

  1. What reason does Danforth give for having to hang the remainder of the prisoners?

 

 

  1. What does Danforth reveal about himself? How so?

 

 

  1. According to Hale, what has happened to Salem?  Why will this lead to rebellion?

 

 

  1. What reason does Hale give for returning to Salem?

 

 

  1. What argument does Hale give Elizabeth so she could help John justify signing the confession?  Directly quote some of his words. 

 

 

  1. Who still has not confessed?

 

 

  1. What does Giles’s death reveal about his character?

 

 

  1. Why does Proctor think that he has been “rotten” for some time?

 

 

  1. Why does Elizabeth blame herself for John’s adultery?

 

 

  1. Why will Proctor not name names?

 

 

  1. Why does John Proctor want to keep his signed confession rather than it become public?
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