the crucible literary elements and techniques by 4CMZyE

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									                                   The Crucible
                                  By Arthur Miller
Symbolism,
Imagery &
Allegory

The play itself

Though there isn’t a lot of symbolism in the story, the events in the play itself are an

allegory for the intolerance of McCarthyism. For a decade spanning the late 1940s to the

late 1950s, the American government was intensely suspicious of the possible influence

of communism on citizens and institutions. The FBI accused thousands of people of “un-

American activities” and monitored many more; these people’s careers and personal lives

were frequently destroyed. More often than not, there was little to no evidence to support

the accusations. Nevertheless, the FBI and various government groups involved in

monitoring or accusing individuals, such as The House Un-American Activities

Committee, enjoyed widespread support from the American population.



Similarly, in The Crucible, there is little evidence that much witchcraft activity is going

on, but once accusations started flying, many innocent people get caught in the web of
hysteria. Lives are destroyed and people die based on zero evidence.


Setting:
Salem, Massachusetts, 1692.

In 1692, Salem was populated by Puritans who believed in black-and-white lines between

good and evil. The powers of darkness were real forces to them, which could wreak
havoc and destruction on society if unleashed. The system of government was a
“theocracy,” which meant that God was the true leader of society, and he expressed his

will through the actions of men and women. In the Old Testament, we hear stories of how

God led directly through Moses; Salem, likewise, was led through men who were

supposed to be directly connected to God.



In theory, if you believe in a loving God, this should work; but in practice, men lust after

power regardless of their principles. This meant that God’s power was mediated through

men, and men made the rules. Among those rules were strict guidelines for what it meant
to be a Christian, and what it meant to follow God. Miller describes the forest as the last

bastion of evil according to Puritan understanding, so the forest where Abigail and the

girls danced was seen as ruled by the Devil – while the town of Salem was ruled by God.

The entire play is about the moral contradictions inherent in Salem at this time, and how

its strict religious theology became twisted and led to the death of innocent people.


Point Of View:
Third person omniscient

The narrator actually inserts himself into the play several times to describe characters and
tell us what we should think about them, such as when he tells us that Judge Hathorne is a
bitter man. In addition, each inserted stage direction indicates exactly what a character is
thinking or feeling. The narrator is able to jump into any character’s mind at any given
moment.




Tone:
Critical

The tone Miller adopts towards the subject of witch trials and witch-hunts, and towards
the characters that perpetuate them, is unequivocally critical. He is sympathetic towards

individual characters who are the victims, such as the Proctors or Rebecca Nurse.


Themes:
*Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

 1) Theme of Lies and Deceit

Most of the characters in The Crucible are lying – if not to other people, then to
themselves. Abigail lies about her ability to see spirits, as do the other girls; Proctor is
deceitful first for cheating on his wife and then for hiding it; and the judge and lieutenant
governor and ministers lie to themselves and everybody else in saying that they serve the
cause of God’s justice. The twist in the story is that by telling the truth (“I am not a
witch”), you die, but you also gain your freedom – that is, you retain your standing with
God, and you become a martyr.



2) Theme of Respect & Reputation

Reputation is extremely important in a town where social standing is tied to one’s ability
to follow religious rules. Your good name is the only way you can get other people to do
business with you or even get a fair hearing. Of course, reputation meant nothing when a
witchcraft accusation was staring you in the face. But it is what made the Reverend Hale
begin to doubt whether the accused individuals were actually guilty. Reputation had to do
with religion: if you were a good and trustworthy person, you were also a good member
of the church. Last but not least, it is for the sake of his reputation and his friends’
reputations that John Proctor refuses to sign a false confession. He would, quite literally,
rather die.
3) Theme of Compassion and Forgiveness

John Proctor, our main character, is in desperate need of forgiveness at the start of the
play, but his wife seems torn about whether to grant it. He had committed adultery earlier
that year while she was sick, and though his lover Abigail Williams is now out of his life,
she still judges him for it. More importantly, he still judges himself. It isn’t until
Elizabeth forgives him, and admits her own fault in the matter, that John Proctor is able
to forgive himself and recognize some goodness left in him. It is also what gives him
courage to go to his death.

4) Theme of Good vs. Evil


The entire village bases its belief system on the conflict between good vs. evil, or Satan

vs. God. Over and over, as people are accused of witchcraft, this paradigm gets dragged

out. When Tituba confesses, she claims she wants to be a good Christian now and stop

hurting people. She must renounce the Devil. When Mary Warren can’t handle the girls’

accusations, she accuses Proctor of making her sign the Devil’s book and claims she is

now with God. The world in The Crucible is clearly divided into these two camps.

Unfortunately, everybody’s confused about which side is actually good, and which side is

actually evil, though it’s abundantly clear to the reader. It may seem like evil is winning,

as one innocent person after another is put to death, but we also see that there is power in

martyrdom. The innocent people who confessed are beginning to rebel, and both

ministers have recognized their mistakes by the end of the play. Above all, the religion of

Salem is incredibly bleak and tends to focus on human frailty and sin to the exclusion of

the good things in the world.


5) Theme of The Supernatural

The supernatural is real to the Salem townsfolk. They see evidence of God and evidence
of the Devil everywhere. Yet nobody actually sees spirits -- though the girls claim they
do. The play makes it clear that they are pretending. Their pretense may be a group
psychological phenomenon, but in the world as the reader understands it, if there is a
Devil, he’s not in Salem: there are only people – some good, some misled, some greedy,
some jealous, some vengeful, some evil.

6) Theme of Justice
The Salem of the play is a theocracy, which means that God is supposed to be the
ultimate leader, arbiter, and judge. In practice, however, the town’s religious authorities
do the governing. God needs men on earth to do his work of justice, and Hathorne,
Danforth, Hale, and Parris are all part of that system. They believed that God was
speaking through the children to help them prosecute invisible, hidden crimes. The whole
system gets turned upside down, and these men of experience and education are
completely dependent on the assumption that the children were telling the truth and really
did see what they claim to. In Salem during the witch trials, to be accused was to be
guilty. To be guilty meant death. And the only way to avoid death was to confess.
Though confessing was a way to bring those who strayed back into the fold, in this case it
meant a lot of innocent people had to lie in order to keep their lives. Strange sort of
justice.

7) Theme of Religion

The Salem of the play is a theocracy, which means that God is supposed to be the
ultimate leader, arbiter, and judge. In practice, however, the town’s religious authorities
do the governing. God needs men on earth to do his work of justice, and Hathorne,
Danforth, Hale, and Parris are all part of that system. They believed that God was
speaking through the children to help them prosecute invisible, hidden crimes. The whole
system gets turned upside down, and these men of experience and education are
completely dependent on the assumption that the children were telling the truth and really
did see what they claim to. In Salem during the witch trials, to be accused was to be
guilty. To be guilty meant death. And the only way to avoid death was to confess.
Though confessing was a way to bring those who strayed back into the fold, in this case it
meant a lot of innocent people had to lie in order to keep their lives. Strange sort of
justice.


8) Theme of Jealous

Many of the characters are motivated by jealousy and greed in The Crucible. Abigail is
motivated by jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor; she wants Elizabeth to die so that she can
marry John, Elizabeth’s husband. Thomas Putnam is motivated by jealousy of other
people’s property; he wants George Jacobs to die so that he could get his hands on a great
piece of land. Little attention is devoted to the subject of envy by any of the characters,
even though it is the hidden force driving most of the drama in town.


Major Characters:
John Proctor - A local farmer who lives just outside town; Elizabeth Proctor’s husband.
A stern, harsh-tongued man, John hates hypocrisy. Nevertheless, he has a hidden sin—his
affair with Abigail Williams—that proves his downfall. When the hysteria begins, he
hesitates to expose Abigail as a fraud because he worries that his secret will be revealed
and his good name ruined.


Abigail Williams - Reverend Parris’s niece. Abigail was once the servant for the Proctor
household, but Elizabeth Proctor fired her after she discovered that Abigail was having an
affair with her husband, John Proctor. Abigail is smart, wily, a good liar, and vindictive
when crossed.


Reverend John Hale - A young minister reputed to be an expert on witchcraft.
Reverend Hale is called in to Salem to examine Parris’s daughter Betty. Hale is a
committed Christian and hater of witchcraft. His critical mind and intelligence save him
from falling into blind fervor. His arrival sets the hysteria in motion, although he later
regrets his actions and attempts to save the lives of those accused.


Elizabeth Proctor - John Proctor’s wife. Elizabeth fired Abigail when she discovered
that her husband was having an affair with Abigail. Elizabeth is supremely virtuous, but
often cold.


Reverend Parris - The minister of Salem’s church. Reverend Parris is a paranoid,
power-hungry, yet oddly self-pitying figure. Many of the townsfolk, especially John
Proctor, dislike him, and Parris is very concerned with building his position in the
community.
Rebecca Nurse - Francis Nurse’s wife. Rebecca is a wise, sensible, and upright woman,
held in tremendous regard by most of the Salem community. However, she falls victim to
the hysteria when the Putnams accuse her of witchcraft and she refuses to confess.


Francis Nurse - A wealthy, influential man in Salem. Nurse is well respected by most
people in Salem, but is an enemy of Thomas Putnam and his wife.



Judge Danforth - The deputy governor of Massachusetts and the presiding judge at the
witch trials. Honest and scrupu-lous, at least in his own mind, Danforth is convinced that
he is doing right in rooting out witchcraft.

Giles Corey - An elderly but feisty farmer in Salem, famous for his tendency to file
lawsuits. Giles’s wife, Martha, is accused of witchcraft, and he himself is eventually held
in contempt of court and pressed to death with large stones.


Thomas Putnam - A wealthy, influential citizen of Salem, Putnam holds a grudge
against Francis Nurse for preventing Putnam’s brother-in-law from being elected to the
office of minister. He uses the witch trials to increase his own wealth by accusing people
of witchcraft and then buying up their land.


Ann Putnam - Thomas Putnam’s wife. Ann Putnam has given birth to eight children,
but only Ruth Putnam survived. The other seven died before they were a day old, and
Ann is convinced that they were murdered by supernatural means.


Ruth Putnam - The Putnams’ lone surviving child out of eight. Like Betty Parris, Ruth
falls into a strange stupor after Reverend Parris catches her and the other girls dancing in
the woods at night.

Tituba - Reverend Parris’s black slave from Barbados. Tituba agrees to perform voodoo
at Abigail’s request.

Mary Warren - The servant in Thomas Putman’s household and a member of Abigail’s
group of girls. She is a timid girl, easily influenced by those around her, who tried
unsuccessfully to expose the hoax and ultimately recanted her confession.

Betty Parris - Reverend Parris’s ten-year-old daughter. Betty falls into a strange stupor
after Parris catches her and the other girls dancing in the forest with Tituba. Her illness
and that of Ruth Putnam fuel the first rumors of witchcraft.

Martha Corey - Giles Corey’s third wife. Martha’s reading habits lead to her arrest and
conviction for witchcraft.

Ezekiel Cheever - A man from Salem who acts as clerk of the court during the witch
trials. He is upright and determined to do his duty for justice.

Judge Hathorne - A judge who presides, along with Danforth, over the witch trials.

Herrick - The marshal of Salem.

Mercy Lewis - One of the girls in Abigail’s group.

								
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