Major Themes

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					                         Major Themes from “Crucible”

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.

Respect and 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.
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.

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.
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.


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


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.


Religion is woven into the everyday life of the Salem of the play. Its exclusive form of

Christianity centered on a set of clearly defined rules: you went to church every Sunday,

you didn’t work on the Sabbath, you believed the Gospel, you respected the minister’s

word like it was God’s, and so on. For people accused of witchcraft, any deviation from

these rules in the past can be used as evidence for much greater sins in the present.

But ultimately, even good and respected and highly religious women like Rebecca

Nurse are accused and put to death, so past respectability and religiosity doesn’t

necessarily protect one.

Pointing Fingers

In order to get revenge on neighbors and those whom have done them wrong in the

past, fingers are pointed at others, for example, the Putnams point fingers in order to

get revenge for the death of their dead babies and for more land. Others point fingers in

order to obtain a personal goal, like Abigail accusing Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft just

so she can get her killed and then marry John Proctor.

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