Beth L. Tanis
(M.A., University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Dr. M. Fogiel
Illustrations by Karen Pica
The Life and Work of Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller has been named, along with Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, as one of America’s greatest playwrights.
He was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City. Miller’s father
was in the clothing business and was hit hard by the Depression.
In 1934 Miller entered the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to
study journalism. His first play, Honors at Dawn, was produced in
1936 while he was a student there. The play received the first of a
string of awards, the Hopwood Award for Drama in 1937.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Miller
began working with the Federal Theatre Project. He married Mary
Grace Slattery in 1940. After writing several plays and a novel,
he won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1947 for
All My Sons. This success was followed two years later by Death
of a Salesman, which won a Pulitzer Prize and the New York
Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1949. This drama, which deals with
the unrealized dreams and hopes of an ordinary man, was the
most popularly successful of all Arthur Miller’s plays and set the
standard for all his subsequent work.
The Crucible was produced and published in 1953. Judged
against the standard of Salesman, the play was found wanting.
Critics wrote that it lacked the depth and intellectual insight of
the earlier play and that the characters did not seem fully human.
Still it was praised for commenting on the current political climate
of fervent anti-communism without heavy-handed preaching
and fingerpointing. The play fared better when it was revived
off Broadway some years later—after the political situation had
changed—and is today considered one of the finest plays written
In 1954, the State Department refused to issue Miller a
passport to attend the opening of The Crucible in Brussels. In 1956
he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee
to answer charges that he held Communist sympathies. He admitted that he had attended a meeting of Communist writers, but
denied ever being a member of the Communist party. That same
year he also divorced Mary Slattery and married Marilyn Monroe.
The following year, he was convicted of contempt of Congress for
refusing to name other suspected Communists. The conviction
was reversed by the Supreme Court in 1958.
In 1958 Miller was also elected to the National Arts and
Letters Institute. In 1961 he divorced Marilyn Monroe and married
his third wife, Ingeborg Morath, the following year. The couple had
a daughter, Rebecca Augusta Miller, the same year. In 1965 Miller
was elected the International President of PEN, the highly prestigious Poets, Essayists, and Novelists association. He continued to
publish and produce plays until 1982.
Arthur Miller’s writing spans a large block of twentieth-
century American history. He was certainly influenced by the effects of the Great Depression, which uprooted his family when he
was in his early teens. Anyone who lived through the deprivation
and despair of the Depression could not help but be touched by
it. Much of that despair is evident in Death of a Salesman, as the
protagonist struggles to make ends meet.
Salesman was also highly influenced by the idea of the
“American Dream” that was so pervasive in the early 1950s. After
World War II there was a tremendous growth in the country’s
economy. Many Americans were able to pull themselves out of
relative poverty through hard work and determination. There was
a contagious optimism and a feeling that anything was possible.
Children were financially better off than their parents had been,
and there was no end in sight to the continuation of prosperity.
Still, there were those who were not so successful; those who did
not manage to grasp a piece of the American Dream. For them, the
failure was magnified by the success they saw around them.
Arguably, the historical context central to The Crucible is
the “Red Terror” of the 1950s. When China fell to the Communists,
many intellectuals in the United States began to ask questions.
The government could not afford challenges to its authority. A
fervent hunt for suspected Communist sympathizers ensued,
led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy, a colorful and clever
speaker, claimed that Communists had infiltrated government offices and succeeded in driving many people out of their jobs. Even
those who were not found to be Communists were permanently
tainted in public opinion by McCarthy’s accusations. Many were
added to blacklists, which barred certain actors and writers from
working. Those who refused to testify could no longer find work,
while those who cooperated continued to work. As part of the hunt,
Clifford Odets was brought before McCarthy and confessed to being a Communist. He was persuaded to name names of others he
knew to be Communists, and he pointed to director Elia Kazan.
Kazan, in turn, confessed and named names, among which was
“McCarthyism,” as it has come to be called, was a particularly shameful chapter of American history. Many citizens were
disrupted by the stigma of having been involved. The country was
thrown into a mass hysteria similar to that of the witch trials at the
center of The Crucible. The effect is a clear and disturbing picture
of history repeating itself. Just as many innocent lives were taken in
the late 1600s in Salem, Massachusetts, so the reputations of many
innocent people were tarnished in the late 1950s in America. Miller
himself denies that his play was written as a direct response to the
political situation of his time. The parallel, however, is unmistakable. The real message, perhaps, is that such atrocities can occur
in any age. Man will never learn from his mistakes.
Salem and Puritanism
The government of Salem in 1692 was a Puritan theocracy.
In other words, the town was under the unbending authority of the
church. The leaders of the church, and especially the minister of
the church, were very powerful figures, comparable to our elected
officials. A person who was not a member in good standing of the
church was not allowed to live in the community. All citizens were
expected to conform to the teachings of the church at all times and
to know its catechism, which contained the written statements of
the church’s beliefs.
Calvin. Calvin was one of a group of theologians who protested
ultimate authority. Based on their reading of Saint Paul in the New
Testament, they particularly disagreed with the Roman Catholic
emphasis on earning your salvation through good deeds on earth.
These protesters, or Protestants, believed that salvation could not
be earned. The only way to get to heaven was to be chosen by God
and to have faith that He would save you from eternal damnation.
Some people were predestined, or chosen to be saved, while others
were not. While good works would not earn your salvation if you
had not been chosen, believers desired to do good works on earth
and thus follow the example set by Jesus Christ. Good works were
visible signs of your commitment to God.
At the time of the Reformation, most of Europe was ruled
by a theocracy of its own; that of the Roman Catholic church. The
Protestants were compelled by their beliefs to disregard many of
the practices of the Catholic church, including buying indulgences
and approaching God only through a priest. The church was not
pleased with this rebellion against its authority, and the Protestants
were greatly persecuted. Many of them left Europe and settled in
America to escape this persecution and practice their religion in
peace. This was the case with the colony at Salem.
Miller himself has asserted that the community created by
such a system was crucial to the survival of the colony against great
odds. The settlers of Salem had to deal with attacks from Indians,
harsh winters, unyielding soil, and many other hardships. Similar
colonies that were not bound by common ideology eventually
of Salem were united in the strong bonds of a persecuted minority.
Their religion required them to act honorably towards their fellow
men and to help each other. They were expected to meet regularly
at the Meeting House. A strong work ethic was also part of their
theology. All of these things contributed to their survival.
Despite the advantages of such a system, however, The
Crucible vividly shows it can lead to the loss of any sense of
proportion. The Puritans had taken Calvinist theology several
steps beyond what Calvin had in mind. While a man’s good deeds
could not earn him salvation, they were often used in Salem to
determine the quality of his religious life and thus his standings
in the community. While Calvin asserted that each man was responsible for his own salvation, the Puritans often took it upon
a great emphasis on avoiding damnation, and public confession
and “coming back to God” after sin was actively encouraged. Given
the importance of good deeds and hard work, as well as the harsh
conditions of life in early America, there was little time for pleasure.
Many of the pleasures we take for granted, such as dancing, were
deemed frivolous and were not permitted. Every facet of life was
touched by the rigid teachings of the church, which were strictly
enforced. Failure to conform met with harsh penalties, the most
severe of which was death by hanging.
Just as the Catholic church had persecuted the Protestants
for failing to conform to their rules, so the Protestants persectued
those who did not conform to theirs. There was no room in Salem
for free speech. The Bible was the only authority that was recognized, and any teaching not found there was considered not only
false, but dangerous. Espousing views not taught by the Bible could
lead others away from God, and thus imperil many souls, not just
one. Witchcraft was especially dangerous, as its goal was to draw
people away from God and into conspiracy with the devil. It
was not, however, the only sin punishable by death in Salem.
Evidence shows that many who confessed to be Quakers were also
hanged. The Puritans would not tolerate even the discussion of
an idea contrary to their belief system. It was this atmosphere of
repression and fear of punishment that ultimately led to the mass
hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials. In short, the system became so
important as to completely overrule reason.
Master List of Characters
Reverend Samuel Parris—Minister of Salem, who is not popular
with everyone in town. He gave up a prosperous business in
Barbados to become a minister.
Betty Parris—Reverend Parris’ daughter and an accuser in the
Tituba—slave of Reverend Parris brought back by him from
Abigail Williams—niece of Reverend Parris and former servant of
the Proctors. Parris took her in after her parents were murdered
by Indians in a raid.
Susanna Walcott—an accuser in the court
Ann Putnam—a town busybody who spreads the rumors of
Thomas Putnam—husband of Ann and a prosperous landowner
Mercy Lewis—servant of the Putnam’s and an accuser in the
Mary Warren—servant of the Proctor’s and an accuser in the
John Proctor—husband of Elizabeth and a prominent Salem
Rebecca Nurse—wife of Francis, accused of being a witch
Giles Corey—a landowner of Salem who tries to save his wife, who
Reverend John Hale—a minister from the Boston area who is summoned to determine if there is witchcraft in Salem.
Elizabeth Proctor—John’s wife, accused by Abigail of being a
Francis Nurse—husband of Rebecca, who tries to save her after she
is accused of murder
Ezekiel Cheever—an employee of the court who serves arrest
Marshal Herrick—a marshal of the court
Judge Hathorne—a judge of the court
Deputy Governor Danforth—head of the court investigation of
those accused of witchcraft
Sarah Good—a beggar woman accused of witchcraft
Hopkins—a prison guard
Summary of the Play
A group of teenage girls from Salem, Massachusetts, is
discovered dancing naked in the woods by the town minister.
Knowing that the punishment for their behavior will be severe,
the girls claim that they were possessed by the spirits of members
of the community who are trying to initiate them into witchcraft.
Because of the gravity of the accusations (witchcraft is punishable
by hanging), a court is set up to determine the guilt or innocence
of those accused. Judges are sent to Salem from the Boston area
to hear the cases. As each case is heard, the girls scream and faint
to indicate whether the accused is afflicting them.
While at first only a handful of citizens are indicated, the
number soon grows to over a hundred. The children, quite suspiciously, have prior grievances against many of those accused, who
had in some way offended them or made their lives miserable.
Abigail Williams, the niece of Salem’s minister, accuses her previous employer, Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail was dismissed from her
duties as the Proctor’s servant when Elizabeth discovered that her
husband and Abigail were having an affair. As the town of Salem
is overtaken by mass hysteria, John Proctor knows from Abigail’s
own admission that the charges are false. He fights not only to save
his wife, but also for the truth and for reason.
Elizabeth Proctor is not sentenced to hang because it is
found that she is pregnant; however, John Proctor’s attempts to
uncover the truth bring dire consequences. Proctor brings to the
judges one of the original accusers, Mary Warren, who admits that
the entire group of girls is faking their “fits.” This, of course, threatens to undermine the entire court, and the girls are summoned
for questioning. The girls, led by Abigail, deny the charges. In a
desperate attempt to discredit Abigail as a witness, Proctor then
admits his adultery; however, when his wife is brought in to verify
the story, she tries to save his reputation by denying the affair.
Terrified of the other girls and of the punishment for lying to the
court, Mary Warren soon turns against Proctor. She accuses him
of being aligned with the devil and afflicting her.
Whilemanyofthosefoundguiltyofwitchcraftavoidhanging by confessing a connection to the devil, 19 others are hanged.
On the day that John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, another innocent
victim with high standing in Salem, are to hang, many attempts
are made to coerce them to confess and save their lives. Proctor
knows that he has sinned in the past and feels unworthy to die
now as a saint or martyr. Thinking of his three children and of his
wife, he chooses to sign a confession; however, he immediately
regrets his decision and refuses to give up the paper. He cannot
bear the knowledge that his signature will be used to condemn
other innocent citizens. He tears up his confession, and the play
closes with Elizabeth Proctor’s reaction to deaths.
Estimated Reading Time
As a play, The Crucible was designed to be performed in
one sitting. Hence, it should take you no longer than three to four
hours to read it in its entirety. The play is broken up into four
acts, and some editions also include an appendix, which is meant
to follow Act Two. Arthur Miller himself, however, removed this
scene after the original production, and it is now rarely included
in performance. The appendix will not be discussed in these
notes. Also, each act has been broken down into “scenes” and
were incorporated into this MAxnotes and do not appear in the
Suggested Study Topics
Scene I: Setting the Scene
Reverend Samuel Parris: minister of Salem who is not popular
with everyone in town. He gave up a prosperous business in
Barbados to become a minister.
Betty Parris: Reverend Parris’ daughter and an accuser in the
Tituba: slave of Reverend Parris. She is from Barbados and practices
Abigail Williams: niece of Reverend Parris. Parris took her in after
her parents were murdered by Indians in a raid.
Susanna Walcott: an accuser in the court
Ann Putnam: townswoman who spreads the rumors of witchcraft
Thomas Putnam: husband of Ann and a prosperous landowner
Mercy Lewis: servant of the Putnam’s and an accuser in the court
Mary Warren: an accuser in the court, and servant of the Proctors
What do we learn in the opening narrative that is important
to the events that follow?
What happened in the woods the night before Act One
How did the events come to light, and what was the effect
on Betty and Ruth?
Why is the town so stirred up by these events?
What is Reverend Parris’ first reaction to the crisis?
What reason does Ann Putnam have to be resentful?
What reason does Thomas Putnam have to be resentful?
Why do the girls argue about whether or not to tell the
How does Abigail eventually get her way?
10. What is a crucible?
We learn that Parris thinks everyone is out to get him and that
he has a need to be in control. We also learn that the citizens
of Salem mind each other’s business and are unforgiving.
Several teenage girls of Salem were in the woods dancing,
some of them naked. Tituba was trying to contact the dead,
and Abigail was trying to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor.
The girls were caught by Reverend Parris, and the shock
caused Betty and Ruth to fall ill.
The town is stirred up because the girls cannot be healed,
and they suspect witchcraft.
Parris’ first reaction is to save his own name and reputation.
Ann Putnam suspects someone has been killing her babies
Thomas Putnam resents the fact that his candidate for minister of Salem was not elected.
To admit the truth means severe punishment for dancing and
conjuring; to be found guilty of witchcraft means hanging.
Abigail forces the others not to tell the truth through intimidation and threats.
A crucible is a container in which metals are burned at high
temperatures to burn off impurities; it is also defined as a
severe test or trial.
Suggested Essay Topics
What does the opening narrative section add to the play?
How would your judgment of what is happening on stage
be different without this narrative section?
Examine the reasons the girls have for not telling the whole
story of what happened in the woods. Base your discussion on
the reactions of the main characters introduced so far and what
you know of the society of Salem from the opening narrative.
Scene II: John Proctor’s Entrance
John Proctor: husband of Elizabeth, one of the few townspeople
who try to stop the court
Rebecca Nurse: wife of Francis, accused of being a witch
Giles Corey: landowner of Salem who tries to save his wife, who is
Why was Abigail dismissed from her job at the Proctor’s
What does Abby tell Proctor about the events in the
How have Proctor’s feelings toward Abby changed?
When does Betty cry out?
How is this cry interpreted?
How is Betty finally calmed?
How does Rebecca explain the events in the woods?
Why would anyone resent the Nurses?
Why does Proctor dislike Parris?
10. Why does Parris dislike Proctor?
Abigail was dismissed from her job when Elizabeth discovered her affair with John.
Abby tells Proctor that they were merely dancing and that
there was no witchcraft involved.
Proctor has put the affair behind him and no longer welcomes Abby’s advances.
Betty cries out when she hears the name of the Lord sung
The cry is interpreted as another sign of witchcraft. If Betty
is possessed by a demonic spirit, she cannot bear to hear
the name of the Lord.
Rebecca Nurse seems to calm Betty merely by her presence.
Rebecca feels the events in the woods were merely expressions of adolescent foolishness.
The Nurses have been involved in a land war with their neighbors and were among those who kept Putnam’s candidate
for minister out of office in Salem.
Proctor despises what he sees as Parris’ outrageous hypocrisy
Parris resents Proctor for arguing against paying him more
Suggested Essay Topics
How are Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor different from the
contrast to each other?
Why does Betty’s behavior appear to be witchcraft? How else
might it be explained?
Scene III: John Hale’s Entrance
Reverend John Hale: minister from Boston, who is summoned to
determine if there is witchcraft in Salem
Why is Hale invited to Salem from Boston?
Has Hale ever found a witch?
What is significant about the timing of Hale’s entrance?
What do we learn about Rebecca Nurse from Hale?
What does Giles mention to Hale about Proctor?
What does Giles mention about his wife?
What are Rebecca and John’s roles in the proceedings?
What does Abigail do when questioned?
How is Tituba treated when she finally concocts a conversation with the devil and names a Salem woman as a witch?
10. What does Abby do when she sees this reaction?
Hale is a noted authority on witchcraft.
Hale once thought he had found a witch, but thorough
investigation revealed that there was a natural explanation
for the questionable behavior.
Hale enters immediately after the conversation that reveals
the conflicts among the residents of Salem.
We learn that Rebecca’s good reputation is widely known.
Giles tells Hale that Proctor does not believe in witches.
Giles tells Hale that his wife reads books and that when she
is reading them, he cannot pray.
Both Rebecca and John refuse to be involved in the witch-
Abigail pins the blame on Tituba.
Tituba is greatly encouraged and treated like a hero.
Abby seeks the same kind of attention and begins naming
Suggested Essay Topics
Explore the various ways Abby explains her behavior in the
woods to different characters in the play. What are the motives for each of her explanations?
Discuss John Proctor as an individual at odds with authority
and with his community.
Scene I: John and Elizabeth Proctor
Elizabeth Proctor: wife of John Proctor, accused of witchcraft
What is the significance of John’s re-seasoning the soup?
What is the relationship between John and Elizabeth like?
What new position does Mary Warren now hold?
Who is in charge of this court?
What action has the court taken?
What will happen if the accused do not confess?
How has Mary’s personality changed since her involvement
in the court?
What issue does Elizabeth continue to hound her husband
What does Elizabeth’s lack of mercy and understanding
Why does John hesitate to go to the court and reveal Abigail’s
The unseasoned soup is a symbol of the Proctors’ flavorless
The relationship between John and Elizabeth is tense and
Mary is now an official in the newly formed court.
The court consists of four judges sent from Boston.
The court has accused 14 Salemites of witchcraft.
If the accused do not confess, they will be hanged.
Mary used to be timid and shy, but is now openly defiant of
Elizabeth cannot forgive John’s indiscretion with Abigail.
Elizabeth’s behavior towards John foreshadows the later actions of the court.
John hesitates because he does not like to be ordered by
Elizabeth and because he fears he will not be believed, since
there are no other witnesses to Abby’s confession.
Suggested Essay Topics
Compare the character of Elizabeth Proctor to that of Mary
Warren. What value systems do each represent?
Discuss Elizabeth’s reaction to John’s infidelity. Is she being
Scene II: Mary Warren’s Entrance
What does Mary Warren give Elizabeth?
What is Elizabeth’s reaction to the gift?
How many people have now been arrested?
What will happen to those who do not confess?
Who has confessed?
What does this mean for the others?
What would spare Sarah Good from hanging?
What shocking news does Mary offer regarding Elizabeth?
What cause does Elizabeth immediately suspect?
Now that Elizabeth is accused, does John go quickly to the
court to clear her name?
Mary gives Elizabeth a poppet, or doll, that she had sewn
that day in court.
Elizabeth is surprised. A doll is an odd gift to give a grown
A total of 39 people have now been arrested.
Those who do not confess will be hanged.
Sarah Good has confessed.
Now that one person has confessed, the charges against the
others are more believable.
Sarah is pregnant, and the court will spare her unborn
Mary reveals that Elizabeth has been accused of witchcraft.
Elizabeth suspects the accusation was an attempt by Abigail
to eventually marry John.
Even though Elizabeth has been accused, John hesitates to
go to the court. He agrees to go only after being coerced by
Suggested Essay Topics
Discuss how Mary Warren’s character has changed from Act
One to Act Two. What are the causes of these changes?
Discuss the various “evidences” of witchcraft used to convict the witches. Why do these particular charges hold any
Scene III: John Hale’s Visit
Francis Nurse: husband of Rebecca Nurse
Why does Hale appear at the Proctor house?
Why would John’s Christian character be in question?
What reason does John first give for not going to church
What reason does John finally admit to for his behavior?
Why is John’s not going to church significant to the play?
What does Hale request the Proctors do to show their
Are the Proctors successful in fulfilling this request?
Why is this particular commandment significant?
What news briefly shakes Hale’s belief in the court system?
What is his ultimate conclusion about the system at the end
of this scene?
Hale travels to the Proctor house to question them on their
John’s faith is in question because he does not attend church
regularly and has not had his third son baptized.
John explains that Elizabeth has been sick and he has stayed
home to care for her.
John admits his animosity toward Reverend Parris.
It shows his failure to conform to the rules of the society and
to participate in the community.
The Proctors are asked to repeat the commandments.
John can name nine commandments but forgets the commandment against adultery.
John’s adultery with Abigail makes this particular commandment significant.
Hale’s belief in the system is briefly shaken by the accusation
of Rebecca Nurse.
Hale still believes that the innocent will be pardoned and
justice will prevail.
Suggested Essay Topics
What signs does Hale look for in testing the Proctors’
Christian character? What does it mean to be a good
What information has been revealed to Hale at this point
that should lead him to question the witch hunt? What
keeps him from seeing it?
Scene IV: Cheever and Herrick’s Entrance
Ezekiel Cheever: clerk of the court, responsible for serving warrants
to the accused
Marshal Herrick: an officer of the court, charged with chaining the
accused to bring them to the prison
What orders do Cheever and Herrick have at the Proctor
What has happened to Abigail?
Why is this related to the poppet?
Did Elizabeth keep poppets in her house?
What is found in the poppet?
How did the needle get there?
Do the authorities believe Mary’s admission?
What does John do with the warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest?
What does Proctor believe is motivating the court at this
What does Mary warn will happen if Proctor attempts to
interfere with the court?
Cheever and Herrick are to search the Proctor’s house for
poppets and to arrest Elizabeth.
Abigail’s belly has been pierced deeply with a long needle.
The poppet was found with a needle sticking out of its belly.
It was commonly believed that dolls were kept by witches
and manipulated in order to torture people.
Elizabeth never had poppets in the house until that day,
when Mary gave her one.
A long needle is found in the poppet in the same place Abigail
had been stabbed.
Mary Warren admits that she may have left it there when she
The authorities pay no attention to Mary’s admission.
John tears up the warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest.
Proctor believes the court is now motivated entirely by vengeance.
Mary tells Proctor that Abigail will accuse him of lechery if
he attempts to interfere.
Suggested Essay Topics
What is it that finally motivates Proctor to get involved?
How are the “little crazy children jangling the keys of the
Scene I: Charges of Fraud
Judge Hathorne: one of the judges in the witch trials
Deputy Governor Danforth: the chief judge of the witch trials
What is the significance of lighting described in the stage
Who is being charged as Act Three begins?
What possible motive does Giles Corey offer for the accusations against his wife and others?
How are these charges received?
Why does Giles feel guilty?
What do Proctor and Mary Warren bring with them as
How does Judge Danforth measure his worth?
What does Parris do when Proctor attempts to make his
What is happening to Hale at this point?
How is Mary’s statement that the accusations are mere pretense received?
The shafts of light entering the room are symbolic of goodness.
Martha Corey is being charged as the act begins.
Giles Corey is thrown out of the courtroom and threatened
with arrest for contempt.
Giles believes he has jeopardized his wife by mentioning
that she reads books.
They bring a deposition signed by Mary that the trials are a
Judge Danforth measures his worth by the number of people
he has jailed and sentenced to hang.
Parris attempts to call his Christian character into question.
Hale has started to believe that the truth is not being
The judges believe that the whole group is attempting to
undermine the authority of the court by making charges of
Suggested Essay Topics
How do the stage directions add to the understanding of the
themes of the play?
Some critics have called Judge Danforth a “cardboard villain,”
too unrelentingly evil to be believed. Is this a fair assessment
of the character?
Scene II: Mary Warren’s Deposition
What news does Danforth give John Proctor about his
Why did the court not believe this assertion at first?
What does Proctor tell Danforth about his doubts?
What offer is made to Proctor by Danforth?
What happens to the people who signed the deposition
upholding the three women?
What does Giles Corey charge in his deposition against
How does Putnam answer, and who is believed?
What does Mary Warren’s deposition claim?
What does Hale suggest after the deposition is read?
10. Why does Danforth not allow Proctor to obtain a lawyer?
Proctor is told that his wife claims she is pregnant.
The court first assumed that Elizabeth was lying about
pregnancy to avoid hanging.
Proctor tells Danforth that Elizabeth is incapable of telling
Danforth offers to Elizabeth one year to bear her child,
hoping that this will allow him to drop his charges against
All 91 signers are ordered arrested for questioning.
Corey charges Putnam with attempting to kill his neighbors
in order to buy their land.
Putnam claims the accusation is a lie, and since the charge
cannot be proved, Putnam is believed.
Mary’s deposition claims she never dealt with Satan and that
her friends are lying.
Hale advises Proctor to return to the court with a lawyer to
present such serious evidence.
Danforth claims that the evidence against those accused is
invisible and that a lawyer would only call extraneous witnesses.
Suggested Essay Topics
What is Giles Corey’s role in the play?
Examine Elizabeth Proctor as a symbol of truth. How has
her husband “paid for” this truthfulness?
Scene III: Abigail’s Rebuttal
What does Abigail do when confronted with Mary’s accusation of pretense?
What behavior of Abby’s does Proctor bring to the judges’
Why does he choose to reveal these things?
What is Reverend Parris’ reaction to these charges against
How is Mary asked to prove that the girls were lying?
How does Abigail respond to Mary’s assertions that the girls
were all lying?
What does Proctor finally call Abigail?
Who is brought in to back up this accusation, and what does
How does Mary finally respond to Abby’s behavior?
10. What happens to Proctor at the end of the act?
Abby denies the proceedings are mere pretense.
Abby has laughed at prayer and danced naked in the
Proctor attempts to show flaws in Abby’s Christian character
that might prove that she is lying.
Parris reacts to the charges against Abby as if they were
personal insults against himself.
Mary is asked to fake fainting to show how the girls were
faking in the court.
Abigail turns against Mary, claiming that Mary has sent her
spirit out to afflict her.
In desperation, Proctor calls Abigail a whore, confessing his
Elizabeth is brought in to back up her husband’s testimony,
and she lies.
Mary is terrified, and rather than risk being hanged as a
witch, she once again sides with the other girls and accuses
Proctor of being a witch.
10. Proctor is arrested and jailed as a witch.
Suggested Essay Topics
What motivates Elizabeth to lie? Is a good name more important than the truth?
How is Mary Warren used by both sides? Does she have an
Scene I: Reverend Parris’ Doubts
Sarah Good: an old beggar woman of Salem accused of witchcraft
Hopkins: a prison guard
What are Tituba and Sarah Good discussing as the act
How does Tituba describe the devil in Barbados?
What has happened that has made Parris so anxious?
What happened in Andover?
Why is Parris afraid to hang John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse
the next morning?
Why is Parris more frightened to hang Proctor and Nurse
than anyone else?
Why does Parris request a postponement of the hangings?
What does Hale request instead of postponement?
Why does Danforth refuse Hale’s request?
10. What has Hale been advising those condemned to do?
The two women are speaking of the devil coming to take
them back to Barbados.
Tituba says the devil is a “pleasureman” in Barbados, a joyful
Abigail and Mercy Lewis have run off with all of the minister’s
A court examining witches in Andover was overturned and
rejected by the town.
Parris fears a rebellion in Salem similar to the one in Andover.
Proctor and Nurse are well respected in Salem and have
far better reputations than any of those previously put to
Parris hopes that more of those condemned can be brought
to confess and save their lives.
Because none of the prisoners can be brought to confess,
Hale requests a pardon.
Danforth refuses to pardon anyone on the grounds that he
will appear to be wavering in his judgment and that it is not
fair to the 12 who have already hung.
10. Hale advises the prisoners to lie and save their lives.
Suggested Essay Topics
Has Parris experienced moral development or is he merely
attempting to stay on the right side of public opinion?
How is Tituba’s understanding of the devil different from
that of most citizens of Salem?
Scene II: Elizabeth and John
What does Hale plead with Elizabeth to do?
Why does Hale believe a lie would not be a sin in this
Why is Hale so adamant in his attempts to convince
Have any of the other prisoners confessed?
What reason does John give for not confessing?
What further reason keeps John from confessing?
What has John decided to do before he sees Elizabeth?
What does Elizabeth advise him to do?
How has Elizabeth changed?
What reason does John have for not telling the truth and
going to his death?
Hale pleads with Elizabeth to convince John to lie.
Hale believes that no principle can justify the taking of a
Hale feels he will be responsible for John’s death.
Elizabeth tells John that a hundred or more people have
confessed and gone free.
John states that he does not want to give a lie to dogs.
To confess is to go along with the majority and give up his
John has decided to confess when he meets with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth will not advise him either way. She knows he must
decide for himself.
Elizabeth has realized that she, too, is at fault and that she
cannot be John’s judge.
John feels unworthy to die the death of a martyr since he
has not lived up to his own moral standard.
Suggested Essay Topics
How is the conversation between husband and wife in this
scene different from the opening scene of Act Two?
Elizabeth will not give her advice to John, but how does she
Scene III: John Proctor’s Decision
Why is Rebecca Nurse brought in to witness Proctor’s confession?
Why does Proctor refuse to name the names of other witches?
Why does Proctor refuse to give Danforth the paper with his
signature on it?
What is the climax of the play?
What does Proctor do with the signed confession?
How has Proctor earned his death?
How does Elizabeth react to his choice of death?
When does Proctor claim his good name?
What reaction does Rebecca Nurse have to John Proctor’s
10. Does Rebecca Nurse confess?
It is hoped that Proctor’s confession will lead Rebecca to
confess as well.
While Proctor has made his own decision, he refuses to ruin
anyone else’s good name.
He does not want it used to force others to confess or be
seen as an example of submission.
The climax of the play is Proctor’s assertion that his confession was a lie.
Proctor tears and crumples the signed confession in front
of the judges.
Proctor has earned his death by asserting his individuality
against the authority of the court.
Elizabeth is proud that John has found his goodness and
refuses to dissuade him.
Proctor finds his good name when he asserts his individuality
and tears up his confession.
Rebecca is shocked by Proctor’s confession.
Rebecca refuses to belie herself by making a false confession.
Suggested Essay Topics
How would Proctor be saving his good name no matter which
choice he made? Why does he choose as he does?
Some critics find it hard to believe Proctor’s choice of death.
Discuss his decision based on his relationships with other
characters throughout the play.
The following paper topics are based on the entire play.
Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline. Use these as
a starting point for your paper.
One of the most prominent themes in The Crucible is the
importance of a good name. Analyze what a good name means
to several of the characters, using specific examples to support
Thesis Statement: One central motif of The Crucible is the
importance of a good name. The meaning of a good name to
John Proctor at the end of the play, however, is vastly different
from the good name that Reverend Parris seeks.
II. A good name as pride and reputation
A. Reverend Parris
B. Judge Danforth
III. A good name as goodness
A. Rebecca Nurse
B. Elizabeth Proctor
A good name as individuality and moral integrity
The naming of names
The Crucible is vitally concerned with the presentation
of truth. Show how truth is portrayed in the play and how various
characters show their true natures.
Thesis Statement: The judges of Salem are not concerned with
seeking the truth and justice, but with maintaining their authority and reputations. This goal leads them to consistently
reject truth, against all logic and evidence of their senses.
Symbols of truth
Symbols of falsehood
Hale’s reaction to the truth
On first arriving in Salem
At the end of the play
Danforth’s reaction to the truth
Giles Corey’s evidence
Mary Warren’s confession
John Proctor’s reason
There are many examples of authority in The Crucible. It
is tempting for a contemporary reader to accept John Proctor’s
choice of following only the authority of his conscience, but
whose response does The Crucible support as the true model of
Thesis Statement: While authority stems from many different sources and is responded to in many ways, The Crucible
supports the response of Rebecca Nurse as the true model.
The authority of the written word
Hale’s books on witchcraft
The authority of the church leaders
The authority of the court
The authority of individual conscience
Rebecca Nurse’s response
Respect for outward authority
True to her conscience