The Crucible (1953)
by Arthur Miller
Study Guide
Some questions to think about as you read the play and formulate the thesis statement for your essay:
1. What was the goal of John Winthrop and the other Puritan forefathers when they established their Calvinist state in Massachusetts? How has such idealism been both a boon and a curse to later generations of Americans?
2. How did this zealous utopian vision help the first generation of settlers to survive in the harsh wilderness of the New World?
3. To what extent was independent thought encouraged in a society which demanded rigid adherence to religious doctrine?
4. How able is such a religious society to cope with the inevitable conflicts which arose as the years passed and New England's economy began to develop? How did the communities cope with the declining availability of good farmland? How were young people incorporated into the community's structure? How was power passed from one generation to the next?
5. What makes such a society ripe for the type of irrational panic which swept Massachusetts during the witch trials of the 1690's?
6. How was America in the years following World War II ripe for another panic?

Act One (An Overture) Betty Parris' Bedroom, spring 1692
1. (p. 3) What is the opening image of the play? What do you see on stage?
2. (pp. 3-7) The given circumstances in Salem in 1692.

p.6 What changes had begun to transform Puritan Massachusetts during the latter years of the 17th century? How stable was the government in Boston? How did the Church fathers respond to the social unrest accompanying economic change and population growth?
pp. 6-7 What is the social paradox from which the witch tragedy arose?
How do scoundrels seek opportunity at such moments?

 3. (pp. 7-12) Rev. Parris confronts Abigail Williams.

p. 7 Where was Tituba born and raised? What religion does she practice?
pp. 9-10 What had Rev. Parris seen in the forest the previous night which upset him?
Why is he trying to keep the other townsfolk from finding out what happened?
What does Rev. Parris fear even more than witchcraft?
p. 11 What is Abigail's relationship to Rev. Parris? Why was she thrown out of Mrs. Proctor's home?
What was Abby really doing with the other girls in the woods?
How are the unmarried girls in Salem the most powerless people in the community?
Why would they resort to magic?

 4. (pp. 12-17) The Putnams

p. 12 How can Mrs. Putnam be pleased to discover that Betty Parris has been 'witched'?
What has happened to her daughter?
p. 13 Who is Reverend Hale? Why has he been called?
pp. 13-14 How could it be in the Putnams' interest to foment a itch hunt in Salem?
Towards whom do the Putnams feel resentment?
pp. 14-15 Whom does Mrs. Putnam blame for the deaths of her children?
(What might be the real explanation?) To what lengths has she been willing to go confirm
her suspicions?

 5. (pp. 17-19) The Conspiracy of Silence

pp. 17-19 What story does Abby want the other girls to stick to? What does she threaten to do to anyone who tells the truth? What was really going on in the woods? What different desperate motivations brought the girls to participate in a ritual which they knew was 'Satanic'?

6. (pp. 19-23) John Proctor

pp. 19-21 What distinguishes John Proctors approach to life from the other townsfolk?
What makes this attitude dangerous?
Why does Proctor regard himself as a fraud?
What brings Proctor to Betty Parris' sick room?
pp. 21-23 Does Proctor love Abby Williams?
What would be the consequence in Puritan society if the truth of Proctor's affair with Abigail became known?

p. 23 How does Miller use stagecraft to enhance the emotional intensity of this confrontation?
What happens at the climax of the struggle between John and Abby?

7. (pp. 23-30) Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey

pp. 24-25 What faction in town is led by the Nurse family?
What silent resentments between the townsfolk bubble beneath the surface of this scene?
How is the growing witch hysteria related to these hostilities?
pp. 25-26 To what does Rebecca Nurse attribute the children's strange behavior?
How does she seek to calm it? Why does she fear 'seeking loose spirits'?
pp. 27-30 Why has Proctor stopped going to church?
Why is Rev. Parris angry with his parishioners?
Why is Giles Corey angry with the Putnams?
How have all of these disputes come to a head during the past few days?
What is the real cause of the witch hunt?

 8. (pp. 30-46) Reverend John Hale of Beverly

pp. 30-34 What is Reverend Hale's specialty? How would it serve his ambition if he discovered evidence of witchcraft in Salem?
How is belief in the Devil essential not only to Puritan morality but also to Puritan political control? In a community of the elect can an individual possess a nature which is a mixture of good and evil?
Why does sexual innuendo inevitably creep into the demonization of a political opposition?
(Might this help us understand recent events in Washington?)
What analogies does Miller draw between the polarized moral world of Puritan Massachusetts
and the ideological polarities of post war America?

pp. 35-36 What sort of incontrovertible proof of witchcraft can possibly exist?
What sort of evidence is the only evidence available?
Can such evidence be refuted?
pp. 39-46 How does Hale lead Abby to create spectral evidence of witchcraft?
Why does Abby suddenly turn on Tituba?
Why does Tituba confess to calling the Devil?
Why do she and Abby quickly start to name names of the 'witches'?
Why do they name these particular people?

Act II The Proctor's Cabin, eight days later, sunset
1. (pp. 47-53) John and Elizabeth Proctor

pp. 47-49 What indications during the diner scene suggest that this marriage has problems?
p. 50 What has given shy Mary Warren the confidence to disobey John and Elizabeth?
Why would the central government in Boston take such a lively interest in the events
taking shape in Salem?
Why send the Deputy Governor to preside?
How could Abby's accusations have struck fear into the heart of the theocracy itself?
p. 51 Why does Proctor even hesitate to confront Abby and expose her fraudulent accusations?
How does this delay rekindle Elizabeth’s suspicion?
pp. 52-53 What problems existed in this marriage even before Abby Williams came into their home?
To restore trust in his marriage what will Proctor have to do?
To dispel the witch panic what will Proctor have to do? Miller's point?

2. (pp. 53-57) Mary Warren's Poppet

p. 53 Why has Mary brought Elizabeth this gift? How many people have now been arrested?
Who has been condemned? Why do you suppose that Goody Osborn was accused in the first place?
pp. 54-55 Does Mary actually believe that she was assaulted in the courtroom?
How has Mary used the hysteria to assert her independence?

3. (pp. 57-59) The Unspoken Truth

Is Abby reckless to accuse a woman as established and respected in the community as Elizabeth? How has John given Abby hope? Why does he resist publicly proclaiming Abby a whore?

 4. (pp. 60-67) Reverend Hale's Catechism

p. 61 How is it possible that Rebecca Nurse, the most respected woman in town, has been accused?
What motivations are driving Abby's decisions? Or are they completely arbitrary?
p. 63 Why has Proctor avoided church?
What does it mean in Puritan Massachusetts to be a covenanted person?
Which commandment did John forget?
p. 65 How does Hale respond to Proctor's accusation of Abby?
How is Hale shocked by Elizabeth's declaration that she is not susceptible
to the dangers of witchcraft?
What would happen to the Puritan theocracy's control over the people if
everyone thought the same way?

5. (pp. 67-76) The Police State

p. 67- How does Hale explain and thus justify accusations such as those leveled at Rebecca Nurse
and Martha Corey? Who is behind the accusation of Corey?
pp. 70-71 What damning evidence is found in the Proctor home?
pp. 74-75 What drives the court to such extremity? What do the authorities in Massachusetts have to lose
if Abby's accusations are not treated seriously?
pp. 75-76 What must Proctor do to save his wife?
What does he decide to try instead?
Why, even in this extreme situation, is he reluctant to directly attack Abby?

 Take a look at the Appendix on pages 139-143. Why do you think Miller cut this scene between John and Abby?
Act III The Vestry Room- Salem Meeting House, Morning
1. (pp. 77-81) Danforth's Court

p. 79 Who does Corey believe is behind the accusations against his wife?
Describe Judge Danforth. Why has the Deputy Governor himself come to Salem
to preside over this trial? How is the state's prestige at stake?

2. (pp. 81-94) The Depositions

p. 82 What proof of their wives' innocence do Nurse and Proctor bring?
Why is it essential for Danforth to protect the credibility of the girls' testimony?
What has brought Hale around to Proctor's side?
p. 85 What deal does Danforth offer Proctor if he will drop the charge?
Why does Proctor decline the offer?
p. 87 How does Danforth respond to Proctor's petition? How can he justify such a draconian response? What does Danforth mean when he says, "This is a sharp time, now, a precise time- we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world" (88).
Is such clarity possible?
p. 89 What does Corey allege in his deposition? What proof does he bring?
Why does Danforth have Corey arrested?
p. 92 What does Mary Warren assert in the deposition she and Proctor present?
p. 93 Since witchcraft is an invisible crime, is there any way Abby's accusations can be disproved?
What options does the accused have in this position?
Can you think of any other situations in which an accusation is tantamount to a conviction?

 3. (pp. 94-104) Mary Warren's Testimony

pp. 94-95 How does Danforth try to prevent Mary from giving her testimony?
What threats does he use?
p. 98 How does Hathorne trick Mary and thus rebut her claim that the girls were merely pretending?
Why is Mary unable to faint on cue?
What is Miller's point about the psychology of mob violence?
What is the secret of effective lying (and of great acting)?
p. 100 How does Abby threaten Danforth himself? How has she become the most powerful person
in the whole Massachusetts colony?
What makes Abby such an effective actor?
How can she 'pretend' so convincingly?
pp. 101-02 What enables Proctor to at last openly acknowledge his affair with Abby?

 4. (pp. 104-111) Elizabeth's Testimony

pp. 104-105 Why does Elizabeth hesitate to confirm her husband's admission of guilt?
p. 110 Why does Mary recant her testimony? Does Mary believe that the spirit of the Devil is
in the room at the end of this scene?
What is the secret of mass political control?
p. 111 Why does Proctor believe that he is being rightly punished?

Act IV Salem Jail, three months later, dawn
1. (pp. 112-114) Sarah and Tituba in Chains

p. 112 Imagine the conditions in this jail. How long have the prisoners been confined there?
How do Tituba and Sarah mock Herrick?
Where do they dream of flying off to?

 2. (pp. 114-121) Last Hopes of Confession

p. 114 What brings the officers of the court to the jail before dawn on this particular morning?
What have Parris and Hale been doing since midnight?
pp. 115-16 Why is Parris fearful for his life? How has the political situation in the colony deteriorated?
What is the news from Andover?
p. 117 Where are Abby and Mercy? What have they taken?
p. 118 Why would one confession best suit Danforth's plans?
pp. 119-120 Why despite the new circumstances will Danforth offer neither pardon nor postponement of execution? What is Miller's vision of absolute evil?
pp. 121-122 Why is Hale fearful for his soul?

 3. (pp. 122-23) Elizabeth Proctor's Choice

p. 122 How does Hale counsel Elizabeth? Why does she still hesitate?
What would be the consequences of a conscious lie?

 4. (pp. 124-128) Elizabeth and John Discover the Meaning of Love

p. 125 Why will Rebecca Nurse not relent and save her life?
Why did Giles Corey choose death? What were his last words?
p. 126 Why does Proctor believe it would be a fraud for him to die with Rebecca?
pp. 126-127 How does Elizabeth acknowledge her own complicity in John's adultery? What did she fear?
Does this admission absolve Proctor of responsibility for his actions?
Does it absolve him of the sin of lechery? What would be an appropriate punishment for his actions?
Which partner is to blame in most marital struggles?

5. (pp. 128-134) John Proctor's Choice

p. 128 How could it be wrong for John to lie to save his own life?
Why do the judges insist upon a written confession?
p. 133 Why does John tear up his confession? How has he managed to achieve a new understanding
of what 'goodness' means?
How will Proctor's act of conscience dispel the witch panic?
What moral quality does Miller demonstrate for us in this play?
Why is this self-reliance absolutely necessary in a democracy, particularly in times
of crisis and panic?