Michael J. Cummings © 2004......................................................Film
is the spring of 1692 in Salem, a Puritan town north of Boston in the Massachusetts
Bay Colony. Ten-year-old Betty Parris lies in bed in an upstairs room of
the home of her father, the Rev. Samuel Parris. Her eyes are shut; she
does not respond to voices. Parris prays and cries over her. What could
slave, Tituba, enters to inquire about Betty’s condition. Parris brought
Tituba to Salem from Barbados, in the West Indies, where he was a merchant
before becoming a man of God. His niece, Abigail Williams, 17, an orphan
living in his house, comes in shortly after Tituba with Susanna Walcott,
who bears news from a doctor: He knows of no medicine to treat Betty and
suggests that Parris consider a supernatural cause for the little girl’s
illness. The doctor’s opinion reflects the view of many citizens of Salem–that
the devil, through spell-casting witches, afflicted Betty with a strange
malady. Already, worried townspeople are convened in the parlor of the
Parris home to discuss satanic influence in their town.
Abigail asks her uncle to go downstairs to still the rumors, Parris barks
back: “And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered
dancing like heathen in the forest?" (Miller 10).
angry reply is a reprimand for obscene behavior exhibited by Abigail and
other Salem girls. While walking in the forest, he caught them dancing
around a boiling cauldron, apparently conjuring spirits.
With them was Tituba, who has knowledge of occult practices. Before he
happened upon the girls, they had invoked–under Tituba’s instruction–spirits
of the darkness to help them attract young men and, in Abigail’s case,
to visit revenge upon an enemy. Abigail drank the blood of a rooster to
cause the death of John Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, who dismissed Abigail
from employment as a servant at the Proctor home outside of town after
discovering that John and the beautiful Abigail had been intimate. When
Parris arrived on the scene, the girls were whirling in a frenzy. One of
them was naked.
he is worried that the shameful behavior of Abigail and Betty, along with
Betty’s mysterious illness, will undermine his standing in the community
and jeopardize his position as minister at the Salem meetinghouse. In fact,
he seems as much concerned about his own welfare as he does about Betty’s.
He has good reason to worry, for certain members of his church despise
him and his hellfire style of preaching.
admits that she and the others danced but denies that they summoned evil
spirits. Parris questions her further, believing that Betty’s stupor resulted
from conjuring. If his own daughter and niece took part in a satanic ritual,
he says, he needs to know the details in order to defend his reputation
against the hostile faction in his congregation. Abigail, who has a talent
for bending truth and telling outright lies, sticks to her story. Parris
presses his case, saying he has heard rumors against her reputation and
asks why no other family has hired her since she her dismissal from the
Proctor home seven months before. Abigail accuses Mrs. Proctor of spreading
lies that damaged her reputation and made her unemployable.
Parris Sends for Help
protect his own reputation, Parris has sent for the Rev. John Hale, an
expert in detecting malicious spirits, to investigate the alleged supernatural
events in Salem. Parris believes Hale’s investigation will result in a
finding against witchcraft–as did a witchcraft investigation by Hale in
a nearby town–and thereby protect Parris from charges that witchery exists
under his own roof.
Putnam and his wife, Ann, wealthy Salem citizens, come up from the parlor
to look in on Betty and talk with Parris. They report that their daughter,
Ruth, has symptoms similar to Betty’s and claim witchcraft caused them.
In fact, they seem to promote the witchcraft theory. Here’s why:
possible presence of witches in the community would provide Mr. Putnam,
a grasping landowner, an opportunity to expand his holdings. First, he
would implicate rival landowners as witches. Then, after the court jails
them, he would buy up their forfeited land. Ann Putnam, jealous that other
women gave birth to healthy children while seven of the eight she bore
all died within hours of their birth, would have an opportunity to accuse
one of these women of using witchcraft to kill her children.
But what about Ruth? How
would the Putnams respond to charges that their own daughter, like Betty,
is infected with evil? Mrs. Putnam already has an answer and freely delivers
it. She tells Parris that she ordered her daughter to consult with Tituba.
According to Mrs. Putnam, Ruth has been “turning strange" and has begun
“shriveling" (15)–as if the same person who sickened and killed her infants
now wants to kill Ruth. Noting that Tituba knows how to “speak to the dead"
(15), Mrs. Putnam says she hoped her daughter would learn from Tituba who
in Salem has been causing the deaths of her children.
is a murdering witch among us" (16), Mr. Putnam says.
Mercy Lewis, the Putnams’ servant, arrives to inquire about the condition
of Betty, Parris and the Putnams go downstairs to pray with the crowd,
leaving Mercy alone with Abigail and Betty. Mary Warren, the Proctors’
servant, arrives shortly thereafter, saying the town will accuse all of
them of witchcraft if they withhold the truth about the night in the forest.
Witchcraft is a hanging offense, Mary says, but the dancing and other misbehavior
will only result in a whipping.
then attempts to rouse Betty from her stupor. If she succeeds, she will
be able to show the townspeople that the little girl was only pretending
to be ill and thus help to quiet talk of witchcraft. Betty indeed awakens.
But she immediately accuses Abigail of drinking blood and of drinking a
charm to cause the death of John Proctor’s wife.
Abigail Makes Threats
shaken, threatens violence against all them–Betty, Mary, and Mercy–if they
don’t keep quiet about what really went on.
danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sisters. And that is all.
[If] you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things
. . . I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will
bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you" (20).
says she well understands violence, for she witnessed the deaths of her
own parents at the hands of Indians.Betty
collapses back into a stupor.
Proctor comes in to tell Mary she is needed at his home to help his wife.
After she and Mercy Lewis leave, Abigail speaks seductively to Proctor
and nuzzles against him, but he pushes her away, telling her their relationship
has ended and that he is now totally committed to his wife. Abigail’s desire
for revenge against Mrs. Proctor deepens.
the visitors downstairs sing a psalm, Betty awakens screaming. Parris,
the Putnams, and Rebecca Nurse–a saintly but practical 72-year-old–rush
upstairs to investigate, followed by Giles Corey, a hardy, tough-as-leather
83-year-old of independent mind, who says, “Is she going to fly again?
I hear she flies" (25 ).
Nurse calms the child by simply standing near her. She concludes nothing
is seriously wrong with Betty. As the mother of 11 children and the grandmother
of 26, Goody Nurse says children have their “silly seasons" (27) of
mischief; Betty will come around in time. She dismisses witchcraft as the
cause of Betty’s “illness" and says the Putnams’ daughter, Ruth, will recover
when her stomach cries out in hunger.
Rev. John Hale arrives from Beverly, a town about eight miles north of
Salem, and immediately begins his inquiry. Under intense questioning, Abigail,
believing her life could be in jeopardy if a charge of witchcraft is leveled
against her, blames Tituba for leading the town girls astray. “She comes
to me every night to go and drink blood," Abigail says (43). When Hale
questions Tituba, he says, “You have sent your spirit out upon this child,
have you not? Are you gathering souls for the devil?" (44). Daring
to defend herself, Tituba says Abigail begs her to conjure and make charms.
says Tituba must be hanged. Terrified, Tituba admits to seeing the devil
but says it is the spirits of Salem residents appearing with him who are
responsible for working sorcery in the town. She names Sarah Good and Goody
Osburn as the devil’s helpmates. Abigail, seeing her opportunity to vindicate
herself, says she also saw Sarah Good and Goody Osburn with the devil–and
Bridget Bishop, too. Betty awakens and says she saw George Jacobs, Goody
Howe, and Martha Bellows with the devil. Abigail adds Goody Sibber, Goody
Hawkins, and Goody Booth to the list, and Betty names Alice Barrow and
witch hunt is on.
Martha Corey Jailed
the ensuing days and months, many people in and around Salem are accused
and jailed for the flimsiest of reasons. For example, Giles Corey’s wife,
Martha, is named as a witch simply because he happened to mention one day
that she reads books kept in secret places. Books can be dangerous, the
Salem witch-hunters believe, especially hidden books. So Martha Corey goes
incriminates Mrs. Proctor, claiming she poked a pin into a poppet
(a doll resembling a puppet) representing Abigail and, in so doing, inflicted
a painful wound in Abigail’s stomach. When investigators find a poppet
in the Proctor home–one with a pin lodged in the poppet’s belly–they arrest
and imprison Elizabeth Proctor. They ignore Mary Warren’s statement that
she made the poppet, inserted the pin, and gave the doll to Mrs. Proctor.
They also ignore Mary’s statement that she made the poppet while seated
next to Abigail during a court proceeding. Meanwhile, Mr. Putnam implicates
a local landowner in order to buy up his property, and Mrs. Putnam names
Judge Thomas Danforth presides at the witch trials with Associate Judges
John Hathorne and Samuel Sew. (In the actual 1692 trials, the presiding
judge was William Stoughton. There were ten associate judges, including
Hathorne and Sewall.) Danforth, deputy governor of the Massachusetts colony,
is a man of sober temperament and intimidating demeanor. He means to root
out the witches and give them early passage to eternity. The judges accept
spectral evidence (testimony of citizens who claim to have witnessed supernatural
events) without corroboration. During the trials, Abigail and the other
girls who participated in the conjuring all pretend to be victims of witchcraft
rather than instigators of wrongdoing–all, that is, except Mary Warren.
John Proctor prods her to tell the truth about the girls and, specifically,
about the poppet she made for Proctor’s wife. She agrees to do so, although
she is terribly anxious about contradicting the other girls.
this time, the hangman is busy, and the jail is full. Some children have
no parents or home. Farms go untended, and cows wander the roads. The Rev.
John Hale realizes the witch trials are a perversion of justice and vigorously
protests the action of the court–to no avail.
Proctor appears with Mary Warren in court, he submits as evidence a written
statement, or deposition, signed by her that renounces stories of witchcraft.
But Judge Danforth refuses to accept the deposition. Parris then accuses
Proctor of attempting to sabotage the court proceedings. When Danforth
questions Mary, she says she and the other girls only pretended to see
spirits. Doubting her testimony, Danforth turns his gaze to Proctor and
warns, “We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment" (89). When
Danforth asks Proctor whether he is attempting to subvert the court proceedings,
Proctor says he wants only to reveal the truth. However, Ezekiel Cheever,
an officer of the court, speaks up with what he believes is important information:
“When we came to [arrest] his wife," he tells the judge, “he damned the
court and ripped your warrant" (90). When asked whether Cheever is telling
the truth, Hale, who is in court to support Proctor, reluctantly acknowledges
that Cheever’s statement is true. (Hale was present when Elizabeth Proctor
Mrs. Proctor Pregnant
and Cheever also reveal that Proctor goes to church only once a month and
that he plows his fields on Sundays. As the evidence against Proctor mounts,
the judge tells him that his wife claims to be pregnant. “Then she must
be," Proctor says. “That woman will never lie" (92). Danforth replies that
Mrs. Proctor will live at least another year so she can bear her child.
However, this effort to soften Proctor fails, for he refuses to change
his story. What is more, he submits a statement signed by 91 citizens of
Salem attesting to the good character of his wife and two other accused
women, Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey. But this tactic prompts Danforth
to summon all 91 signers to court for questioning–and possible accusations
of witchcraft against them.
Giles Corey then presents a deposition charging John Putnam with falsely
accusing George Jacobs of witchcraft so that Putnam can buy up Jacobs’s
land. Corey claims that a reliable witness overheard Corey making an incriminating
statement. However, when Corey refuses to name the witness for fear that
the witness will be arrested, Danforth jails Corey.
Danforth turns his attention back to Mary Warren. Proctor stands by her
while she tells the judges that she made the poppet for Goody Proctor.
She also reaffirms her previous testimony against Abigail and the other
girls. However, under further intense questioning by Danforth and Judge
Hathorne–and under the searing gazes of the other girls–Mary’s resolve
weakens. Abigail and the other girls then cry out in terror, claiming Mary
has sent out her spirit in the form of a menacing yellow bird perched in
the courtroom. Danforth appears to believe them.
Mary recants her testimony, allies herself with Abigail, and denounces
John Proctor. Desperate to save his innocent wife, Proctor then lays a
heavy charge on Abigail: She is a whore. To back up this testimony, he
admits that he lusted after her and had sexual relations with her. For
this reason, he says, his wife fired Abigail; now Abigail is seeking revenge
against Mrs. Proctor.
summons Elizabeth Proctor to court and asks her why she fired Abigail.
To protect her husband’s name, Mrs. Proctor does the one thing that her
husband says she could never do: She lies, denying that her husband committed
adultery. Danforth concludes that John Proctor has been lying all along.
In addition, he charges Proctor with conspiring to disrupt the court proceedings.
Over Rev. Hale’s vigorous objections, Proctor is arrested and jailed.
Proctor, his wife, and Rebecca Nurse languish in jail, executions proceed.
Hanging is the preferred method, but old Giles Corey is pressed to death,
a torture in which heavy stones are placed on the chest, one after the
other, to force the accused person to own up to witchcraft. But Corey refuses
to confess and, in a remarkable display of courageous defiance, asks his
tormentors to pile on more weight. When they grant his request, piling
on another heavy stone, he dies.
the townspeople begin to come to the their senses, realizing the court
is sentencing and executing innocent people. But Danforth refuses to halt
the proceedings, maintaining that doing so would suggest that all the guilty
verdicts and executions were unjust.
has been a leading promoter of the witch trials in order to deflect findings
of guilt against Betty and Abigail and thereby save his ministry–now worries
that the growing opposition to the trials threatens him anew. Consequently,
he recommends postponing further executions unless the court can extract
a confession from John Proctor, whom most of the townspeople believe is
an upright man. Danforth accepts Parris’s logic and offers Proctor and
his wife their freedom if he signs a statement admitting his guilt. If
Proctor confesses, Danforth believes, Goody Nurse and the remaining condemned
prisoners will follow his example. Whatever happens, Abigail Williams will
not be around to witness it: She has run away after stealing 31 pounds
from Parris–his entire life savings.
signs the statement out of a desire to return to a normal life with his
wife and his children. But moments later, overcome with a desire to preserve
his good name and to stand fast against hypocrisy and injustice, he tears
up the statement. Goody Nurse and the other condemned prisoners stand with
Rebecca Nurse, and others under a death sentence are then hanged.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible.
New York: Penguin, 1976..
John Proctor Honest
farmer forced to defend his wife and himself against witchcraft charges.
While his wife was ill, he succumbed to temptation and was intimate with
Abigail Williams, a beautiful but malevolent 17-year-old. Although Proctor
later rejects Abigail and admits his wrongdoing to his wife, Abigail continues
to pursue him.
John Proctor’s loyal and upright wife. She comes to realize that she may
have been partly at fault for her husband's unfaithfulness because she
was not always as warm and loving as she could have been.
Rev. Samuel Parris
Salem's current minister. A faction in his congregation is attempting to
replace him. He at first attempts to silence rumors of witchcraft because
his own daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail Williams, were involved
in conjuring rites. However, he later vigorously supports the witch trials
when he sees that they will work to his advantage.
Betty Parris Daughter
of the Rev. Parris. At the beginning of the play, she lies in a stupor
supposedly caused by witchcraft.
Seventeen-year-old orphan whose parents were killed by Indians. She lives
with her uncle, the Rev. Parris, and his daughter, Betty. In a conjuring
rite in the forest, where Abigail and other girls dance wildly around a
cauldron, Abigail drinks rooster blood in attempt to summon spirits to
kill Elizabeth Proctor. Mrs. Proctor had fired Abigail from her job as
a servant at the Proctor farm because Abigail seduced her husband.
Slave of the Rev. Parris. The minister brought her to Salem from Barbados,
where she learned occult practices. She presides at a conjuring session
involving teenage and adolescent girls from Salem.
John, Ann Putnam
Wealthy husband and wife who use the witchcraft frenzy implicate rivals
Rev. John Hale Expert
in detecting spirits. Well educated, he takes pride in his knowledge of
the occult, but he is fair-minded. Although he first believes townspeople
may be practicing witchcraft, he later defends accused persons, in particular
Mr. and Mrs. Proctor.
Rebecca Nurse Charitable
Salem resident whom Ann Putnam accuses of witchcraft.
Mary Warren Eighteen-year-old
servant of the Proctors who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest.
She first agrees to testify against Abigail and the others. But, under
pressure from her peers and the court, she renounces her testimony and
sides with Abigail.
Deputy Governor John
Danforth Presiding judge who conducts the witchcraft hearings and trials.
He admits spectral evidence (testimony of witnesses who believe they saw
townspeople in the presence of the devil) but refuses to accept a deposition
presented by John Proctor. The deposition, signed by Mary Warren, is intended
as evidence that could lead to the exoneration of Elizabeth Proctor and
John Hathorne Associate
Giles Corey Innocent
citizen accused of witchcraft after he attempts to defend his wife, Martha,
and expose scheming John Putnam. A courageous 83-year-old who defies the
court, he is pressed to death with heavy stones. Martha Corey is hanged.
Mercy Lewis Teenage
servant of the Proctors who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest.
Teenager who took part in the rite in the forest.
Sarah Good Poor,
homeless woman accused of witchcraft.
The action takes place between
spring and autumn in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the town of Salem
and the surrounding countryside. Salem was a theocracy in which the Christian
moral law, as interpreted by the Puritan settlers of the town, was supreme.
The Salem Witch Trials
Arthur Miller based his
play on historical accounts of the Salem witch trials of 1692. According
to those accounts, more than 150 people were accused of witchcraft and
jailed. Twenty of them were executed. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill
near Salem and one was pressed to death with heavy stones laid on his chest.
To suit the dramatic design of The Crucible, Miller altered some
of the facts. For example, he changed the ages of some Salem residents
and merged others into a single character. During the actual trials, William
Stoughton was the presiding judge, assisted by nine associate judges. In
the play, there are only two judges. Thomas Danforth, of Boston, an associate
judge in the actual trials, becomes the presiding judge. Thomas Hathorne,
of Salem, an associate judge in the actual trials, is the associate judge
in the play. Hathorne was an ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the 19th
Century author of two outstanding works on old Salem: The Scarlet Letter,
a novel, and “Young Goodman Brown," a short story. Hawthorne inserted a
“w" into his surname to disassociate himself from Judge Hathorne. Belief
in evil forces such as witches, warlocks, and diabolical spirits was widespread
in America and Europe during and before the 17th Century.
The Crucible is a
tragic stage play based on accounts of the Salem Witch trials of 1692.
When it was first performed, it was presented as an allegory for Senator
Joseph R. McCarthy's notorious "Red Scare" hearings that accused many innocent
Americans of being subversive communists.
of Publication and Link With McCarthyism
Arthur Miller published
Crucible in 1953, and debuted it that year at the Martin Beck Theater
in New York City. He wrote the play in part to renounce the unfair tactics
of congressional committees investigating Americans suspected of subversive
behavior. The House Un-American Activities Committee, established in 1938,
began holding hearings in the late 1940's to identify Americans with communist
sympathies, focusing on Hollywood actors, directors, and writers. Witnesses
who refused to identify acquaintances exhibiting suspicious behavior were
blacklisted, a penalty that ruined reputations and made it difficult for
many in the film industry to get work. When Senator Joseph R. McCarthy
began conducting his own investigation in the U.S. Senate in the 1950's,
he accused hundreds of innocent people of having communist ties, using
tactics not unlike those used in the Salem witch trials. For example, instead
of asking a witness “Are you a communist?" he was more likely to ask “Are
you still a communist?" The insertion of the word still made it impossible
for a witness to answer yes or no to the question while maintaining his
innocence. In response to McCarthy’s unfair tactics, journalists coined
the term McCarthyism to describe the use of groundless evidence
and accusations in public inquiries. Miller himself appeared before Congress
in 1956 but refused to provide the names of persons under suspicion. He
was found guilty of contempt, but he appealed the verdict and was exonerated...
(1) The forest is a primordial
archetype of the kind identified by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).
It represents darkness and evil inside the human soul. (2) The boiling
cauldron appears to represent the wild emotions of the girls. (3) The poppet
(puppet) used to incriminate Mrs.Proctor represents the superstition and
stupidity that incite the zealots of Salem--and zealots of any other place
and time. (4) The witch trials symbolize injustice springing from intolerance,
fanaticism, mass hysteria, and desire for revenge. (5) The heavy stones
used in the pressing death of Giles Corey symbolize the weight of the sins
committed by the Salem accusers. (6) The pregnancy of Mrs. Proctor appears
to represent hope that the next generation of Salem residents will be righteous,
truth-telling people, like John Proctor, the condemned father of the soon-to-be-born
Theme 1 Look for
the devil within. While the witch-hunters and the judges search for
the workers of evil in Salem, they train all their energies on what is
outside of them–for example, reported sightings of malicious spirits, a
doll with a pin in it, suspicious books, offensive neighbors, sick children.
However, they fail to examine the real source of evil, the perversity in
their own beating hearts. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare
wrote: “A goodly apple rotten at the heart. / O, what a goodly outside
falsehood hath." In 1692 Salem, there were many goodly apples rotten at
Theme 2 Group
pressure is powerful. The adolescent and teenage girls who took part
in the conjuring rite in the forest all lie and pretend to be victims of
witchcraft in order to remain in good standing with their peers. Even Mary
Warren, the one girl who tries to tell truth, falls victim to group pressure
and, in the end, joins the other girls in their chicanery.
Theme 3 Revenge
is a deadly game. Several characters–including Abigail Williams and
Mr. And Mrs. Putnam–seek revenge against their enemies by accusing them
of witchcraft. As a result, the enemies–all innocent–go to the gallows.
Theme 3 The will
of the people can be unjust and uncivilized. Democracy follows the
will of the people. However, the people are not always right. In
fact, as The Crucible shows, the will of the people can be the will
of injustice and barbarity.
climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a
novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins
to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax of The Crucible occurs,
according to the first definition, when the court finds John Proctor guilty
after he admits that he had been intimate with Abigail Williams. According
to the second definition, the climax occurs when John Proctor decides it
is more important to tell the truth than to save his life with a lie. So
he tears up his false confession to witchcraft and gives himself over for
began in England in the 1500's when reformers attempted to purify
the Protestant Church of England of the elaborate ceremonies, rituals,
and hierarchical structure it carried over from Roman Catholicism. For
the Puritans, the pure word of the Bible, presented in part through
inspired preaching, took precedence while direct revelation from the Holy
Spirit superseded reason. Puritan ministers were generally well educated.
agreed with Calvinism that human beings inherited a sinful condition and
that certain men and women were destined to be saved through the suffering
and death of Christ. But the Puritans also believed that if a member of
their community underwent a conversion experience–in which the Holy Spirit
caused the member to focus on piety and instead of sin, that member had
evidence that he or she was singled out for salvation. Consequently, the
conversion experience was an important aspect of Puritanism. To foster
conversion and maintain a covenant with God, Puritans lived a strict moral
thousand Puritans came to America, settling in Virginia and the Massachusetts
Bay Colony, to establish and practice their religious without interference
from religious or political opponents who insisted on preserving church
hierarchy. In New England in 1648, they adopted the Cambridge Platform,
a document authorizing self-government for local Puritan congregations
and thus purifying Puritanism of a hierarchical structure. This
brand of Puritanism was known as Congregationalism. This form of self-government
helped lay the foundation for American democracy. However, because of their
strict moral code, the Puritans were ever on the lookout for satanic influence
and, unfortunately, sometimes saw evil where none existed. One of the forms
in which evil manifested itself, the Puritans believed, was witchcraft...
of Executed Salem Residents
Listed in Alphabetical
Jacobs, George, Sr