Literature Study GuidesThe CrucibleAct 1 The Courage Of John Proctor Summary

The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Act 1 (The Courage of John Proctor)

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1 (The Courage of John Proctor) of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

The Crucible | Act 1 (The Courage of John Proctor) | Summary

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Summary

The other girls leave when John Proctor enters Betty's room. Abigail immediately starts to flirt with him and tries to coerce him to abandon his wife and marry her. Proctor emphasizes their affair ended seven months earlier and affirms his desire to save his marriage with Elizabeth. Furious, Abigail denigrates Elizabeth. Proctor orders her never to denounce his wife again or he will whip her. Hearing her friend's sobs, Betty wakes up and screams.

Reverend Parris and the Putnams rush into the room along with Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse, a highly respected woman and wife of Francis Nurse. Once again Ann Putnam laments her children's deaths and suggests the peculiarity behind the survival of Rebecca's babies. Proctor and Corey argue with Putnam about land ownership. When Proctor accuses Parris of greed unbecoming a minister, the preacher demands Putnam side with him and not with Proctor and Corey.

Analysis

John Proctor is a serious man who keeps his thoughts private unless provoked. Abigail incites his ire when she throws herself at him, claiming he wants her still and speaking disparagingly about his wife, Elizabeth. Abigail reveals her manipulative side by tearfully professing her love for him, and saying, "You loved me, John Proctor, and ... you love me yet." Reverend Parris and the Putnams believe Betty's wailing while they read the Bible aloud is a sign the young girl has sided with the Devil. Instead of joining the witchcraft hysteria, Rebecca says children have their "silly seasons," and Betty will wake up when she tires of the game. Proctor agrees with her and asks Reverend Parris to tell the townspeople to quit thinking the Devil has cursed Salem with witchcraft. Putnam angers Proctor by fanning the flames of suspicion by his refusal to accept blame for the children's midnight actions and demands the minister keep the search for sorcery active. When Proctor reminds Putnam the congregation, not Putnam, will drive Parris's stance, the minister sides with the wealthy landowner by attacking Proctor's religious sincerity. Reverend Parris exposes his autocratic side by insisting Proctor obey his teachings instead of airing his own opinions. Proctor contends he has the right to speak his heart, saying, "I like not the smell of this 'authority.'" Giles and Proctor deepen Parris's suspicion that the two head a faction against him when they argue with Putnam over the ownership of woods bordering Proctor's farm. This just adds fuel to Putnam's hatred of Proctor and increases his lust for land.

Proctor demonstrates his integrity and principled stance when he publicly refutes the acceptance of unproven witchcraft over logic. His honest nature has earned him the respect of many of the townspeople, and this antagonizes both Putnam and Parris, who don't enjoy the same respect. Putnam doesn't believe the fears of witchcraft but understands its usefulness. He intends to use any law supporting his plan to confiscate the land of those men who are hanged for practicing witchcraft. Proctor knows unfounded rumors feed people's fears. This is why he insists Parris condemn any baseless allegations from the pulpit. Proctor's strength of character keeps him from comprehending how his sense of honor causes Putnam and Parris to feel inferior. This makes him the perfect scapegoat for their resentment. Proctor chooses to separate himself from the growing group of witchcraft rabble rousers and loudly professes his resistance to the mob mentality infecting the minds and hearts of the villagers. Parris's unwillingness to even hear another person's spiritual perceptions shows he is a banner bearer for the theocratic injustice theme. The main conflict of the play—person against person—is apparent already.

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