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Act 3

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3 of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

The Crucible | Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

As Act 3 begins, Judge Hathorne is heard interrogating Martha Corey. Her husband, Giles, yells that the lies are tainting the testimony so Thomas Putnam can seize the farms of those convicted and hanged. He is sent from the courtroom and is joined by his neighbor, Francis Nurse, whose wife was accused during the morning's trial. In the adjacent room Judge Hathorne, Deputy Governor Danforth, and the Reverends Hale and Parris join them. Corey and Nurse demand to share their evidence, but Danforth tells them to write down their information and enter it as a legal plea for the court to consider. John Proctor comes in with Mary Warren, who wants to confess the girls' testimony has been a complete fraud and that Abigail swore them to secrecy about the dancing in the woods. Her scheme included diverting attention away from them by blaming adults for practicing witchcraft who then retaliated by putting spells on them. Danforth reminds them of the 72 people he has already convicted in the Massachusetts province and assures them the court will dig out any concealment or falsehood. Still worried about his tenuous place in the town's hierarchy, Parris criticizes anybody he fears will discredit him, especially Corey and Proctor who hold power because of their integrity. Throughout this scene, Parris repeatedly accuses Proctor of trying to overthrow the court. When Danforth asks him if Mary's evidence is the truth, Proctor adamantly responds, "It is. And you will surely know it." Cheever tells Danforth that Proctor ripped up Elizabeth's arrest warrant, but John defends his actions by explaining he was shocked and frantic when his godly wife was arrested. Danforth and Parris then interrogate Proctor about the depth of Elizabeth's and his religious beliefs as well as his wife's honesty. Proctor swears his wife would never lie.

Proctor gives Danforth a deposition signed by 91 townspeople who assert Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, and his wife, Elizabeth, have been upstanding Christian women and have never shown any hint of working with the Devil. Corey then has Proctor give Danforth his deposition accusing Thomas Putnam of coercing his daughter to claim that George Jacobs is a wizard so Putnam can confiscate Jacob's land after the man is hanged. This would be the murder of an innocent man. Neither Proctor nor Corey will give Danforth the names of the people who provided this evidence in confidence. Corey is charged with contempt of court.

In order to prove that vengeance and greed for land have motivated the witch hunt, Proctor gives Danforth Mary's deposition naming Abigail as the ringleader of their conspiracy. Mary declares the information is the truth, but when Abigail comes in, she calls Mary a liar. Her standing in the court holds more clout. She starts another bit of playacting, insinuating witchcraft surrounds them, and Mary folds in fear of Abigail's threatening power. Proctor can see all those who protest the proceedings will be disparaged, so to save them and to destroy Abigail's hold on the court he admits his affair with her. Remembering Proctor's avowal of his wife's honesty, Danforth has Elizabeth brought in to give evidence regarding her husband's adultery. She denies his lechery, and John yells he has told them about the affair. Abigail uses the moment to begin yet another fraudulent hallucination. This ends with Mary condemning Proctor by accusing him of saying he will murder her if Elizabeth is hanged. Proctor and Corey are arrested and taken to jail, and Reverend Hale denounces the witch hunt and trials.

Analysis

Arthur Miller intends Act 3 to demonstrate how quickly a turbulent conflict can intensify when people fear that an ideology or a group might undermine the one accepted by society's majority. Add a catalyst—a person seeking power—who adds to people's anxieties with baseless "evidence," and mob mentality reigns. When Reverend Parris, Thomas Putnam, and Abigail see that John Proctor, Francis Nurse, and Giles Corey's integrity—along with the testimony of Mary Warren whose naïveté they had used to their advantage—might indict them for the fraud they perpetrated, they know just how to sow the seeds of doubt. Parris continues to pound at Proctor's Christianity by questioning his beliefs. His plot fails to work to his advantage because Proctor always proves his point and reveals his understanding of Christian tenets with an appropriate biblical verse. Parris uses the "guilty until proven innocent" card and accuses anyone with evidence against what has been decided during the trials of trying to "overthrow the court." He "proves" the townspeople are satisfied with the trials when he claims, "all innocent and Christian people are happy for the courts in Salem!"

Deputy Governor Danforth also refuses to accept the depositions of Proctor, Nurse, and Corey that show attestations from the townspeople regarding their wives' innocence, the girls' fraudulent playacting, and Putnam's greed for land. He will accept only the names of the people who signed the depositions as proof of the veracity of the statements in the writs. Sadly, the only proof necessary to convict those accused of practicing witchcraft is the girls' dramatic actions stemming from Abigail's wish to save herself from being condemned for dancing in the woods. Because the judges consider the girls as unsophisticated and chaste children, they already have predetermined opinions: the children are innocent until proven guilty and have never shown any reason they should be suspected of deceit.

Danforth questions Mary about her Christianity quite harshly but believes she is telling the truth. He doesn't allow Corey, Nurse, or Proctor the same tolerance and respect but demands they give the court the names of the people who signed their affidavits. The men refuse because they know their names alone speak for the women and against the girls' actions, and Putnam will make these people suspect in the minds of the judges. Hale tries to make Danforth understand that the people greatly fear the guilt by association aura connected to the hearings. Danforth doesn't listen, continuing to stand on the justice of the proceedings. He doesn't even accept Proctor's confession regarding his affair with Abigail, nor realize his honesty when he contends, "a man will not cast away his good name." Instead, Danforth casts doubt on Proctor's word and causes him more shame by demanding Elizabeth's response to her husband's confession.

This act develops Miller's allegorical play by paralleling Senator Joseph McCarthy's Red Scare campaign, which began when he was elected to the Senate in 1946 and saw its climax and dénouement in 1954. His attempts to find "Reds under the bed" became a catchphrase behind the Senate hearings. The Senate's committee investigated government, or public, employees who were thought to be Communists. HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, questioned private citizens' loyalty to any ideology or group considered subversive to American ideals and held hearings requesting private citizens to identify people who were Communists or sympathetic to this ideology.

Miller made the character of John Proctor synonymous with the so-called "leave me my name" principle. His friend Elia Kazan, a noted film director, broke before HUAC in 1952 and identified associates in the writing and directing worlds of Hollywood and New York as affiliated with communism, publicly destroying their good names. Although Miller understood how the Red Scare could cause pervasive fear among public and private citizens, he ended his friendship with Kazan and created a nobler fictional character, Proctor, who would stand on his integrity and name.

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