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The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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The Crucible | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


What is the cause of Reverend Parris's fervent prayers in Act 1 of The Crucible, and what do these prayers show about his character?

Reverend Parris prays fervently in Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched) for his daughter, Betty, to wake up, but he never shows any sign in his words or actions that he prays out of love for her. Rather, his concern is for himself and the damage Betty might do to his reputation. Parris does not care about Betty's well-being or the rumors of witches practicing their sorcery in his parish. Mostly, he is anxious about how the townspeople will judge him because his daughter was part of the dancing to the intonations of Tituba's songs. He continually worries some parishioners want him fired. At least six times in Act 1 he makes reference to the factions opposing him, beginning with his comment to Abigail Williams when he first demands she detail the girls' activities the previous night. He says, "but if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it."

In Act 1 of The Crucible, why does Reverend Parris send for the witchcraft expert, Reverend Hale, if he believes "no unnatural cause" exists in Salem?

After Reverend Parris catches the girls dancing, he fears he wasn't the only one who saw Tituba singing while waving her arms over a fire and a naked girl running into the woods in Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched). As the minister, he is ashamed for not ensuring that his daughter, Betty, follow the church's teachings. He knows this could lead to his dismissal. He sends for Reverend Hale, an expert in witchcraft, because he has heard about the charges of witchcraft in other areas of the province, the rumors of sorcery in Salem, and of Hale's knowledge about this topic. Parris is covering his bases by calling in the expert to investigate the cause of Betty's condition, as well as deflecting his daughter's sinful actions from himself and from his weak parenting responsibilities. Parris shows none of the altruism expected of a preacher—just selfishness.

In Act 1 of The Crucible, why does Miller make John Proctor 35 and Abigail Williams 17 when historically their ages were 60 and 11, respectively?

In the conservative 1950s, as well as during contemporary times when more liberal views are tolerated, people would consider a 60-year-old man having an affair with a 11-year-old girl as immoral. Such a man would be charged with the felonies of child abuse and statutory rape. Although girls married early in the 1600s, as life spans were much shorter, such a relationship would introduce a theme into the play that was not part of Miller's intent. Miller's purpose for the play was to show the parallel between the McCarthy hearings and the Salem Witch Trials and how both of these events ruined people's lives based on fear and unfounded suspicions. He changed the ages of John Proctor and Abigail Williams in Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched) to focus on these themes.

How does Abigail Williams's personality cause the Salem children and adults to so willingly believe her explanations and accusations in Act 1 of The Crucible?

Abigail effectively uses her attractiveness, virtuous demeanor, ability to act as if she is being bewitched, and skillful lies to ensure that adults accept her accusations as the truth in Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched). She is savvy enough to comprehend they still consider her a harmless and unsophisticated child. She guarantees the support of the other girls in her group through her ability to petrify them with threats to cast spells on them and to "bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you." To bolster her power with the adults, she tearfully admits to trafficking with the Devil and cries, "I never sold myself! I'm a good girl! I'm a proper girl!" The people believe her since she connects her confession to Tituba. People construe this as proof the Devil is seeking followers in Salem because they want to believe it. If they didn't, they would have to shoulder the blame for the girls' actions that their religious principles deem sinful. Not wanting to shine a negative light on their responsibilities, the adults eagerly accept Abigail's confession.

How does the author guarantee that the villagers accept Tituba as their scapegoat and blame her for the Devil's interference in Salem in Act 1 of The Crucible?

Tituba is the perfect scapegoat for the people to blame for the girls' conditions, as well as for their fear of the Devil walking among them, because she is from an unfamiliar ethnicity, displays different cultural customs, and speaks a language they don't understand. As a result of their deadly encounters with the Indians, many villagers judge people with a different skin color negatively. To them Tituba's meek and subservient actions suggest her guilt as do her fearful tone of voice and eagerness to confess. They are already intolerant of Tituba's strange singing and dancing. Their indifference to accepting anything they don't understand automatically makes Tituba the villain. Ann Putnam's comment about Tituba's ability to speak to the dead seals the slave's fate as the community's scapegoat in Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched).

What is likely the real cause of Betty Parris's and Ruth Putnam's conditions in Act 1 of The Crucible?

In Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched) the girls realize they were seen dancing and singing in the woods with Tituba when Reverend Parris jumps from the bushes. Betty faints as soon as her father appears. Mrs. Putnam says Ruth "never waked this morning, but her eyes open and she walks, and hears naught, sees naught and cannot eat." Because their religion forbids singing and dancing, the girls are frightened at the thought of the punishment they will receive as a result of their participation in such a sinful activity, and the trauma sends them into shock. Their fear of the effect Tituba's incantations might bring and their guilt for disobeying the values they are expected to follow add to their trauma. Abigail's assurance they'll be whipped for dancing, and her threats to hurt them if they don't adhere to the details she demands them to follow, make them choose their conditions over waking up.

Why are some adults so willing to accept witchcraft as the cause of the children's conditions and infant deaths in Salem in Act 1 of The Crucible?

In Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched) the adults are more willing to blame other people or forces for the girls' conditions than to look for causes in their parenting. On the emotional level. it is easier for them to blame those they do not respect or forces none of them understand—especially something as feared and incomprehensible as the Devil's work—than to think their beliefs, actions, and reactions might have somehow caused their children to suffer. Plus, the children of these pious Christians are to be raised to obey all church and societal laws. The villagers understand their safety and economic well-being in this province is somewhat dependent on their neighbors' and friends' help. They fear their neighbors will shun them for any negative rumors about their private lives, religious beliefs, or parenting skills. Although they know their children might cause innocent mischief, they consider them unworldly and incapable of evil. This keeps them from looking for more logical reasons.

How does witchcraft play into the relationship between Abigail Williams and John Proctor in Act 1 of The Crucible?

Ever since John Proctor ended his affair with Abigail seven months ago, she feels he still wants to be with her as much as she does with him. She accuses John's wife, Elizabeth, of hating her for not being her slave and blames her for turning the other women against her with her dirty looks. When Proctor tells Abigail they are finished, professes his love for his wife, and states he wants to make their marriage whole again in Act 1 (The Courage of John Proctor), Abigail is furious. Her goal has always been to convince John to leave Elizabeth and marry her. His rejection of her, coinciding with the townspeople's fears of witchcraft, gives Abigail the idea to use the willingness of the people to believe any accusations of sorcery to exact her revenge on Elizabeth Proctor. From the moment she realizes Proctor has no intention of ever returning to her, Abigail starts scheming how to remove her rival from the home of the man she covets. She knows the fear of witchcraft is a perfect catalyst for her vengeful plot.

How does Thomas Putnam's antagonism for Giles Corey and John Proctor emphasize the factionalism that is a part of the accusations of witchcraft in Act 1 of The Crucible?

In Act 1 (The Courage of John Proctor) Thomas Putnam has already been trying to claim land and the woods abutting his property, acreage belonging to John Proctor and Giles Corey. Proctor contends he bought the land from Francis Nurse. Putnam claims Nurse had no right to the land he inherited from his father. Corey jumps into the fray to support Proctor's assertion that the older Putnam bequeathed land he never owned to his sons. When his two adversaries mention their plan to haul the lumber to Proctor's home, Putnam threatens to fight them in court. The two men brush off Putnam's bullying, which infuriates him. He understands the province's laws regarding witchcraft and land ownership. When a farmer is convicted of witchcraft and hanged, anyone has the legal right to confiscate the man's land. As a man who craves authority, Putnam has always supported Reverend Parris against other villagers who don't agree with the minister's biblical interpretations, and won. He will not allow Corey, Proctor, and their ally Francis Nurse to stand in his way of adding to his acreage.

Why is Giles Corey's comment about the reading habits of his wife, Martha, so misunderstood by some who hear it in Act 1 of The Crucible?

In Act 1 (The Courage of John Proctor) Martha Corey's reading makes her suspect on three levels: she somehow finds the time to read, she thinks for herself by choosing what she wants to read, and she doesn't need the content explained to her. Corey's innocent question gives Thomas Putnam the idea to use witchcraft to exact revenge on the man who often opposes him and to gain land he covets. Since they live in a theocracy, people are supposed to read only the Bible and the reading material the church and governing authorities select. Because of their obedience to the laws, people tend to distrust those who read what they choose and deem it heretical before they even try to understand it. Most people have little time or education to read in the first place because they have to work so hard to eke out a living. They have little time to spare on something as frivolous as reading. Also, not many people want to read because it's difficult for them to comprehend the material—especially the Bible. They rely on the church and government officials for understanding.

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