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The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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The Crucible | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How are Tituba's confession and its consequences examples of group hysteria in Act 1 of The Crucible?

In Act 1 (Reverend John Hale Arrives) no evidence exists that those named have ever dealt with the supernatural, but this doesn't matter to Tituba or the girls. The chaotic fanaticism of the moment overwhelms all logic for them. Tituba confesses because she is frightened of the aggressive interrogations and because she knows people don't understand her cultural traditions. She also realizes the Salem citizens will never accept her because she is a slave. Since Reverend Parris has always blamed her for any problem in his home, she expects she'll be accused of practicing witchcraft anyway, so she chooses to do what she can to save her life. Also, she panics in the heat of the intense emotions and agitation stemming from fear about the condition of Betty and Ruth. When Reverend Hale prays with her, she is not lying when she states she loves God and knows she is a Christian woman. On some level she fears she has angered God with her spiritual practices from Barbados, and believes that if she agrees to the charge of following the Devil and then repents, God will forgive her. The ministers' continuous demands for names so confuses her she grabs on to their power of suggestion and agrees to the names they shout out. By this time the girls are seized by the madness and follow Tituba's lead.

How do the characters introduced in Act 1 of The Crucible reveal the human components necessary for a witch hunt to occur?

The characters introduced in Act 1 (Reverend John Hale Arrives) show that a witch hunt requires a fearful and gullible population and a person or persons who will profit from it. In The Crucible Salem citizens fear the woods and the Indians who live there because they have endured deadly encounters with them. Their lack of curiosity about the Indians' language and customs allows their fears to grow; the witch hunt gives them an outlet as identifying supposed witches is something they fear but can control. Ann Putnam is an example of a gullible character. She is quick to accept the presence of supernatural powers because she wants a reason for the deaths of her seven babies. She doesn't bother to consider her lack of knowledge about infant mortality. Reverend Hale and Thomas Putnam exemplify characters who profit from the witch hunts. Hale has made witchcraft the focus of his studies. His motive is to practice some of the methods he learned to destroy the "spells" impacting Betty and Ruth. Thomas Putnam doesn't care if witchcraft is present in their town or not; he sees it as a weapon he can use to confiscate neighbors' land, adding to his wealth and power.

What impression of Elizabeth Proctor does the author create with the words and actions he ascribes to her in Act 2 of The Crucible?

Arthur Miller presents Elizabeth Proctor as a loving mother who sings to her children and cares for her husband by cooking him a rabbit stew, even though she hated killing the animal in Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel). She remains withdrawn and guarded around her husband, although she is happy John likes the food, because her heart and mind still ache from the pain of her husband's affair. At the same time, Miller shows her to be a hard, cold woman. Although she says she has forgiven John, she still won't trust him. Elizabeth is suspicious of his response when she asks him to speak to Ezekiel Cheever about Abigail's admission to him that the girls were just playing. She questions her husband's reluctance to confront the young woman for accusing his wife of trying to kill her. Only when Elizabeth is arrested and notes John's willingness to put his life on the line to save her does she soften and accept his goodness by asking him to take her home.

What character traits does John demonstrate with Elizabeth in Act 2 of The Crucible?

John Proctor is warm and considerate with Elizabeth in Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel). He proves he wants to gain her forgiveness when he offers to buy her a cow. Proctor talks about their future on the farm and the beauty of spring and asks his wife to walk the fields with him on Sunday, stressing their common goals. Although he is frustrated by her unwillingness to trust him fully, Proctor understands Elizabeth's reasons and continues trying to earn her forgiveness. He shows he is thankful she came to his aid when he forgot to cite the adultery commandment and returns her support by telling the minister Abigail confessed the girls' dancing had nothing to do with witchcraft. Finally, when Reverend Hale tells Elizabeth she has been accused of sorcery, Proctor demonstrates his respect for his wife by adamantly protesting the charge.

What comparison does John Proctor suggest with the metaphor, "it's winter in here yet," in Act 2 of The Crucible?

In Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel) John compares Elizabeth's chilly attitude toward him to the long and frigid New England winter. He tries to make her smile and bring out the warmth she shows their sons by sharing his plans for the farm for the growing season. She does not, however, thaw at this point in the story. Although John has spurned Abigail's attempts to win him back and has threatened to hurt the young girl if she ever denigrates Elizabeth again, his wife is hesitant to forgive him. She is afraid her husband might go back to Abigail and she'll be hurt all over again, so she holds back her emotions. Her stubborn mindset creates a vicious cycle.

In Act 2 of The Crucible, how has the fear of witchcraft escalated in Salem in the week since the girls' nighttime activities were discovered?

In the eight days since Betty woke up from her comatose state and joined Tituba and Abigail in accusing Salem residents of witchcraft, a formal court has convened in Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel) with four judges: the honorable judges Hathorne, Sewall, and Stoughton, and the head justice, Deputy Governor Danforth. Although Elizabeth mentions that 14 people sit in jail accused of practicing witchcraft, when Mary Warren returns home she says this number has risen to 39. All the accused will be tried and if convicted, hanged. Mary, one of Abigail's accomplices, is an official of the court, as are the rest of the girls in their crowd. They fuel the spectators' fears of the supernatural and strengthen the judges' "guilty until proven innocent" ideology about the defendants. Whenever someone is put on trial, if Abigail wants the person convicted she pretends the defendant is bewitching her, and the rest of the girls follow her lead. Because their actions are so frightening and so believable, the judges accept the girls' pretense as evidence and sentence the accused to hang.

Why does Elizabeth's request that John speak to Ezekiel Cheever about Abigail precipitate an argument in Act 2 of The Crucible?

Elizabeth wants her husband to tell Ezekiel Cheever, the court clerk, that Abigail Williams is a fraud in Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel); she has admitted this to John eight days earlier. However, Elizabeth's fears that John still has feelings for Abigail color the situation and precipitate an argument between the couple. Abigail has told John that she and the girls had been dancing while Tituba sang, and no witchcraft was involved. Proctor can't prove Abigail's admission, however, since she told him this when they were alone in Betty Parris's room. Elizabeth is hurt because John didn't admit he was alone with his former mistress, and she accuses him of continuing to care for Abigail. John once again states he is sick of Elizabeth's suspicions, so she tells him not to bother doing anything to earn her trust.

Why are Mary Warren's explanations about why she is sick believable in Act 2 of The Crucible?

Mary is believable in Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel) because she now accepts responsibility for her words, and she is good-hearted. Realizing people will actually hang for witchcraft has made Mary understand the deadly consequences of the girls' playacting. The servant girl is sickened that Goody Osburn will die because she intimated to the judges that the old woman cursed her when she turned her away from the Proctor's home. Mary's intent was to distance herself from Goody Osburn; she didn't want anyone to think she was sympathetic to the homeless woman. The judges, however, chose to interpret her explanation as an indictment. Guilt makes her choke during Goody Osburn's trial.

How do Elizabeth's and John's attitudes toward Abigail mirror the proceedings of the witch trials in Act 2 of The Crucible?

The couple's inability to communicate without letting their viewpoints color their words in Act 2 (John and Elizabeth Quarrel) mirrors the travesties of the witch trials. To save their marriage, Elizabeth and John must quit reading false intents into each other's words and actions. Elizabeth is motivated by the desire for honesty from her husband. She wants John to force Abigail to tell the court the girls are pretending to be bewitched so the judges will begin listening to reason. She needs John to honor her request so she can trust his words of love and his promise to mend their marriage. John, in contrast, is angry that Elizabeth misreads his every word and action regarding Abigail. He is frustrated his wife still doubts his love for her and accuses him of deceit when he claims, "I am honest!" Each character approaches the issue with a predetermined mindset, just as the judges come to the trials with a belief that witchcraft exists and the accused are most likely guilty. To save the accused from wrongful deaths, the judges must ferret out concrete evidence—not accept baseless allegations that fit their personal views.

What are Reverend Hale's expectations for visiting the Proctors so late in Act 2 of The Crucible?

In Act 2 (Elizabeth Is Arrested) Reverend Hale is trying to assess the Proctors' devotion to God and Christian principles in order to determine their credibility before the judges: Hale asks John to explain his absences from church, and John says Elizabeth had been ill over the winter, so he stayed home to help her. When the minister asks them to identify the Ten Commandments, Elizabeth adamantly states she is a "covenanted Christian woman." John forgets the commandment of adultery out of guilt for the affair, but his wife reminds him of it so Hale won't suspect him of not knowing the Commandments. The judges interpret a person's inability to remember all ten of the Commandments as proof he or she is involved in witchcraft. Proctor tells Hale he accepts the existence of witches because the Bible says they exist. Elizabeth honestly believes the Devil cannot take possession of a godly person. Hale knows the judges will interpret a subtext of purposeful omission behind her words as proof she is hiding her familiarity with witchcraft.

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