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The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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The Crucible | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How is a poppet, or doll, Elizabeth's downfall in Act 2 of The Crucible?

Poppets are considered an object witches use to cast spells on an intended victim. Mary Warren brings home a poppet she has sewn in court during the day's trials and gives it to Elizabeth Proctor in Act 2 (Elizabeth Is Arrested). When she had finished sewing, Mary stuck the needle in the doll's stomach so she wouldn't lose it. During dinner Abigail Williams clutches her stomach and cries out in pain; a needle is embedded in her stomach. She accuses Elizabeth of trying to kill her. For the past week Abigail has prepared for this moment by pretending to be cursed by villagers she feels are unimportant, people she knows won't be missed because of their age, morals, or economic state. Although many of the townspeople might not understand the idea that strength comes in numbers, Abigail does. She has built a solid reputation for identifying witches and knows her allegations against her rival for John's love will be believed. Elizabeth, in turn, has always understood the girl's desire for vengeance and knows Abigail's accusation will be accepted over her own denials. Furious about the false allegation, Elizabeth curses Abigail by saying the girl should be "ripped out of the world," or killed—playing right into the conniving young woman's scheme.

How does a theocratic government support a witch hunt as shown in The Crucible?

In a theocracy laws are based on religious experts' interpretations of spiritual tenets and creeds. These same authorities are often called upon to judge those accused of breaking the law, which is considered the same as breaking the commandments of their deity. Their narrow interpretation of law guarantees the only assessments and opinions accepted will be their own. A member of a theocracy the public esteems as a staunch supporter of the law, and who also knows how to play on people's fears, is consequently the perfect instigator of a witch hunt. The religious experts' moral inflexibility, intolerance of any other ideology but their own, and intimidating interrogation methods create a perfect atmosphere in which to create a scare and a search for people to blame.

How does Judge Hathorne's questioning of Martha Corey in Act 3 of The Crucible contrast with the duties and responsibilities of democratic court procedures?

In a democracy it is the court's duty to determine guilt or innocence, not the defendant's. Hathorne asks Martha Corey to explain why she is not a witch after she says, "I am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is." If she has no knowledge or understanding of a witch or her supernatural actions, it is not rational to expect Martha Corey to explain why she is not a witch. Hathorne does not question witnesses who can tie the defendant to bewitching practices or who can speak to Martha Corey's charge of fortune-telling, as one would expect in a democratic trial. Instead, the judge has already made up his mind Martha is a witch and wants only answers that support his preconceived notions. In this fraught atmosphere, he is allowed to sentence her for practicing witchcraft although he is unable to state the qualities or actions of a witch. The scene reveals the similar miscarriage of justice practiced in the HUAC hearings on communist influences in America, which targeted Miller himself and suggested the allegorical parallel he created in the play.

Why does Judge Hathorne want Giles Corey charged with contempt in Act 3 of The Crucible?

Judge Hathorne shows no mercy or compassion for anyone who might thwart his career ambitions by revealing him to be an imprudent, callous, and ignorant judge. If Deputy Governor Danforth were to allow Giles Corey's and Francis Nurse's depositions to be presented in court, along with John Proctor's and Mary Warren's testimony, the evidence would prove the girls' actions have been fraudulent, as is the accusation against George Jacobs that Putnam forced his daughter to fabricate a story. Hathorne's prior convictions would be overturned, and the trials would stop. Fortunately for the demagogic Hathorne, his word holds more sway with the deputy governor than any of the men asking to be heard, so his will prevails. Giles Corey is consequently charged with contempt of court for accusing Thomas Putnam, one of Hathorne's cronies.

Why is Reverend Parris so opposed to Danforth hearing Mary Warren's deposition in Act 3 of The Crucible?

Reverend Parris is part of the group that wants the trials to continue to guarantee their personal agendas. Mary's testimony will oppose his allegation that witchcraft is prevalent in Salem, a stance he has taken since the night he found his daughter and the other girls in the woods. Her explanation will cause those against him to doubt his credibility and to demand his removal from his ministry. Parris is not respected by many villagers, some of whom attend his church only to be in compliance with their beliefs and the law. If the court were to accept Mary's testimony, the minister's religious beliefs and understandings would be questioned. He would then be fired from his position as minister and the town's primary religious interpreter, something he desperately wants to avoid. His attitude and actions underscore the human failings that can lead to a witch hunt.

What do Judge Hathorne, Reverend Parris, and Thomas Putnam gain from the community's acceptance of the witch trials in Act 3 of The Crucible?

Judge Hathorne, Reverend Parris, and Thomas Putnam are gaining power, authority, credibility, and monetary rewards as a result of the trials. Putnam is successfully seizing lands belonging to farmers hanged for practicing witchcraft without paying for them. He doesn't care that he is displacing their families as long as he can add to his acreage. Successful convictions will guarantee Reverend Parris's place as minister, since Putnam will support him against those who oppose either of them. Both men know they must continue advocating for each other since they each have knowledge that would ruin the other man. Finally, Hathorne dreams of attaining a judgeship in Boston and moving away from Salem. In order for this to happen, he must show the need for the trials and gain the respect and support of the villagers who deem them a necessity.

In Act 3 of The Crucible, how do Deputy Governor Danforth's questions to John Proctor regarding his Christianity parallel the American "Loyalty Oaths" implemented during the Cold War era?

During the Red Scare of the 1950s, people in a variety of careers and jobs had to declare their loyalty to the United States Constitution. Officials who required this signature considered the oath a way to thwart any opposition to the government. People who refused to sign this oath, seeing the situational irony between it and the inherent freedoms cited in the Constitution, were suspected of being sympathetic to subversive groups, organizations, and/or foreign governments. They would lose their jobs, or if applying for one, would be denied it. In Salem people considered weak in devotion to the Bible's teachings are, similarly, questioned about their beliefs in the Gospel and their faithfulness to the church's dictates. Before Deputy Governor Danforth will allow Mary's testimony supporting Proctor's accusation, he interrogates the farmer about any knowledge he has regarding the Devil, such as why he attends church rarely and whether he reads the Bible.

How does an emphasis on judging people on what they do, not who they are, support the concept of "guilt by suspicion" prevalent in The Crucible?

When people fear what they do not understand, anyone who steps outside of their narrow ideological box is suspected of immoral or nefarious beliefs or actions. For example, Giles Corey mentions his wife Martha reads too much. He wonders why she loves books so much and says this confusion hinders his praying. Others who hear his innocent comment misconstrue his meaning—because reading surely must prevent her from carrying out her wifely duties set by the theocracy and because it fits their plan to cleanse their village of any hint of witchcraft. His naïveté leads to his wife's arrest. Other examples of characters who are judged on their actions rather than their intent include John Proctor, who is considered of dubious character for working on Sundays, and Tituba, who is assumed to be a witch because she sings in her native Barbados language. No one looks into the type of husbands, wives, or citizens these people are. Instead, their enemies interpret their actions to reveal character traits that are against the church's teachings and the theocracy's laws.

In Act 3 of The Crucible, how does Abigail Williams combine manipulation and the power of persuasion to realize her ambitions?

Abigail Williams cleverly uses her femininity, her comprehension of the judges' power, and the perception of her childlike innocence to convince the court of her sincerity. She uses the other girls' fear of her power of the supernatural to ensure they continue the theatrics the judges use as evidence to convict the defendants. The girls are so terrified of her power they willingly comply with her playacting scheme instead of confessing to the fraud they have perpetrated. Pushed to the edge by her manipulations, John Proctor calls Abigail a whore and confesses his affair with her. Group hysteria prevails and leads to Elizabeth Proctor's lie to defend her husband and his arrest for trying to kill his former lover. Throughout the play, the master manipulator Abigail knows exactly how to play on other people's fears.

In Act 3 of The Crucible, how does Elizabeth Proctor's attempt to save her husband's reputation after questioning his fidelity at their home backfire?

Elizabeth has doubted her husband's faithfulness because of her insecurities since his affair with Abigail. After he confesses to adultery in front of the judges, ministers, his friends, and the girls, John Proctor declares his wife is a completely honest woman and a devout Christian who would never lie. He has promised his wife is unwaveringly truthful, no matter the circumstances she faces. During her time in jail, Elizabeth has seen how the judges misconstrue the actions and twist the words of the defendants to fit their preconceived opinions. She considers the court a mockery of justice because once they are accused, people are considered guilty. Knowing John is apprehensive of shaming himself publicly by admitting to adultery and having no idea how he has guaranteed her veracity, Elizabeth lies to save his life. Instead, she condemns him to death.

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