The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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The Crucible | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why does Reverend Hale denounce the court and the Salem witch trials at the end of Act 3 of The Crucible?

Hale is the voice of reason among the characters with power in the play. He slowly comes to the realization about the court and the nature of the trials and finally expresses his disgust with them. When Reverend Hale first arrives in Salem, he is excited to put his study of witchcraft to use in a real situation instead of considering it theoretically. At first he is highly supportive of the courts, but after a number of people are convicted on baseless evidence, he sees the trials as a mockery of fairness. Not only are innocent people's reputations ruined, but they are sentenced to die because of crimes he avows they never committed. For example, he questions how Deputy Governor Danforth treats Giles Corey with little tolerance and even less respect and how he accepts anything Abigail Williams says as the complete truth. Referring to Abigail he says, "private vengeance is working through this testimony." Not only do the judges allow suspicion and circumstantial evidence to overrule concrete facts, but they do so in God's name. Hale believes what they are doing is wrong and so against the tenets of Christianity that he denounces the court and leaves Salem.

In Act 4 of The Crucible, what grounds do the judges and ministers have for asking the convicted women and men to confess to crimes they never committed?

Deputy Governor Danforth, Judge Hathorne, and Reverend Parris push the convicted to lie and live so they can absolve themselves from guilt for their baseless convictions. They have convinced themselves the confessions will prove they were right to convict the accused in the first place. In fact the people's fears of the supernatural play into the ambitions of the three men who want to use the trials to make names for themselves in the upper echelons of the Massachusetts province. Under their rules the defendants' choices are to lie and confess to practicing witchcraft so they can live or to stay silent and save their integrity by refusing to lie and die. This creates a hopeless situation for the accused: they are condemned by society and God if they choose the first option and are executed if they select the second.

What motivates Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis to sneak away from Salem in Act 4 of The Crucible?

Believing as Reverend Parris does that many citizens will riot if more executions occur, the girls skip town. They fear reprisal from the people for their lies and fraudulent actions, especially Abigail, who instigated the courtroom theatrics used as irrefutable evidence to convict innocent people. She has always been intuitive about the religious, social, and political atmosphere in the town, and she knows the citizens are sickened that neighbors and friends have been hanged—or, like Giles Corey, crushed to death. With her plan ended to marry John Proctor once his wife is ruined, and realizing the townspeople will not stand for any more hangings, Abigail steals Parris's money and leaves. Always a follower of Abigail, Mercy goes with her.

In Act 4 of The Crucible, why does Reverend Parris believe confessions will crush the murmurs of rebellion in Salem and support the rest of the hangings?

Reverend Parris believes that if John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, or Martha Corey confess, the townspeople who believe in their innocence as well as those who believe in their guilt will be satisfied. For the townspeople who consider the honest reputations these accused characters have earned over the years, a confession will not disparage the reputations of the three. Even if citizens think their confessions are lies, they have witnessed the integrity and piety of these three, and they would rather accept the lies and see the characters live. The townspeople now deplore the court's unfair version of justice; they will riot if Proctor, Nurse, and Corey hang. On the other hand, Parris knows some townspeople believe the three are connected through guilt by association and must have ties to the witchcraft rumors, or they never would have been suspected in the first place. These people will not rebel because they feel the court was justified to convict the suspects, and they will support any future hangings.

In Act 4 of The Crucible, what is the reason for Deputy Governor Danforth's adamant decision not to pardon the three citizens sentenced to hang that morning?

Deputy Governor Danforth is concerned about his reputation for consistency, not about the possibility that innocent people are scheduled to hang at sunrise. Since 12 people have already died on his orders, he is bothered by the idea of the townspeople's disapproval if he should delay the hangings or pardon the convicted defendants. Danforth knows the citizens of Andover, Massachusetts, threw out their court because of unjust convictions and executions; the seeds of insurgence are already planted in the minds of Salem townspeople who question the court. Nevertheless, Danforth refuses to have his reputation stained by the appearance of indecisiveness or the lack of commitment to eradicating the sinful practice of witchcraft. He says, "while I speak God's law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering."

What does Giles Corey reveal about his character when he chooses to be executed in Act 4 of The Crucible?

By refusing to agree or disagree with the court's witchcraft charge against him, Giles Corey shows he always thinks of his family first and stands on the principles of honesty and his moral code, even in the face of death. If he had been hanged, Thomas Putnam could have confiscated his land because a conviction for witchcraft means a man forfeits his property. With his refusal to confess, his family inherits the land. The judges have hoped the pain of being crushed to death with stones would force the octogenarian to confess, but their hopes were in vain. Corey knows he is innocent of both practicing witchcraft and of his charge for contempt of court. He has too much integrity to abandon his principles and destroy his family's future, and he dies an honorable man.

What does Reverend Hale mean when he pleads with Elizabeth Proctor to "cleave to no faith when faith brings blood" in Act 4 of The Crucible?

Reverend Hale's comment means no loving deity would ask a faithful follower to say or do anything causing harm or death to another person. He fervently believes life is more precious than any principle that ignores the commandment forbidding murder and leads to another person's death. Accordingly, he begs Elizabeth Proctor to convince her husband that pride is more sinful than lying if the lie leads to an unjust death. Hale fervently acknowledges it is more acceptable in God's eyes for Proctor to live with the false conviction of witchcraft hanging over his head than for him to die because of his pride.

In Act 4 of The Crucible, how does Danforth's criticism of Elizabeth's lack of tears prior to John's hanging bely his conviction that Proctor's death is just?

Deputy Governor Danforth has pronounced the executions valid but now considers the hangings a "calamity." He questions the justice of the executions that have already occurred and those to come. But he can't admit to having made a mistake. As a result he condemns Elizabeth for having a cold heart because she does not break down when facing her husband's death. Danforth needs Elizabeth to cry so her tears will wash away the doubt he feels for sentencing John to death on circumstantial evidence. In fact Elizabeth's lack of emotion doesn't mean she feels nothing for her husband, but the opposite. She knows he is a good man who, like the others who died, stands on the side of truth. Danforth can't allow himself to understand this because the truth will condemn him for the injustices his court has generated.

What is the meaning of Reverend Parris's offer of cider to John Proctor in Act 4 of The Crucible?

When Parris sees the unconditional love and abject sadness that passes between Elizabeth and John as Proctor is brought into the room in chains, his enmity for the man he helped convict dissipates. He recognizes the goodness of both the husband and wife, causing him to consider the possibility of goodness in the other condemned people who stand on their faith in God. In contrast he comprehends Abigail Williams's vengeful manipulations, which have caused the conviction of both Elizabeth and John for sins they never committed. Witnessing the Proctors' open hearts and thinking about how his niece, Abigail, robbed him before she fled, Parris feels sincere guilt for the part he has played in the witch trials. Although it is too late for him to make any difference in John's future, he does feel remorse. He offers the doomed man cider as a type of peace offering, for he has nothing to gain if Proctor accepts his gesture except perhaps forgiveness.

Why is John Proctor so conflicted between lying about practicing witchcraft or dying knowing the truth in Act 4 of The Crucible?

The foundation of John Proctor's life has been his Christian belief and his integrity. Proctor does not want to live if he confesses to something he did not do, because he would be lying to God, his family, the townspeople, and to himself. At the same time, if he chooses to hang, in the eyes of those who believe in his innocence he dies a martyr. To him this makes him a fraud and negates his honesty. He knows he is not a saint—a title he bestows on Rebecca Nurse for her piety—because he committed the sin of adultery. Still, in his final moments he chooses to stand on his religious beliefs rather than live under a pretense.

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