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The Crucible | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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How does the last dialogue between Elizabeth and John in Act 4 of The Crucible illustrate the tragedy of their failure to communicate openly?

If John and Elizabeth had faced the issues in their marriage that caused the original rift between them, they would have been witnesses to the witch trials and not a part of them. Instead, John used his unhappiness as an excuse to commit adultery, while Elizabeth held on to her hurt and pride instead of believing in him after he confessed. Together the couple could have faced Abigail's manipulations and vengeful nature. If they had agreed on the need for John to confess his adultery publicly, they could have destroyed Abigail's power over the judges. Neither of the Proctors would have been charged, and John would have lived.

What is illogical about Deputy Governor Danforth demanding John Proctor show the purity of his soul by naming others and judging their actions in Act 4 of The Crucible?

In Act 3 Deputy Governor Danforth has chosen to believe the accusations of the girls, rather than John Proctor's testimony about them. In Act 4 Danforth says he will consider John an honest man only if he says he saw the convicted people doing the Devil's work. He thus contradicts himself twice; he has already gone on record showing that he doesn't believe Proctor's testimony, and he knows John would be lying, since John has already avowed he has never seen any of the convicted people doing anything out of the ordinary. Danforth knows Proctor's standing in the community will carry weight, so he needs the convicted man's "confession" to add clout to all of the sentences he has already handed out and to justify the deaths of the people he has hanged. However, John refuses to be used to further Danforth's reputation.

Why does Miller emphasize the importance of people's names throughout The Crucible?

Miller underscores the power of a person's name to evoke his or her reputation and the value of a "good name." This emphasis is another allegorical link between McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials. As a result of the Red Scare in the early 1950s, hundreds of people's reputations were ruined, resulting in the loss of their jobs and any means of solid employment in the future. Some people were so shamed by the allegations they took their lives. Mere suspicion of association with subversive groups, people, or ideologies and circumstantial evidence were enough to ruin a person's reputation. The concept of one's good name is so important in The Crucible that the character John Proctor chooses to save his name and lose his life. In Act 4 Proctor cries, "Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!"

What does Elizabeth Proctor mean when she says of John, "he have his goodness now," in Act 4 of The Crucible?

Elizabeth tells John she has always known his goodness, but he has never been able to accept this quality in himself because he is so ashamed of his sin of adultery. By choosing to hang he shows he has forgiven himself. He can walk to the gallows with the knowledge that he dies an honest man in his and his wife's eyes, but most importantly, in God's eyes. Although John realizes his reputation will be stained in the minds of townspeople who choose to interpret his death as proof of his conviction for practicing witchcraft, he can finally accept his beloved wife's forgiveness and her belief in his integrity. He knows his soul is pure, and nothing else matters to him.

How does Miller contrast the grouped characters Rebecca Nurse, John Proctor, and Reverend Hale with the group composed of Reverend Parris, Judge Hathorne, and Deputy Governor Danforth throughout The Crucible?

Rebecca Nurse, John Proctor, and Reverend Hale stay true to their principles, show compassion for others, feel remorse for their shortcomings, and are strong enough to reveal their humanity. Rebecca does this when she calls the confessions lies and asks, "How may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot." Hale denounces the court when he realizes how it perverts the religious tenets he has always accepted and when he admits he was cowardly not to support the innocent people accused of witchcraft. He accepts his sins and the "blood on his head" for his complicity with the court's injustice. In contrast Reverend Parris, Judge Hathorne, and Deputy Governor Danforth all consider their ambitions to be more important than the truth. Parris and Hathorne are petty, merciless men who will not agree with anyone else's interpretations because they fear being revealed as fools for believing baseless accusations. Danforth initially shows his intelligence and desire to act in accordance with governmental laws and God's teachings, but he contradicts his beliefs in Act 4. The character sees cracks in the court's evidence for conviction, but he cannot admit to this for fear of looking weak.

What is the thematic focus of each act of The Crucible?

The thematic focus of Act 1 of The Crucible introduces the concept of theocratic injustice, with its narrow approach to biblical interpretations, and reveals the pull of mob mentality when Abigail and Betty indict townspeople as the Devil's disciples. Act 2 further develops the injustice of theocracy, as does Act 3, but the latter also exposes the great magnetism of mob hysteria. Although Miller alludes to the reputation theme in all of the acts and develops its importance in each segment, it is at the heart of Act 4. In this act the audience witnesses the actions and dialogue of the ruthless Judge Hathorne, who doesn't care about his reputation; of Danforth, who does care and so cannot show any sign of weakness; of Reverend Hale, who sacrifices his reputation for honor; and of John Proctor, who dies to maintain his good reputation. Through these characters the audience understands that reputation means little unless a person can honestly accept the consequences of his or her actions.

What are some commonalities between the "witch hunts" of the Red Scare and those of the Salem witch trials as presented in The Crucible?

Commonalities between the "witch hunts," or persecution of left-leaning individuals, during the Red Scare and the Salem witch trials as presented in the play include: A mob mentality. Senator McCarthy's power to blacklist individuals caused people such as director Elia Kazan, once a friend of Arthur Miller's, to turn on others, just as the characters in the play do. A belief in stereotypes. During the Red Scare those who had leftist leanings were lumped with members of the Communist Party. In The Crucible innocent people were painted as witches because they diverged from the norm in activities as simple as reading. The fear of unknown or misunderstood concepts and customs. McCarthy played on the fear of communist infiltration in the government and the entertainment industry, just as the judges in The Crucible play on people's fear of demonic possession and Tituba's innocent singing becomes a gateway to evil. The desire of the persecutors for power. Just as McCarthy thrived on the power and attention he derived from his "witch hunts," many characters in the play accuse others of practicing witchcraft for their own ends.

Why is a crucible an appropriate symbol for the conflicts, characters, and plot of The Crucible; the actual 1692 witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts; and the 1950s McCarthy hearings?

A crucible is a vessel used to melt metal. It must be able to withstand extreme heat in order to change the properties of various metals. Miller uses this object to symbolize the inferno caused by the witch hunts of McCarthyism and HUAC, choosing these manifestations of the Red Scare as the basis for his allegory of the 1692 witch trials in Salem. The people of Salem, like those called before HUAC, had to be resilient enough not to melt under the heat of endless and baseless interrogations, not to give in to the pressure of constant harassment, and not to break under suspicions in which innocence was not given a chance.

Why is a theocracy a logical setting for Arthur Miller's The Crucible?

The Puritans who settled Massachusetts Bay Colony chose a theocracy as their system of government. This ideology bases social laws on religious principles interpreted by a select few. Their way of life illustrates how many people may choose a familiar ideology, even an oppressive one, over one they do not understand because they fear the unfamiliar. For Miller a theocracy suited his purpose for an allegory showing people uncomfortable with individual thinking and unwilling to tolerate any opinions offering them a different way to interpret events. To give his play a solid and believable foundation, the playwright needed characters who developed opinions based on the information given to them by authorities and whose religious philosophy was subverted by those in power to serve their own needs. He found the background he needed in the 1692 Salem witch trials, which he connected to the political atmosphere of his own times.

What evidence reveals Arthur Miller's purpose in writing The Crucible?

The Crucible was written largely to reflect the political climate of the 1950s. The marked similarities between the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century and the Red Scare of the mid-20th century showed a perversion of justice that had shifted only slightly from religious affiliations to political ones. Miller's blatant use of terminology familiar with McCarthy and HUAC, such as the concept of "naming names," shows his intention of criticizing and condemning those who had ignited and fueled the Red Scare. He was not afraid in his play of showing the consequences of accusations made on baseless allegations in both the past and his own times. Reviewers and audiences understood Miller's purpose and the power of the play. By connecting the events of the Red Scare to the Salem witch trials, Miller was showing the world that despite more than two and a half centuries of progress, very little of substance had changed in America.

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