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The Crucible | Symbols

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Poppet

The poppet symbolizes the power of subversion. Mary Warren innocently sews a cloth doll, or a poppet, to pass the time in court and gives it to her employer, Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail Williams observes Mary stick a needle in the doll's stomach for safekeeping. Because of the mob mentality that has overtaken Salem, Abigail is easily able to subvert the meaning of the poppet from an innocent plaything to evidence of witchcraft. By changing the meaning of the poppet, Abigail condemns her rival for John Proctor's affections, ensuring Elizabeth will hang.

Crucible

A crucible is a piece of laboratory equipment used to melt metal because it can withstand high temperatures. In this play the crucible symbolizes the heat of hysteria that takes over Salem during the witch trials. Salem and the court become a crucible for characters such as John and Elizabeth Proctor, Giles Corey, Francis Nurse, and Reverend Hale, who are tested by the situation. In fact a secondary definition of the word crucible is "a test or trial." In many cases these characters triumph spiritually because the heat of the test forces them to face internal demons. Those who do not melt under the extraordinary pressure of the witch hunt are transformed—much as metal is transformed into liquid in a crucible. Allegorically, the United States also became a crucible for citizens during the Red Scare.

Witch Hunts

The hunt for witches in Salem symbolizes the citizens' Puritan world view that the salvation of the soul was locked in a very real fight between God and the Devil. A fear that the Devil might be winning the souls of Salem's citizens drives the mob mentality in Arthur Miller's play. For example, Tituba renounces the Devil to be a good Christian who doesn't hurt people. Mary Warren accuses John Proctor of making her sign the Devil's book when she tries to go against Abigail and the other girls. The problem with these accusations of devilry is that real good and evil have been subverted in Salem. Those who renounce or blame the Devil are actually those who are perpetuating evil in the play, while those who speak the truth are accused of consorting with the Devil. In the end, although it appears that the Devil triumphs in Salem, characters such as John Proctor find redemption through martyrdom—the acceptance of death rather than the compromise of one's beliefs. Allegorically, the Devil in McCarthy's drama becomes communism.

Judge's Gavel

The gavel, like the poppet, is an inverted symbol. While it should symbolize justice and fairness, it symbolizes injustice and death. Every time Deputy Governor Danforth pounds his gavel on the table during the sentencing phase of a trial, he condemns a person to die. Danforth's misunderstanding of the events and his role in them contributes to the tragedy of the trials. Danforth believes he is a fair-minded individual, and he resents the fear many citizens feel toward the court. Yet, these beliefs condemn Danforth to the status of accomplice. He is unable to examine evidence critically, and he fails to use his position to end the hysteria. As a member of the government, Danforth is charged with defining the rules of the society. Yet, he uses his gavel to perpetuate hysteria rather than to instill law and order in Salem.

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