The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University explains the themes in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

The Crucible | Themes


Mob Mentality

The term witch hunt, a negative campaign against a person who holds unpopular views, is fueled by mob hysteria. Because of its chaotic energy, the mob begins to think as a single unit, cancelling out the thoughts or reason of any individual. Miller illustrates how such mob thinking originates as Tituba's frenzied confession fed by the ministers' power of suggestion grabs Betty Parris's attention, and she joins Titub in naming names. This action offers the opportunity to deflect attention from the girls' sinful conjuring and dancing. The conniving Abigail Williams notes the authority these women are given within the community because their accusations "prove" their desire to be cleansed of their sins, so she adds her denunciations to the turmoil. By Act 2, 39 townspeople accused of witchcraft are crammed into the jail, with more to come.

One of the most harmful and compelling examples of mob hysteria occurs in Act 3 when Mary delivers evidence of the girls' fraud. The girls enter the room followed by Abigail, who immediately reads the situation. As a fearful Mary continues her testimony, Abigail feigns innocence, wondering why she is being mistrusted when she has done so much for the court. To solidify her case, she begins another imaginary performance, claiming she is freezing and staring at Mary in an accusatory fashion. The other girls join in, and Mary starts to fold. When Reverend Hale sides with John Proctor's confession of adultery, Abigail claims to have a vision of a bird. The girls complete their attack on Mary's credibility, bringing her to tears by mimicking her every word. The group hysteria is successful. Not only is Mary's truthfulness shredded, but Proctor's is weakened, only to be ruined a few minutes later by his wife's innocent attempt to support him. The individual attempts of Mary and John Proctor to bring truth to the situation are no match for the unleashed power of the mob.


In The Crucible the problem of social justice is compounded because only a few authorities are charged with the power to execute it. Their word is law and cannot be challenged. Anyone who holds a different perspective than the government or church officials is suspected of heretical thinking and possibly siding with the Devil.

In Act 3 Deputy Governor Danforth insists Giles Corey must name the person who gave him evidence against Thomas Putnam, claiming, "the government and central church" demand it. Reverend Parris accuses anyone who tries to provide evidence of the girls' fraud of attempting to "overthrow the court." Much of the evidence used to damage John Proctor's integrity and to undermine his religious piety focuses on the fact that he hasn't attended church frequently in the last few months and, instead, plows on Sunday, a day of rest all Christians must observe. Because John Proctor publicly relates his dislike of Reverend Parris, the leader of the Salem church, John Proctor's word deviates from the established ideology. Because he has opposed accepted views of the Bible and Bible-based laws, the judges find it easy to convict him of witchcraft and to absolve themselves from any wrongdoing. However, Reverend Hale's questions about the fairness of the judges' belief in the girls and their refusal to suspect their actions exposes the judges' rigid thinking and unjust behavior.


In The Crucible Arthur Miller uses the witch hunt to illustrate both how preserving one's reputation provides a motivation to act and how quickly unfounded suspicions, rumors, and innuendo can ruin a person's private or public image. In the play the Salem witch trials might not have occurred if Reverend Parris hadn't been so concerned about how the townspeople would judge him over his daughter's sinful dancing in the woods. Abigail's original objective is to take revenge against Elizabeth Proctor, but this objective changes to the preservation of her reputation as a "good girl" after John Proctor confesses to an adulterous affair with her. Deputy Governor Danforth worries more about looking weak in the eyes of the villagers than killing innocent people. In all cases these characters are motivated to sin for the purpose of protecting their public images.

Throughout the play John Proctor also focuses on the importance of reputation. Yet, John Proctor's focus is on the preservation of his private image of himself. He thinks his confession to adultery, which will destroy his public image, will prove his honesty, a trait of personal value to him, because "A man will not [easily] cast away his good name. You surely know that." In Act 4 he goes so far as to tear up his signed confession and condemn himself to death: "How may I live without my name?" In the end John Proctor is motivated to honor his private image of himself rather than to protect his life through a false confession.

Questions for Themes

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What position does Thoreau take in the conflict between majority rule and individual conscience? Explain.
In The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s essay "The Ways of Meeting Oppression," please identify one example of ethos, pathos, and logos. 1. Explain how you have categorized each example. Explain
I need a strong thesis and essay for the following topic. What particular action(s) should Christians take regarding the environment and its preservation or restoration?
How did each genre portray the relationships between the characters in the book and movie To Kill A Mockingbird?
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