The Crucible Study Guide

The Crucible

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

In The Crucible, a play set during the mass hysteria of the Salem witch trials, several young women accuse the slave Tituba of witchcraft. Following this, other people in the town are also accused, and soon there is a series of trials that uncover the jealousy, passion, and resentment simmering under the surface of the town. Written in the 1950s during the height of McCarthyism, the play warns of the dangers of paranoia and distrust spiraling out of control and ruining the lives of innocent people.

Reverend Parris

Salem's minister, Betty Parris's father, and Abigail's uncle. In his mid-forties, he is a widower, with no interest in being a father. There is little, if any, good in him. He has a persecution complex, believing that there are people within his congregation who are actively working to unseat him from his position. He has a distinct awareness of what he feels he deserves from his parishioners, and works to get it from them. He is self-important, and becomes extremely involved in the trials, as an overzealous accuser.

Betty Parris

Rev. Parris's daughter, ten years old. She is the first to seem to be affected by witchcraft. It is her seeming illness that is then turned into the physical effects of a spirit being sent out. She is first motionless, and then begins to shriek, and follows Abigail's lead when she begins to accuse women of being witches.

Tituba

Rev. Parris's servant. She first joined Parris in Barbados, where she is from. She has great affection for Betty, and the other girls, and she is the only adult in the woods with the girls when Parris sees them. She is thought to have the power of conjuring spirits, and it is to her that Ruth Putnam is sent by her mother to find out about her dead siblings. She has no say, or control of the situation, and receives the first accusation from Abigail. She confesses immediately in order to avoid hanging.

Abigail Williams

Rev. Parris's niece, and formerly the Proctor's servant. She is seventeen, and headstrong. She was once the Proctors' servant, until Elizabeth discovered that she and John had slept together. Abigail continues to love Proctor, and believes that he loves her, despite his denials. She refuses to understand his defense of Elizabeth. When she knows what she wants she is unscrupulous and unswerving. She has control over all of the other girls, and eventually gains control over the court's judges as well. She leads the cries against the witches, and it is because of her that Elizabeth is arrested for being a witch.

Mrs. Ann Putnam

Thomas Putnam's wife, and her daughter Ruth, is initially affected by the same problems as Betty. She has had seven children die immediately after birth and seems to be continually suffering the effects of it. She believes in the power of spirits and automatically assumes that her daughter and Betty are both possessed by someone's spirit.

Thomas Putnam

The wealthiest landowner in Salem, and Ann Putnam's husband. Many dislike him, as he selfishly asserts his own interests and lays claims to things that are not his. He does not forgive or dismiss slights against himself quickly, and harbors resentment for a long time. He especially dislikes Rev. Parris, who received the position that his brother-in-law attempted to gain. He also strongly dislikes Proctor, who he sees as antagonistic, and someone who might be a threat to his business practices. Many believe, Giles Corey especially, that Putnam is partially responsible for the trials. They assert that he urges his daughter to accuse those whose land he wishes to acquire.

Mary Warren

The Proctors' servant, aged seventeen. She is quiet and nave, unsure of herself, and cowed by dominant personalities. She visits the woods with Abigail but claims not to participate in the activities. Her claims of innocence and her slight air of separation from the group annoy the girls. She joins the group, and becomes an official of the court. When someone she knows is accused because of a present she gave her, Mary is suddenly aware of the severity of her actions. She is eventually convinced by Proctor to confess her deceit, but since her character is not strong, when attacked by the girls, she rejoins them.

John Proctor

Main protagonist of the story. Elizabeth Proctor's husband, he is in his mid-thirties. Strong-willed, and even-tempered, he cannot stand foolishness. He is particularly sensitive to hypocrisy; especially what he feels is his own. He is still troubled by the mistake he made in his past--sleeping with Abigail while she was in the Proctors' service. He has sinned against the dictates of his community, but more importantly, against his own personal morals. He has tried to make things up to Elizabeth, but feels her judgment still, which partially springs from his own inability to lessen his own guilt.

Rebecca Nurse

Francis Nurse's wife, aged 72. She is calm and gentle, the epitome of Christian goodwill. She has many children and grandchildren, and understands the whims of the girls-it is she who offers the best advice as to how to deal with Betty. She speaks sense, even when it goes unheeded. Naturally a peacemaker, she has gained a position as one of the most respected people in Salem. She is upright and blameless, with strong faith that is unshaken by her unjust accusation and sentence of punishment.

Giles Corey

A landowner, aged 83. He is married to Martha, who is his third wife. He is inquisitive, though sometimes understands only the surface meaning of things. He is powerful, and a presence; he is aware of what is due him. He is supportive of others, but holds a hatred of Putnam, who he believes is a greedy cheat. He is quick to feel the injustice of a situation and is not afraid to argue his position.

Reverend John Hale

A minister from Beverly, near 40 years old, Hale is an expert in the demonic arts, called to Salem by Rev. Parris. He is an ardent intellectual, eager to put what he feels is his superior knowledge to work. He sees himself as logical and precise, and at the beginning, encourages everyone to be the same, and trust his judgment. Over the course of the play, his faith in the justness of the courts is lost, as he is eventually able to see the hysteria from a distance and consequently his role in causing it.

Elizabeth Proctor

John Proctor's wife. She is gentle and steady, a good Christian woman. She is not judgmental, but her blamelessness is judgment itself. She quietly asserts the need for openness between Proctor and her, though this acts as a kind of criticism. At the beginning, she feels the relationship is not over between Abigail and Proctor. She has lost her faith in her husband, but it is this that she regains over the course of the play. She eventually comes to the conclusion that her frigidity was partially responsible for the affair between her husband and Abigail. In the final act, she supports Proctor as he struggles with his guilt and the need for sacrifice.

Francis Nurse

A wealthy landowner, and well-respected husband of Rebecca Nurse. He is calm and thoughtful, and looked to for guidance or arbitration. But, having gradually raised his social status, some possibly resented him, and others, especially Thomas Putnam, fought a land war with him. It is possibly for his land that his wife was accused of being a witch.

Ezekiel Cheever

A tailor who becomes an official of the court. He is responsible for carrying out the court's orders. He eagerly, and conscientiously completes his duties. He often offers information that is detrimental to Proctor's case, as it is a way to have control over and feel superior to someone he fears.

Marshal Herrick

An official of the court. He assists Cheever in carrying out the orders of the court, though he is less eager to do so. He is more aware of what is due to people like Elizabeth and Rebecca, but is unwilling to stand up for them.

Judge Hathorne

Along with Danforth, is the highest official of the court. In his sixties, he is a merciless and bitter judge from Salem, who is responsible for much of the court's actions. He demands absolute obedience and decorum in the court, and is quick to accuse.

Deputy Governor Danforth

Along with Hathorne, is the highest official of the court. Though he acts in connection with Hathorne, his power is greater, and he takes control of questioning in the most important situations. He is serious, though possesses more sophistication than the others. Above all, he is loyal to the court, and determined to keep its reputation untarnished. He is not interested in truth as much as in maintaining order. Though he is willing to listen to Proctor's defense, he is unable to separate himself enough from the power offered by the court to question the integrity of it.

Sarah Good

The town's beggar woman. She is one of the first that Abigail accuses of being a witch, and one of the first tried. She confesses and so avoids hanging. She is also found to be pregnant, though a woman in her sixties. She is with Tituba in the end, waiting to fly to Barbados.

Susanna Walcott

A servant girl, slightly younger than Abigail. She brings a message to Parris from the town's doctor, about Betty's illness.

Mercy Lewis

The Putnams' servant, aged eighteen. She is fat and sly, following Abigail's lead with aplomb. She is seen by Parris running naked through the woods, and she helps Abigail and the others accuse witches.

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