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.

Brief Summary

This act takes place in a cell in the Salem jail. Marshall Herrick transfers Sarah Good and Tituba to another cell. Danforth, Hathorne and Cheever enter, mentioning Hale and Parris, who are visiting the prisoners.

When Parris enters, Danforth questions him about Hale, who he believes should not be allowed near the prisoners. Danforth is informed that Hale is trying to convince them to confess and thus save their lives and that Abigail and Mercy have both vanished, along with all of Parris's money. Parris suggests postponing the executions, in order to prevent rebellion, but Danforth will not hear of it.

Hale enters and tells Danforth that he must pardon the remaining prisoners. Danforth refuses, on the basis that pardoning the remaining twelve would cast suspicion on the validity of the hangings that have already taken place.

They tell Danforth that Proctor will not change his mind about confessing. Danforth suggests that Elizabeth be brought to him, to talk him into confessing. Hale explains that he is completely distraught by his involvement with the proceedings and the way in which he allowed it to get out of hand.

Elizabeth enters, though asked to help save Proctor's life, is not convinced that the men want to protect Proctor. He is brought in, and they discuss the situation. Proctor expresses the thought of confessing, since he feels he has no innocence to protect. Elizabeth tells him that she thinks he has paid for his sins, and that she has forgiven him. She tells him that he needs to forgive himself, and adds that she was partially responsible for his infidelity.

After a final plea from Elizabeth, Proctor decides to 'confess' to avoid being hanged. Danforth questions him about his involvement with the devil and Proctor agrees to everything. Rebecca is brought in to hear his testimony and Proctor is dismayed that his false confession is being used to try and convince Rebecca to do the same. As Proctor refuses to say the names of anyone he saw with the devil, Danforth becomes suspicious of Proctor's sincerity.

Danforth agrees to let Proctor sign the confession as it is. When finished, Proctor grabs it from Danforth, and refuses to give it to him. Danforth insists that they need the paper to display publicly. Proctor then realizes that his reputation is at stake, and he is unwilling to surrender it to them.

Danforth makes an ultimatum, informing Proctor that if he does not relinquish the paper with the signed confession, he will hang within minutes. Proctor considers it, and then rips up the paper. Elizabeth weeps, but understands and Rebecca cheers his decision. Danforth departs, with a final expression of contempt for them. Proctor and Rebecca are escorted out, heading for the gallows.

Hale and Parris plead with Elizabeth, encouraging her to call to her husband and beg him to reconsider. Elizabeth remains, saying only that she cannot take the goodness from him that he finally achieved.

Detailed Summary

This act takes place in a cell in the Salem jail. Marshall Herrick enters in order to transfer Sarah Good and Tituba to another cell. They discuss with him their plans to fly away with the devil to Barbados. They are taken out, and Danforth, Hathorne and Cheever enter. They discuss Hale, who has returned to Salem, and is visiting the prisoners. Parris has also been with the prisoners, which none of the men can understand. When Parris enters, Danforth questions him about Hale, who he believes should not be allowed near the prisoners. Parris explains Hale's purpose, which is to convince them to confess and thus save their lives. Danforth is pleased by this news, and Parris continues with his news that Abigail and Mercy have both vanished, along with all of Parris's money. Parris explains that he is worried that the rebellion and riot that a nearby town experienced will spread to Salem. Hathorne and Danforth dismiss the idea, but Parris suggests postponing the executions. Danforth will not hear of it. Parris responds with an expression of the fear for his life that he presently feels, as Hale enters. Hale tells Danforth that he has had no success getting the prisoners to confess, and informs him that he must pardon them. Danforth refuses, on the basis that pardoning the remaining twelve would cast suspicion on the validity of the hangings that have already taken place.

Danforth asks about Proctor, and is informed that he is practically dead, but will not change his mind about confessing. Danforth suggests that Elizabeth be brought to him, who he has not seen for three months. While they are waiting for her to be brought to them, Hale explains that he is not speaking to the prisoners for the work of God, but to lie by confessing to witchcraft, so that they might save their lives. He is completely distraught by his involvement with the proceedings and the way in which he allowed it to get out of hand.

Elizabeth enters, and Hale entreats her to ask her husband to sign a confession so that he may live to see his baby born. Elizabeth is not convinced that Hale has her best intentions at heart, but is brought round to it. Proctor is brought in, and he and Elizabeth see each other for the first time in three months. Elizabeth tells him about Giles, who refused to say anything, either confession or denial, so that he died a Christian under the law and his sons received his farm. They lay huge stones upon his chest until he died.

Proctor expresses the thought of confessing and asks Elizabeth her opinion. She refuses to approve or disapprove the decision. Proctor explains his feelings, especially that he feels that mounting the gibbet with the likes of Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse would make him look blameless, something that he is not. Elizabeth tells him that she thinks he has paid for his sins, and that she has forgiven him. She tells him that he needs to forgive himself, and adds that she was partially responsible for his infidelity. She is convinced that her frigidity caused him to look to others.

Hathorne enters and asks Proctor about his decision. After a final plea from Elizabeth, Proctor decides to 'confess' to avoid being hanged. Hathorne is jubilant and brings the others in. Proctor is still uneasy, but has made his decision. Danforth questions him about his involvement with the devil and Proctor agrees to everything. Rebecca is brought in to hear his testimony. She is surprised to hear him confessing, and Proctor is dismayed that his false confession is being used to try and convince Rebecca to do the same. Danforth continues questioning him, encouraging Rebecca to confess. She continues to refuse, and Danforth then asks Proctor if he ever saw Rebecca with the devil. Proctor denies it. Proctor refuses to say the names of anyone he saw with the devil and Danforth becomes suspicious of Proctor's sincerity. Danforth presses him to accuse Rebecca, but Proctor continues to refuse. Hale and Parris urge Danforth to let him sign the confession as is, without Rebecca's name. Danforth agrees and asks Proctor to sign the written confession. He hesitates, unconvinced that it is necessary, but he signs it. When finished, he grabs it from Danforth, and refuses to give it to him. He feels that since they witnessed the confession, and witnessed him signing it, that they need no more of him. Danforth insists that they need the paper to display publicly. Proctor then realizes that they want to use him as a public example, which he will not allow. By making his confession public, they would take his good name from him.

Danforth makes an ultimatum, informing Proctor that if he does not relinquish the paper with the signed confession, he will hang within minutes. Proctor considers it, and then rips up the paper. Parris and Hale suffer utter despair, but Proctor is firm. Elizabeth weeps, and Proctor expresses the need for stoicism. Rebecca cheers his decision, and Danforth departs, with a final expression of contempt for them. Proctor and Rebecca are escorted out, heading for the gallows.

Hale and Parris plead with Elizabeth, encouraging her to call to her husband and beg him to reconsider. Elizabeth remains, saying only that she cannot take the goodness from him that he finally achieved.

After the end of the text of the play, Miller offers a final note about what happens after the hangings. Parris disappears after being voted out of office; Abigail apparently becomes a prostitute in Boston; Elizabeth marries again. Years after the last execution, the government awards compensation to the victims' families, and the excommunications are rescinded.

Act IV Analysis

In the final act, the themes involving individual responsibility, and individual awareness are emphasized. As Proctor struggles with his last chance to save his life, he confronts the main issue that has followed him throughout the play. He must decide how important his reputation is to him, and to what extent he will allow his individual morality to be shaped by his community.

Once he has made his public confession of lechery in an attempt to allow the truth about Abigail be known, he realizes that his public reputation is not important. The way that the community looks at him is worthless because it cannot judge his inner soul. He feels that if he were to hang with Rebecca, he would be implying that his public reputation is on par with hers, which is a lie he cannot put forth. Yet, when he is faced with allowing the community to dictate his idea of his personal integrity, he cannot consider relinquishing the control of his inner worth to them. He will give them what they want, but will not let them take the only thing over which he has control-own moral identity.

Elizabeth, who at first understands that Proctor's sense of a moral correctness is purely personal, and not affected by the edicts of the community, encourages him to save his life. She understands that he does not need her forgiveness, or the community's forgiveness, but his own. She encourages to stop thinking of his relationship to Rebecca and the others, or of his relationship to the community, and consider only the state of his own soul. Once he rips up his confession and takes his life into his own hands, she knows that he can only gain the redemption he needs by sacrificing his own life.

Hale is unable to understand this, and still argues with him to save his life. For him, living is the only thing that matters, and the goodness that is evident in his death is lost on him. As a result of his loss of faith in the church and in religion in general, he has lost all sense of morality. Though he thinks he is working against Danforth and Parris, by helping them for the wrong reasons, he misses the reality of the situation as Rebecca, Elizabeth and Proctor see it. Just as the community that abandoned them is not important, neither is the life that they lead that is dust compared to the integrity that they protect.

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