The Crucible

by: Arthur Miller

Foreshadowing

Main ideas Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing in The Crucible is in some ways unnecessary, because many if not most readers are already familiar with the historical event that inspired the story. The Salem witch trials are a founding narrative for the United States, and the term “witch hunt” is still regularly used to refer to someone wrongfully persecuted. Therefore, the narrator expects that the reader will come to the play with a basic understanding of the Salem witch trials, and without suspense as to the fates of the main characters. Nonetheless, many small clues embedded in The Crucible hint at how their fates will unfold over the course of the play.

Mary’s confession

Mercy predicts Mary’s confession early on by saying that Mary “means to tell, I know it.” Mary immediately concedes that “we must tell the truth,” so Mercy teases Mary for her cowardice until she agrees to keep their secret, showing how easily influenced Mary is by the other girls. Abigail and Betty confess to dancing in the woods before Mary can incriminate them, but Proctor pressures her into telling the court that the girls fabricated their accusations. When Mary tries to confess to Danforth, the girls respond by tormenting her, accusing her of witchcraft, and screaming until “Mary, as though infected, opens her mouth and screams with them.” Even though Mary ultimately retracts her accusation, Mercy accurately predicts Mary’s betrayal.

Tituba as scapegoat

When Tituba first appears onstage, “she is also very frightened because her slave sense has warned her that, as always, trouble in this house eventually lands on her back.” Shortly thereafter, Parris confronts Abigail with Tituba’s singing and dancing in the woods, but Abigail dismisses it as Tituba’s “Barbados songs.” Abigail slowly confesses to participating in increasingly drastic rituals with Tituba only to feign ignorance by explaining, “I know not—she spoke Barbados.” Abigail’s claims quickly escalate until she accuses Tituba of force-feeding her blood and tricking her by “singing her Barbados songs.” Only when Tituba confesses does Abigail, seeing that confession means absolution, admit that she “danced for the Devil.”

John Proctor’s fate

The first time we see John Proctor, he is introduced as unwilling to put up with foolishness or hypocrisy. “In Proctor’s presence, a fool felt his foolishness instantly – and a Proctor is always marked for calumny therefore.” “Calumny” means a false statement intended to damage a person’s reputation” – a literal definition of what happens to Proctor when he is accused of witchcraft. This introduction presents him as a character whose own moral authority, as well as deep sense of guilt, destine him to a tragic end. While all the characters who are accused of witchcraft in the play can be described as the victims of calumny, in introducing Proctor this way, Miller foreshadows that Proctor’s essential nature makes him doomed.