The Crucible

by: Arthur Miller

Style

Main ideas Style

The Crucible’s style mixes historically accurate phrases with more contemporary-sounding speech, grounding the play in its time period while reminding audiences the ideas remain relevant today. Characters’ speech patterns in the play reflect the language Miller found in legal documents and court transcripts in the Salem courthouse. Miller even embedded direct quotations into his dialogue, such as when Giles pleads for “more weight.” One word may be particularly foreign to readers: “Goodwife,” sometimes shortened to “Goody.” This word was typical nomenclature for “wife” in the seventeenth century, and the girls repeat it when accusing various townswomen of witchcraft. At the same time, characters often speak in plain, contemporary-sounding English, modernizing archaic words like ‘saith’ to ‘said.’ Most other words are familiar though less common in everyday speech, especially biblical words like “abomination,” “damnation,” and “heathen.” Parris uses “heathen” to characterize the girls when their dancing is deemed sinful, and Abigail repeats it as a pejorative term for Native Americans and similar to “savage.” This usage reflects how settlers viewed Native Americans and the frontier, which the narrator describes as mysterious and terrifying.

The diction varies between characters based on their education and profession, so while Parris, Hale, and Danforth speak formally even outside of the courtroom, the Salemites’ language is less polished and sometimes contains grammatical errors. Characters’ grammar and pronunciation also depend on social status, much like how accents today affect speech. The Salemites regularly omit the “g” at the end of words with “ing” endings. Some characters, especially those with less education, forgo subject-verb agreement, confuse tenses, and use double negatives. Tituba’s speech is especially unique as the play’s only non-native English speaker, although her speech is probably not historically accurate to the real-life Tituba. According to records from the Salem witch trials, Tituba was referred to as Indian, possibly meaning she was Native American. Another woman, named Candy, was from Barbados, as Tituba is in the play. Tituba makes specific errors when referring to the other members of the Parris household, like omitting “to be” verbs and confusing subject and object pronouns. She bypasses the word “is” when claiming that the Devil told her, “Mr. Parris no goodly man, Mr. Parris mean man and no gentle man!” When Mrs. Putnam accuses Tituba of feeding her baby’s blood to Abigail, Tituba clarifies that “I give she chicken blood!” instead.

Throughout the play, the action is interrupted for extended passages of narration by a narrator who serves as a bridge between the contemporary reader and the historical characters we are reading about. As the narrator refers to past productions of the play, we can assume Miller added portions of the narration after the play’s premiere. For example, the narrator says certain lines always get a laugh, suggesting “we are not quite certain even now whether diabolism is holy…it is no accident that we should be so bemused.” The narrator’s style is more familiar than the characters’, and is characterized by witty and sometimes biting asides, implying a judgmental attitude toward the characters and actions being narrated. The narrator explains that Parris “believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side.” By saying Parris only “believed” he was persecuted, the narrator implies that Parris’s troubles stem from his poor personality and inflated sense of ego. This narrative style, skeptical, opinionated, and judgmental, informs our reading of the play as a cautionary tale about the worst, weakest aspects of human nature.