The Crucible

by: Arthur Miller

Themes

Main ideas Themes

Social Status

The world of Salem in the 1600’s contained many class divisions. Men were considered much more important than women. White people were considered of more valuable than people of color. And wealthy people had more status than the poor. The Crucible reflects these divisions, and the way the privilege certain characters over others. The first character to confess to witchcraft is Tituba, the only person of the color in the play. She knows that her status is too low to withstand the accusations of being a witch and the only way she’ll survive is to confess. The girls are quick to accuse the poorest and weakest members of their society (like Goody Good and Goody Osburn), correctly sensing that no one will bother to protect those women. When Elizabeth learns that Abigail has accused her, she immediately tells John that Abigail is taking a big risk in accusing her, since Elizabeth is a farmer’s wife and has some status in the town. Her quick realization shows that Abigail is risking it all to go after John.

Ownership and Property

In The Crucible, concerns over property and ownership affect many of the decisions characters make. John Proctor reveals to Reverend Hale that he doesn’t go to church because he doesn’t like Reverend Parris’s obsession with money. Tituba falsely confesses to witchcraft because she knows, as a slave, she is the legal property of Parris, who can beat her if she doesn’t confess. Mr. Putnam, who has a long history of false accusations, encourages his daughter to falsely accuse their neighbors of witchcraft so he can claim their property after the neighbors are jailed or executed. Giles Corey dies rather than falsely confess so that his children can inherit his land. In the new world of America, owning property was one of the few ways people could feel secure. The relentless ambition to own more and more land created an environment that encouraged falsehoods and deception among neighbors. The extreme lengths characters go to to protect what they own leads to the witch trials.

Justice

Many characters struggle with choices they made before and during the events of the play, trying to understand if the results of their actions are just or not. Elizabeth Proctor has a difficult time forgiving John for his affair with Abby, but by the end of the play, Elizabeth has come to feel that she is at least partly to blame for her husband’s adultery. Elizabeth accepts her imprisonment and John’s decision to die as justice being served. Reverend Hale also changes his understanding of justice: at the beginning of the play, he believes himself adept at finding and combating witchcraft. By the end, he is encouraging residents of Salem to falsely confess to save themselves. While he would have once found false confessions a perversion of justice, he now sees false confession as a necessary act of self-preservation. Elizabeth doesn’t agree with Hale, and their differing definitions of what justice is end the play on an ambiguous note.

Consequences

John’s affair with Abby has ended by the time the events of the play begin, but the consequences of that affair have just begun. Because Abby doesn’t believe that John no longer is interested in her, she seizes upon accusations of witchcraft as a way to get rid of Elizabeth. Because John allowed Abby to believe that he loved her, she thinks she can take Elizabeth’s place as his wife. She’s wrong, but doesn’t realize her error until both John and Elizabeth have been accused of witchcraft. Another example of the unexpected consequences of one’s actions can be seen in Tituba’s false confession. She says she performed witchcraft in hopes of ending her master’s beating, but soon the girls of Salem realize that they can punish many of their neighbors by accusing them. The girls fail to anticipate the consequences of their lies. Giles Corey also brings about unintended consequences when he tells Reverend Hale that his wife sometimes hides books she was reading from him. The result of this revelation is that Corey’s wife is imprisoned and Giles himself is accused of, and killed, for witchcraft.