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The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Discussion Questions/Answers & Teaching Notes


Notes
the breaking of charity is no less a truth of their own lives than it is an account of historical process
JPs death to save himself, the conception of himself
Shared values = foundation of society => rights are fluid & up to supreme court to decide how they apply
to the people & at which times
Not just McCarthyism that took away rights: Suffrage movement, Holocaust & Patriot Act
National/Religious/Racial identity is reinforced by eliminating those who might contaminate it
Cultural Revolution of 1960s young vs. old (how the play was presented to Communist China)
Church provides the language within which all social, political, and moral debate is conducted
Some gain power not (often) given to them naturally young (girls), slaves (Tituba), females and
therefore become catalysts for the plot of the story based on their greed? Personal motives?
When Abigail sees a hawk => not devil but a reflection of her own guilt & desire this shows the
power of emotions
Arthur Miller put himself into this personally as his characters examine their own consciences.
Politically, too, when he stood before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was stung into
insisting on his patriotism while defending his right to challenge the direction of American policy &
thought
Play held 197 performances (compared to 742 for Death of a Salesman) on Broadway
w/actors that took a paycut
A View from the Bridge held 149 performances
Then, no new plays from Arthur Miller
Meanwhile, The Misfits (he wrote it but did not produce nor direct it) received a fine for contempt of
Congress + a corresponding prison sentence (was squashed on appeal) =>shows how Miller was
ostracized
Majority rises from formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion Alexis de Tocqueville, friend of
Miller
Act 1 Discussion Questions/Answers
1. What were some of the entertainments forbidden by the Puritans in 1692 Salem?
Dancing in the forest, nakedness, naked dancing, casting spells, disobedient children (Rev. Parris)
2. List some of the reasons why the Puritans failed to convert the Indians.
Pg 5 (tan) preferred to take land from the heathen than from fellow Christians
Virgin forest was Devils last preserve citadel of his final stand => fear & not good place for paying
homage to God
3. How had the Puritans failed to learn from the persecution of their ancestors?
They thought they were special hold a candle that would light the world do or die mentality
4. Why did the witch-hunts occur?
Perverse magnification of panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward
greater individual freedom => lack of balance between order and freedom
Witch hunt -> not repressive completely but rather an opportunity for people to express guilt & sins
publicly but under the cover of accusations against the victims
5. Why does a conflict exist between Reverend Sam Parris and his niece Abigail?
She has a tendency to dissent and hes concerned about his own reputation in the village as a new
minister who came to term in questionable ways. He wants to gain the respect of the townspeople, and
Abigail has a questionable reputation.
Abigail, I have fought here three long years to bend these stiff-necked people to me, and now, just now
when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character. I have given
you a home, child, I have put clothes on your back now give me upright answer. Your name in the
town it is entirely white, is it not?
6. Why does Parris exhibit uneasiness in the beginning of Act 1?
Hes concerned about his daughter, Betty, whos lying inert, and he knows he saw the girls dancing in
the forest the night before. Hes concerned about how this will look for him, but he knows he needs to
get his daughter help.
7. What actions did Abigail, Betty, and the other girls perform prior to the plays beginning?
They met in the forest (Devils territory) with the intent on casting love spells with the foreign slave
Tituba. They danced, Mercy Lewis may have shed her clothes, and they performed magic.
8. For what reason did Parris send for Reverend Hale?
He wants Rev. Hale of Beverly to prove that the Devil is not in his town: A wide opinions running in the
parish that the Devil may be among us, and I would satisfy them that they are wrong.
9. Who was James Bayley, and what position had he desired?
Bayley was Ann Putnams brother-in-law who had been turned down as minister of Salem despite
having the qualifications and a 2/3 vote into the bargain. Thomas Putnams man for the Salem
ministry the Nurse clan had been in the faction that prevented Bayleys taking office. Through their
alliances with several prominent families in the village, the Nurses prevented Putnams man from taking
office. Also, the Nurses, their extended family, and their neighbors separated to form Topsfield, a new
and independent entity that old Salemites resented. The Topsfield-Nurse entity refused to attend the
Salem church, and it is no wonder that the first outcries of witchery towards them were from Edward
and Jonathan Putnam.
10. How had Thomas Putnam antagonized Minister Borroughs?
Thomas Putnam and his brother John had Burroughs jailed for debts Burroughs didnt owe. Burroughs
had to borrow money for his wifes funeral, and since the parish was remiss in his salary, he was soon
bankrupt.
11. What happened to Thomas & Ann Putnams family?
Their name (reputation) was besmirched in the village as the vindictive Thomas accused many
individuals of witchcraft. Also, his wife had several miscarriages that armed the Putnams with the
artillery needed to cry out witchcraft against their midwife and Tituba.
12. Why did Ann Putnam send Ruth to Tituba?
Ann wanted Tituba to speak to the dead to find out who murdered her babies.
13. Explain the relationship between Abigail Williams and John Proctor.
Abigail was the Proctors servant/maid, and Elizabeth Proctor dismissed her from their employment.
John and her had an affair. He committed lechery, and she committed adultery. She now loves him
even though he is looking to end the relationship.
14. Give several reasons why the Putnams resented the Nurses.
Land boundaries the Nurses rented 300 acres of land, and as they paid it off, their family grew and
inhabited different parts of it. The Putnams are neighbors and constantly argue over the boundaries.
Power in office Putnams wanted Bayley to take office, but the Nurses prevented it
Religious debate Nurses didnt attend Salem church for awhile; Putnams called them out for their
blasphemy
15. Explain the conflict between Proctor and Reverend Parris.
Proctor doesnt attend church b/c Parris preaches too much about hellfire, damnation, and getting
golden candlesticks for the alter.
Also- Proctor is a sharp man with a biting way with hypocrites people felt their dishonesty (if it
existed) in his presence, and as a result, he was called out for slander often. His moral compass doesnt
point due north, but he knows right from wrong. At the time, the Salemites didnt have a means of
forgiveness or absolution of sins, so he has to live with his until his Judgment Day.
He also feels as though Parris should be the one absolving the village of the Devil, and that by calling in a
separate official (Hale), he is showing weakness as a leader. *reference to Americas weak leader
during the McCarthy hearings (Eisenhower)???
16. Why did Putnam oppose Proctor?
Putnam confronted Proctor about harvesting his land; he accuses Proctor of dragging lumber out of
Putnams forest. Proctor bought the forested lands by the river from Good Nurses husband five months
prior; Putnam still believes that the Nurses land is rightfully Putnams. Proctor snaps back to point out
that Putnam tried to amend his grandfathers will to include more land than he originally intended. This
only angers Putnam further, and Putnam states he will fight Proctor and insists he will clap a writ on
Corey for helping Proctor.
17. Describe Reverend Hale and his background.
Nearing 40, light skinned, and eager-eyed intellectual He feels he has a unique knowledge about the
devil and witchcraft and is empowered by his reputation of being able to eliminate evil.
Role of Religion, as reinforced by Hales character The Devil is a necessary part of a greater theological
observation. That is, there has to exist a unity between the positive and negative forces, of which good
and evil are relative, in order to preserve the balance of the universe. These thoughts, though not
clearly reinforced by the physical sciences, have to be adaptable over time and across cultures.
According to Miller: When it is recalled that until the Christian era the underworld was never regarded
as a hostile area, that all gods were useful and essentially friendly to man despite occasional lapses;
when we see the steady and methodical inculcation into humanity of the idea of mans worthlessness
until redeemed the necessity of the Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and
used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-
state. Miller is saying that society is effectively organized by the idea that a man must prove himself
worthy by defying and denying the evil force. Christianity calls this force the Devil, and they use it as a
fear tactic and a motive for organizing society. Society, if built upon this principle, shows that humans
are not basically good and therefore need motives and boundaries for preserving basic rights that would
keep us all safe.
Act 2 Discussion Questions/Answers
1. Contrast settings at the conclusion of acts 1 & 2.
Chaos concludes Act 1 while the girls are calling out names in exorcism hysteria. Act 2 begins in a quiet,
uncomfortable dinner setting in the Proctors home.
2. What is the present state of the Proctors marital relationship?
Elizabeths patience wears thin with Johns temperamental behavior. He knows he has wronged
Elizabeth, and he wishes to please her. Her cold, distrusting demeanor hinders him from feeling even
remotely forgiven. Their conversations pertain to the local happenings and their children. They are the
type of couple who would probably get divorced once the kids go off to college, if it were modern day.
3. What is Mary Warrens attitude since going to Salem?
Mary Warren feels empowered and as if shes solely responsible for cleansing the town of Lucifer. She
acts like a child who wants to be treated like an adult.
4. What is the significance of Reverend Hales questioning Proctor?
Reverend Hale questions Proctor to find out if there be anything unholy about his household. He is
questioning Proctor in the first place to utilize the evidence in a legal setting. However, he finds that
John cannot quote all ten commandments, and that Elizabeth has a poppet (doll), as Abigail accused her
of having. (Abigail saw Mary Warren making the doll in court, and she saw Mary Warren stick the
sewing needle into its stomach. Abigail then presents herself with a needle in the stomach. The
poppet is like voodoo doll, in the eyes of the public.)
Proctor and Elizabeth are also positioned, like Miller was, to say that they are not working with the Devil
(practicing Communism, in Millers case), and that they do not agree with the direction the government
is taking the accusations. They try to remain true to themselves. John, especially, feels his need to be
honest after having had strayed from the morality in the past.
5. What does Elizabeth want John to do? Why does he hesitate?
Elizabeth wants John to go Abigail and tell her shes a whore. Whatever promise she may sense
break it, John, break it. He grows angry at her suggestion because he feels she calls him base (having
no moral standards). He says that her accusation speaks to his deceit, but he is honest.
6. What kind of evidence does the court admit in order to convict the people as witches?
Hale says that theology is a fortress and a crack in the fortress, no matter how small, still weakens it.
They feel as though they need to completely eliminate Lucifer in order to preserve their religious
fortress.
7. What forces John Proctors involvement with the court? What are the risks?
Elizabeth has been mentioned, and that indicates she may be accused of witchery. John Proctor may
prove the courts wrong (biased) by pointing out how Abigail may be manipulating the community to get
closer to him. He would have to reveal his lecherous affair in order to save his wife.