Arthur Miller enriches the reader's experience of "The Crucible" by
strategically portraying various themes throughout the play. Miller's themes
include social drama, personal tragedy, hysteria, superstition, greed and
vengeance, authority and judgment, theocracy, justice, historical drama, and
fear of the unknown.
The theme of social drama is a direct result from the time period that
Miller wrote "The Crucible". The play was written during the Red Scare, when
Americans were in fear of a Russian takeover of the United States of America.
This is reflected in "The Crucible," because the people in the play are in
fear of some entity, the entity being witchcraft and not communism.
"The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages,
developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still
live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its
revolution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high
purposes, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of
state and religious power whose function was to keep the community
together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it
to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged
for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all
organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and
prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.
Evidently, the time came in New England when the repressions of
order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against
which the order was organized. The witch-hunt was a perverse
manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the
balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom (pgs. 6-
The theme of personal tragedy exists today as it did during the period
when Miller wrote the play. Today, personal tragedy can be the loss of a
loved one or even a couple decides to go its separate routes in life.
However, in "The Crucible," personal tragedy is best personified with John
Proctor. Proctor is the main protagonist of the play and he is well suited
for the part. He was devoid of his freedom, privacy, and life. Act four
symbolizes the final decline of Proctor's social status when he is accused of
walking with Lucifer and later confessing to it. He was accused of being a
wizard after it was stated by Putnam that he was trying to overthrow the
court, with a deposition signed by Mary Warren stating that the afflicted
girls were frauds. As a result of this accusation, Proctor would only be
spared if he would confess to the accusation. Proctor did confess but later
ripped up a signed confession, citing that God had hear his confession and
seen his name on the confession (pgs. 142-143).
Hysteria is the basis of the play. The people of Salem are scared, they
are paranoid. Will they be accused and even convicted of compacting with the
Devil? The trials pit neighbor against neighbor, sometimes for financial and
social gain or even out of pure hatred for Goody Doe up the street. Hysteria
is easily depicted in the early stages of the play, when the afflicted girls
call out the names of others they claim to have seen with the Devil.
"Betty, staring too: 'I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw
Goody Howe with the Devil.' Abigail: 'I saw Good Hawkins with the
Devil!' Betty: "I saw Goody Bibber with the Devil!" Abigail: "I
saw Goody Booth with the Devil!'"
Again, hysteria is depicted on page 130: Hale to Danforth, "Excellency, there
are orphans wandering from house to house; abandoned cattle on the highroads,
the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere, and no man knows when the
harlot's cry will end his life--and you wonder yet if rebellion's spoke?"
The Puritans did not use science or logic, they relied on God and his
book. Without science, they explained natural occurrences, like rain, by
saying that God was angry and was trying to wash away the sins of humanity.
Thus, the Puritans were very superstitious. Witches never existed, however
their superstitious belief in witchcraft and the Devil led them to think
otherwise. For example, the town beggar asks for food from Farmer Brown.
Framer Brown is a very religious, hard-working, family-man, and he is not
about the relinquish a portion of his hard-earned food to this feeble beggar.
As he politely turns away, the beggar mumbles an obscenity. Upon closing the
door to his cabin on the beggar, Farmer Brown's young son falls down and
breaks a bone. Immediately, the old beggar is to blame, superstition points
everything in the beggar's direction. She was hungry, asked for a donation
from Farmer Brown and she is turned away. Being a little upset by Farmer
Brown's actions, she tells him to do something to himself. Following that,
Farmer Brown's son is injured and he places the blame on the old beggar,
claiming that she placed a hex on Brown's family. Brown takes his problem up
with the court, the beggar is convicted and she is hung. The previous example
shows how superstition influenced the lives of a Puritan family. The theme of
superstition in depicted in "The Crucible" on pages 76 and 77, when Elizabeth
Proctor is accused of being a witch: "Abigail were stabbed tonight; a needle
were found stuck into her belly...[Elizabeth]...And she charges me? (A poppet
was found in her house with a needle in the stomach, however Mary Warren
claimed that it was in there for safe keeping after she sown the poppet for
During the witch trials, a few characters were damming people left and
right for their own profit, sometimes for revenge. Thomas Putnam and Reverend
Parris are among the notorious few who were motivated by greed and revenge.
Although it was not stated directly that Parris was looking for money and
land, a few of his conversations lead the reader to the conclusion that Parris
was a "televangelist" of sorts. During the play, it was evident that Parris
was concerned more with his reputation and obtaining the deed to the meeting
house. "Not long after the fever died, Parris was voted from office, walked
out on the highroad and was never heard from again," page 146. The previous
statement mentions the downfall of Parris. It means that once the hype over
the witch trials died out, the people of Salem finally rid themselves of the
corrupt Reverend Parris, who was selfish and cared nothing about the people.
Putnam was motivated by his quest for more acreage. During the trial of one
George Jacobs, Jacobs first mentioned how much land he owned (film version).
The same thing went for John Proctor and one point during the trials, when he
mentioned to the court that he owned 300 acres of land. Abigail Williams is
the embodiment of revenge. She was in love with John Proctor, but she didn't
feel the same way for his wife. Consequently, Elizabeth Proctor was charged
as being a witch, although she would be spared until she bore her baby.
The theme of judgment and authority revolves around the Puritans' belief
in theocracy. In "The Crucible," the court held power which was influenced by
the church, unlike modern society in which there is a separation of church and
state. The court in the play allowed spectral evidence, which could be proven
or disproved by a religious event or person. The main example of theocracy,
is the fact that the courts held trials regarding witchcraft, which has its
roots with the Devil and Hell. In fact, the whole play revolves around
theocracy and this theme of judgment and authority, it was about witchcraft
and witchcraft trials. However, there were key individuals that made this
system effective, effective in this instance by putting followers of the Devil
to death. The first key individual was Judge Danforth. Danforth lead the
high court of Salem and decided the fate of 18 Salemites. Danforth could be
described as a tough, yet fair judge during these trials. The other key
individuals were Cheever and Hathorne, who also helped decide whether the
accused was innocent or guilty, although they did not possess as much power as
The theme of justice is very evident throughout the play, since Miller
dedicated the entire third act to a court room drama. Justice is the play is
not fair, considering that Danforth didn't believe Proctor's word that the
girls were faking their ailments. Justice also seemed to be influenced by the
public's opinion, if someone of a lower class was accused and not well liked
among the other classes, then they would be convicted and put to death. One
of the main characters that publicly stated his opinion on justice and the
court system was Reverend Hale. When he witnessed the corruption of the court
and realized that the entire proceedings was a big life, Hale declared his
departure from the court of Salem. "I denounce these proceedings, I quit this
court!" What also showed the corruption of the court, was how Hathorne
conducted his investigations. Hathorne scared confessions out the defendants,
because he would get in their face and yell at them, sometimes forcing the
defendant into tears. This is most evident in the film version of "The
Crucible," because the actions of Hathorne and the other magistrates is easier
"The Crucible" was also written on the principles of historical drama.
It tells of a time when the principles of our society where in the early
stages of creation. The Puritans are like our modern society, yet much
primitive. They had their own sets of laws and governing bodies, as was seen
in "The Crucible." Unlike modern society and culture, punishments for those
who broke any law were much harsher, including death. In the play, anyone who
was convicted of witchcraft was put to death. Today, someone who does that
might go to jail and possibly put on trial, but the death penalty for
witchcraft in 2000 would be rare. "Man, you will hang! You cannot," Reverend
Hale to John Proctor when Proctor tears up his confession. However, modern
society has adopted principles different to that formed by the Puritans.
Unlike the Puritans, there is a definite separation of church and state. And
one final principal adopted by modern society and culture that was based on
principles formed by the Puritans and that was evident in the play, is a
social order. Back in the seventeenth century and as seen in "The Crucible,"
people were grouped according to their financial and social status: poor,
middle or working class, and the gentlemen or wealthy class. During the time
that the trials were held, the classes discriminated against the lower of the
three. This is evident even today's society, although it is not as harsh as
it was in the seventeenth century.
Finally, the theme of fear of the unknown played a major role in the
play. The Puritans did not know what was going on and did not know what was
causing the madness in Salem, Massachusetts. For all they knew, it was the
actual battle of Good vs. Evil in their own village. The people were scared
since they had no idea what was going on. This theme even applies to today.
A great example of being afraid of the unknown is being afraid of the dark, a
common fear among millions of Americans. These people do not know what lurks
in the dark, if anything, and they do not know what will happen to them if
they enter the darkness. Comparing this to the Salem tragedies, the villagers
did not know what was going on in the dark or what would happen to them if
they entered the dark, witchcraft and the trials that followed being the dark
in this case.
In conclusion, the above themes played an integral role in "The Crucible."
They added to the overall impact that the play made on the reader's or