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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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THE PLAY

THE PLOT

It's the spring of 1692. The whole village of Salem is in an
uproar. The Reverend Samuel Parris' daughter Betty won't wake
up, and the Putnams' little Ruth is walking around like a zombie.
The night before, Reverend Parris had heard a funny noise in
the woods outside his house, and stumbled onto a frightening
scene: his black slave Tituba was waving her arms over a
boiling kettle, muttering wild-sounding gibberish, and around
the fire a dozen girls were dancing-dancing, strictly forbidden
by Puritan law. Among the girls were Betty and Ruth and his
niece Abigail Williams. When he jumped out on them, everyone
screamed and ran, all except Betty, who fainted dead away. And
now she won't wake up.

The house is buzzing with people, and every other word is
"witchcraft." Reverend Parris doesn't want to believe it, but he's
sent for an expert just in case-the Reverend John Hale of the
neighboring village of Beverly. When Hale arrives he tries to
wake Betty, but she remains lifeless. Then he questions Abigail
and Tituba. Some of the other village folk who look on are
skeptical about witchcraft, especially John Proctor, whose
serving girl, Mary Warren, had been with the girls the night
before. Whip the nonsense out of them, Proctor suggests.
Another doubter is old Rebecca Nurse, "twenty-six times a
grandma," who believes the girls are just going through one of
their "silly seasons."

But Reverend Hale's questions are so sharp, and Tituba is so
scared for her beloved Betty, that she blurts out that she was
conjuring the dead. And when Hale presses her, she realizes her
only way out is to "confess." She gets carried away and begins
to name others that she "saw with the Devil." Soon Abigail is
swept up in Tituba's ecstatic "confession," and she too names
names. Betty wakes up and joins them.



In the next few days other girls-including Mary Warren-are
added to their number, and within a week they have "cried out"
(as they called it) 14 "witches." An official court has been set
up. John Proctor is particularly worried about Abigail Williams,
who has become the girls' ringleader. Abigail had been his
maidservant before Mary Warren. When John's wife, Elizabeth,
fell ill, he had turned to Abigail in his loneliness, and at least
once made love with her in the barn. He repented it
immediately, and confessed to Elizabeth, who put Abigail out of
the house. Now Proctor is afraid that Abigail means to "dance
with him on his wife's grave." He doesn't believe in witches, and
he knows what mischief Abigail is capable of, so he decides to
go to the court and denounce her. But before he can leave, the
marshalls come to arrest Elizabeth: Abigail has "cried her out."

By now the jail is bursting with "witches," and no one seems
safe. Rebecca Nurse, the most respectable person in the Village,
has been convicted and sentenced to hang. John Proctor brings
Mary Warren to the court with a statement saying it's all
pretense. This is a serious accusation, and the judges-Hathorne
and Deputy Governor Danforth-want proof. So Proctor
confesses his lechery with Abigail; but when Elizabeth is
brought in to corroborate the charge, she denies it, thinking to
spare her husband's name. Then Abigail and the other girls turn
on Mary Warren and cry her out. Her resolve collapses and she
renounces her statement. Proctor "witched her" into writing it,
she says. Proctor is hauled off to jail.

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