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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

Table of Contents

THEMES

A number of thematic threads run through The Crucible. Some
of them contradict others, some of them overlap. And no one of
them completely explains the play. You'll find that some of
them ring more true to you than others, but you can find
evidence to support all of them in the play. These themes are:

1. OCIAL DRAMA

Arthur Miller is dramatizing a bizarre but not
uncommon social phenomenon. The explanation for the
witch madness can be found in the makeup of the
society itself. The play was written at a time when
American society was threatened by a similar madness,
over communism instead of witchcraft. The author is
telling us that it might happen again, and we'd better do
something about it.

2. A PERSONAL TRAGEDY

The Crucible is really about one man's struggle with his
conscience. The whole play revolves around John
Proctor. The witch madness serves only to intensify and
focus Proctor's energies on his problems with his wife,
his neighbors, and himself. -



3. HYSTERIA

The play demonstrates an outbreak of that peculiar
insanity called mass hysteria. We get to see how easily
reasonable human beings can become unhinged in an
environment that allows little opportunity for letting off
steam. Once the seal is broken on the pressure cooker, it
explodes.

4. SUPERSTITION

There were no real witches in Salem. Without the
superstitious belief in witchcraft, this catastrophe could
never have happened. Arthur Miller blames "them that
quail to bring men out of ignorance" for this tragedy, and
is making a plea for a more enlightened approach to
religious beliefs.

5. GREED AND VENGEANCE

Several characters find "monstrous profit" in the witch
madness, and manipulate events for their own ends.
Thomas Putnam, the richest man in town, acquires quite
a bit of land by having his daughter Ruth "cry out" his
neighbors. And Abigail Williams accomplishes a pretty
sweet revenge on the Proctors when her affair with John
is broken off.

6. AUTHORITY

This play examines the question of authority: who has
the power, and on what is that power based? What is the
proper use of authority, and what is abuse of power? The
judges believe they derive their authority from God, and
so carry on the witch-hunt as if they are on a holy
mission. They're deceived by the girls, and refuse to
believe the obvious truth when it's staring them in the
face. What went wrong?

7. THEOCRACY

The separation of church and state, which is one of the
cornerstones of the American Constitution, did not exist
in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. "Theocracy"
means "Government by God," and the Puritans believed
that they were establishing God's "visible Kingdome" on
earth-the state was to be governed by God's laws. But
this mixing up of the laws of God and the laws of men
led directly to the legal chaos of the Salem witch trials.

8. JUSTICE

The concept of justice is central to most of Arthur
Miller's plays, especially The Crucible, where he
dedicates the entire third act to a courtroom drama. How
can we guarantee that a person accused of a crime gets a
fair trial? And how should the guilty be punished?

9. HISTORICAL DRAMA

The Crucible tells a story of the American past, a time
when many of the basic principles of our society were
formed. It's possible, the playwright suggests, that some
of the things that were wrong in 1692 are still wrong
today.

Table of Contents


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