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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes
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FORM AND STRUCTURE

For the published version of The Crucible, Arthur Miller has
inserted passages of prose in which he comments on the
background of the story or the characters. These comments tell
you a lot about Miller's thinking, but they interrupt the flow of
the action, and you may want to skip them the first time you
read the play. Then you can go back and read them all together,
or pick them up along the way on your second read-through.
You should always read a play twice: you'll be amazed how
much you missed the first time, and how much more sense it
makes the second time around when you know what's going to
happen next.

The Crucible has a lot of characters, 21 speaking parts in all,
plus quite a few people who are talked about but never appear
onstage, like Ruth Putnam and Martha Corey. Each of these
characters has a story to tell, and every story is important. It's
easy to become lost unless you can see how each subplot ties
into and advances the main plot, which is the flareup of witch
panic in Salem.

The story is indeed complicated, but Arthur Miller makes it
easier to follow by the way he has designed the play. He begins
each act by setting up a terrible possibility, and ends each act by
bringing that terrible thing to pass.

In Act I the question is: "Will the town leap to witchcraft?" The
curtain falls on Tituba, Abigail, and Betty ecstatically "crying
out witches."



In Act II the question is: "Will the Proctors get caught up by the
witch-hunt?" The act ends with Elizabeth Proctor being led
away in chains.

In Act III the question is: "Will Abigail foil John Proctor's
attempt to discredit her?" The answer is, yes, and more, for
Proctor himself is arrested as a witch.

Then in Act IV the question is: "Will John Proctor hang?" He
does.

This repeated pattern of question and answer-"Will the worst
happen?" "Yes."- is the rhythm of the play. You can think of
what happens between the setup and the payoff in each act as a
kind of tug-of-war: some characters pull toward catastrophe,
others pull away from it, and invariably the first group
overpowers the second. If you think about the action in terms of
this tug-of-war, the plot will be a lot easier to follow.

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes
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