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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ACT I, SCENE 6

Into this melee comes Reverend John Hale, "loaded down with
half a dozen heavy books."

NOTE: The books may seem to be just a device, a nice touch to
round out Reverend Hale's character, like a pair of glasses, or
ink on his hands. But in a way the books are more important
than the man who carries them. Reverend Hale is an expert on
witchcraft, but his expertise comes from the books. They are
heavy, "weighted with authority." Without them, Reverend Hale
would be no better than the others, a man with an opinion. If the
others look to him for answers, he looks to the books. It is on the
books' "authority" that the witches will later be hanged.

But before he can begin even to find out if there are witches in
this case, a disturbing thing happens. John Proctor, who knows
the girls were only fooling around (he doesn't seem to have
heard about the charm to kill his wife), leaves. Maybe he's
giving up on what he sees as the foolishness of his neighbors,
maybe he believes Reverend Hale will talk some sense into
them. Shortly afterward, Rebecca Nurse follows Proctor out,
saying she is "too old for this." She doesn't believe there is
witchcraft here, and she also seems to be afraid that Reverend
Hale's being here is a bad idea. There is no one left in the room
who doubts the existence of witchcraft. Except maybe Abigail,
but she is, as we have seen, a special case.

What follows is the logical result of removing the only really
reasonable people from the scene. Had they stayed, they would
certainly have hampered Mr. Hale's work, and the momentum
that carries the town into witch madness might never have built
up. To use the analogy of a tug-of-war, they let go of the rope.

Since the opening of the play we have been prepared for this
moment; we have seen it coming. We expect to see some
witchcraft. And Arthur Miller does not disappoint us.

The people in the room are all breathless, waiting for Mr. Hale
and his books to work their magic. They all know that what
takes place in the next few moments will probably change their
lives. Even if he comes up with nothing, as he warns them
might happen, and finds "no bruise of hell" on Betty, at least
they will have witnessed a prodigious demonstration of deep
learning.



But Hale has given them reason to hope for something more
spectacular. This man has acquaintance with all familiar spirits-
"your incubi and succubi; your witches that go by land, by air,
and by sea; your wizards of the night and of the day." He has
promised that "If [Betty] is truly in the Devil's grip we may have
to rip and tear to get her free." And as he is about to start, he
warns them solemnly; "Now mark me, if the Devil is in her you
will witness some frightful wonders in this room, so please keep
your wits about you. Mr. Putnam, stand close in case she flies."
Given the charged atmosphere in the room, if the Devil himself
came up through the floor, it would hardly be unexpected. What
Mr. Hale has in fact done is made it impossible for something
not to happen.

He tries talking to Betty. Nothing. He asks if someone afflicts
her, or some thing-"a pig, a mouse, or any beast at all."
Nothing. He intones Latin over her: In the name of the Father
and the Son, I bid you [who are afflicting this child] return to
Hell! Nothing. He turns to Abigail. She squirms beneath his
questions. Yes, they were dancing. Yes, there was a kettle of
soup, but the live frog "jumped in, we never put it in!" Hale is
on the scent now, and he bears down on her. "Did you call the
Devil last night?"

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