Themes Of


Themes Of “The Crucible” Essay, Research Paper

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

viewer’s mind.


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