The Crucible: the Essay


Arthur Miller’s The Crucible shows the reader a certain side of humanity, the one that reacts when put in impossible situations. This situation is the Salem Witch Trials. Hysteria and a general feeling of empowerment gave these trials a mass standing in the town of Salem. The few that chose to speak out against the proceedings were unsuccessful in their endeavors, then were eventually brought down or conformed to mass opinion. This is evident in characters like Mary Warren, Reverend Hale, and John Proctor.


Mary Warren was hesitant about keeping secrets, even at the beginning. She told Abigail that the girls should confess as to what they were doing in the forest. But emboldened by the prospect of getting away with bad behavior, she joined the group in their crying-outs against the townspeople. She became haughty and bold in talking back to the Proctors, her employers. When Elizabeth Proctor was arrested for witchcraft, however, Mary told the truth about the doll that incriminated Elizabeth. John tells Mary that she will, must confess as to the fallacy of the town’s witch hysteria. Mary cries out, “I cannot, they’ll turn on me!” She means Abby and the rest of them will condemn her if she says anything to negate their credulity. She is eventually persuaded to stand up against the mob, as in the next scene she arrives with John at the courthouse. The reader hears from Danforth that Mary will either be jailed for lying with Abby, or lying to bring down Abby. But she has taken heart in her faith that religion and justice will prevail over hysteria—John repeatedly calms her fears with a phrase that the angel Raphael told Gabriel, “Do that which is right and no harm will come to you.” However, following Mary’s testimony, we see Abby is not content to allow her new power to be taken away that easily. She pretends that Mary has taken the shape of a familiar, a bird, which will claw Abby’s eyes out. The other girls join in, and the pressure on Mary is simply too much. Doubted by the court and in danger of persecution as a witch, Mary runs back to the girls. She denounces John as the witch that made her lie to the court. In doing this, she conforms to what Abby, the court, and the town all want her to be: a girl affected by witchcraft and sensitive to who is with the Devil.


Reverend Hale is another character that eventually speaks out against the mentality in Salem. He comes to Salem ready to rid it of the Devil and his influence, and so is accepted immediately. In time, he works with the court, even questioning the Proctors at their house as to their Christianity. When Elizabeth is arrested, he doubts the event as ill-judged. At the court when John brings out his evidence against Abby, Hale sees the hastiness of the town to judge and condemn too quickly. He believes the evidence John shows, and when the court largely decides to ignore or rationalize it, Hale becomes disillusioned. When John is charged with witchcraft at the end of the scene, Hale says, “I denounce these proceedings! I quit this court!” and leaves. We have the impression that he is going to speak out against the trials. What he is doing in Salem in the next act, though, shows the breaking down of his character’s individuality. He is going to each of the accused and telling them to confess to witchcraft, thereby saving themselves. He is distraught, and broken down by the town’s refusal to listen to reason. He tells the jailed to take the easy way out. The hero he perhaps intended to be when he quit the court is not what came out of the equation. His efforts at saving the “witches” are failures as well, as no one will give up their pride or ruin their reputations and souls. So Hale’s attempt to stand up against the town is unsuccessful and is brought down.


John Proctor is the most obvious example of individualism in The Crucible. He’s the protagonist, and is meant to be seen as the hero in the play. From the first time he hears of what’s going on in Salem, from