The Crucible Summary

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

     This four-act play by Arthur Miller depicts the Salem Witch Trials based on accounts of the real people involved in this historical event. Miller did take liberties by changing details about characters, such as their ages or occupations in order to make the story fit better into a play format; however, much of the information is true. While he skillfully shows how a group of young girls led their town into a frenzy, he is at the same time showing the atrocities of McCarthyism. Miller had many friends who were accused of being communists during the Red Scare, and he wanted his play to show Americans how easily people can point fingers and have other people believe them with no real evidence of what they are saying.

     The first act begins in the Parris household. Reverend Parris is worried because his ten-year-old daughter Betty won't wake up. He asks his niece, Abigail, what the girls were doing in the forest the night before. She explains that they were dancing, which is against the rules for Puritans, but he suspects that they did more. Reverend Parris saw one of the girls naked, and he wonders if they were involved with some type of witchcraft. He calls Reverend Hale of Beverly, who is a witch expert, to come examine his daughter. Mercy Lewis, Abigail's friend, arrives, and they learn that Ruth, whom Mercy Lewis helps to take care of, won't wake up either. Ruth's parents, Thomas and Ann arrive, and Ann reveals that she sent Ruth with Tituba, Parris's black slave, to conjure her dead babies to find out why Ann had seven children who died immediately after childbirth. Parris is appalled that Ann would ask Tituba to conjure for her, yet Ann is never accused of being a witch. Tituba, however, is called in later. First, John Proctor visits to see what's going on. He speaks privately with Abigail who reveals the girls were just being silly in the woods. She also makes it clear that she still has feelings for John even though he insists that their affair is over. His wife fired Abigail from working for them, and their relationship ended at that point. Two elderly members of town, Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey, stop by, and Rebecca gives wise advice about leaving the children alone to see if they'll stop their silliness. Giles asks Reverend Hale why sometimes Giles sees his wife Martha reading books secretively. Then Hale summons Tituba for questioning. He accuses her of causing harm to Betty, whom Tituba loves dearly, and she denies it. He threatens to beat her if she doesn't honestly reveal what happened in the woods, so Tituba feels pressured to lie. She tells them she did see the devil, and she names a few other lowly women in town whom she saw with the devil. Abigail sees how the reverends went from threatening Tituba to praising her holy work, so Abigail jumps in and says she saw the devil too and names people she saw with him. Then Betty sits up and does the same.

     Act two jumps to the Proctors' house where John and his wife Elizabeth have an awkward conversation, which reveals that she knows about his affair with Abigail. Mary Warren, one of the girls who was in the forest, comes back from testifying in court to tell John and Elizabeth about all of the people who have been charged with witchcraft. John is upset that Mary Warren isn't at their house doing her usual chores, but Mary Warren tells them that her testimony is needed in Salem. She also mentions that Elizabeth's name came up as being a possible witch, but Mary Warren vouched for her. Then Reverend Hale arrives at the house to inquire as to the Christian beliefs of John and Elizabeth. Shortly after, Francis Nurse and Giles Corey come to tell John that their wives have been arrested for witchcraft. Right after this shocking news, a search warrant is presented to John to look for any poppets that Elizabeth may have. They find one that Mary Warren had just given to Elizabeth a few hours prior as a gift. It has a needle sticking out of the stomach, which connects to Abigail Williams finding a needle in her stomach hours before. They arrest Elizabeth for witchcraft and cart her off with the other women. John tells Mary Warren that the two of them will go to court the next day to fight back against these charges.

     In Act three they are in the courtroom and John brings Mary Warren's deposition saying she never saw any spirits, and all of the girls have been pretending the entire time. The judges are reluctant to believe Mary Warren as they have seen the sufferings that the girls have had to endure over the weeks of the trials. Mary Warren assures the judges that the girls were lying, so the judges ask her to pretend to faint right in front of them. When put on the spot, Mary Warren is unable to pretend to faint. The girls, especially Abigail, are angry that Mary Warren is trying to get them in trouble, so they cry witchery on Mary Warren. John Proctor steps in and announces that he knows Abigail is not as pure as she seems. The judges ask for proof, and John admits that he committed adultery with Abigail. They ask if anyone else can confirm this statement, and John says that his wife knows it is true, so they call Elizabeth into the courtroom. John and Abigail face away from Elizabeth as the judge questions her about Abigail's character. Finally, when asked if her husband is a lecher, Elizabeth lies and says no even though she never lies. John yells to her that he already admitted it, and she realizes she made a huge mistake. Abigail then turns on Mary Warren once again pretending that she has sent her spirit out as a yellow bird up on the rafters wanting to peck out Abigail's eyes. Mary Warren knows she has no choice, so she turns on John, saying she saw him with the devil and returns to Abigail's side. John cries out that God is dead, knowing that he too will go to jail along with his wife.

     Act four takes place several weeks later in the jail. The judges have already hanged several guilty witches, but these women were homeless or drunk, people whom the town already disliked. This morning they are scheduled to hang John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Martha Corey. Reverend Hale and Reverend Parris are desperate to convince them to confess to witchcraft because if they confess, they will live. Also, if one of them confesses, it might convince the others to do the same. The people in town don't seem to approve of the witch trials any more. There are too many people in the jails and not enough tending to crops, livestock, and children. Parris announces that Abigail stole money from him and fled. It's clear that she fears people may turn on her. The reverends try to convince the judges to postpone the hangings, but they refuse. They can't stop hanging people once they have already started. They decide to allow John to speak to his wife Elizabeth, who he hasn't seen in weeks, hoping she can convince him to confess. Elizabeth is several months pregnant, and she tells John that she would like him to see their baby born. He decides to confess, and the judges record his statement and have him sign it. However, he refuses to give over the signed document back to the judges. He knows they want to hang it on the church door as an example for others to follow, but he worries about his children and what they will think of their father and how they will feel about the Proctor name if he has admitted to witchcraft. In the end, he tears the paper deciding he will face the gallows. They lead him away with the other women scheduled to hang, and Elizabeth supports her husband's brave decision.

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