Key Themes in “The Crucible”

 

The value of a person’s reputation/ name.

         Shown in the character of Proctor.

         He must sacrifice his name in order to save his wife.

         He is a symbolic “everyman” – his experience is the same as everyone watching – his life is a lesson to the audience.

         He represents all critics of the McCarthy witch trials.

         He shows that once a person’s reputation is ruined it is almost impossible to regain it.

         Reputation in Salem is tied to the person’s ability to stick to the religious rules.

         People will not listen to you, or do business with you, if you have a bad “name”

         At the conclusion, Proctor chooses to die rather than have his reputation attached to a lie.

Good versus Evil

         Salem’s morality and codes of behaviour come from the Bible.

         Ideas of good and evil become confused when individuals are trying to save their own lives.

         Thus, Tituba lies and confesses to witchcraft – she says she wants to be a good Christian.

         Mary Warren lies and says that Proctor made her write in the devil’s book.

         The characters want to be good, but to be good they have to lie.

         The hysteria of the village has turned good and evil upside-down.

         Ironically, those who choose not to lie, that is not to confess to a crime they have not committed, are hanged.

         But this reveals that martyrdom is a power – a person’s name and reputation has strength after they have died – especially if they are proven to have been killed in error.

Obsession.

         Shown in the character of Abigail.

         She cannot let go of her feelings for John Proctor.

         Abigail tells lies to protect her own name, while trying to ruin Elizabeth’s.

         Her attempt to win back Proctor by “conjuring” in the woods, is what sparks the investigation.

         This puts her on the defensive. She admits to her crime, but then tries to spread the blame around by accusing other women of being witches.

         When the court is under her control, Elizabeth Proctor is named as a witch and taken from her home.

         This causes Proctor to admit his sin (adultery) in order to prove Abigail is a liar.

         When it becomes clear that Proctor will not take her back (calling her a “whore”) and that the hysteria is out of control, she flees.

 Justice and the Law

         Salem is a theocracy – its laws are based upon the Bible.

         God is the ultimate judge.

         However, the town is governed by men. These men make an error in accepting Abigail as a witness to witchcraft and the whole play spills from this error.

         Danforth, Hathorne, Hale and Parris are supposed to be carrying out the will of God.

         They believed that God was speaking through the children.

         These educated older men, are led to false conclusions by the actions of a group of young girls.

         An accusation of witchcraft became a death sentence, and the only way to escape it was to confess to something which had not been done. The town’s idea of “justice” becomes synonymous with lies.

Compassion and Forgiveness

         Proctor desperately wants his wife to forgive him.

         He feels that, though he has confessed to his affair with Abigail, she still judges him.

         However, he judges himself more harshly than she does. He cannot forgive himself.

         Only when Elizabeth finally forgives him (and accepts she was also at fault) does he believe that there is still some good in him.

Lies/ Deceit

         Almost all the characters are liars.

         Proctor cheats on his wife.

         Abigail lies about seeing spirits.

         Danforth et al lie to themselves, believing they are doing God’s work by hanging the innocent.

         By telling the truth, a person can be hanged. Justice is turned upside down.

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