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The Crucible Short Essay Questions


The literary work "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller is a very good choice for your essay. "The Crucible" is one of the most mysterious, and at the same time very utilitarian creation of the outgoing century.

The play, which hitherto raises heated debates of people, who are trying to bring to light the subjects of much controversy, which are discussed in the play: the theme of the moral choice, justice and injustice, truth and lie, trials of the innocently accused person, witchcraft, evil powers vs. good ones. This literary creation is loosely based on historical facts: the Salem witch trials of the late 1600's.

Miller leaves a lot of uncovered questions at the end of the play, which give much food for readers' thoughts. Miller gives a wonderful opportunity to read between the lines, and to conjecture some ideas. You'll be impressed by the originality, eccentricity of the plot, splendidly selected system of the title characters, and those who make the general foil for them.

The characters in the play were based upon real people who judged or were judged in hysteria. You'll close the book with a comma-like state, as there are a lot of ambiguities in it. But be sure to read it to the end, don't lose this superb possibility.

The Crucible Essay Topics

Undoubtedly, you'll benefit from writing your essay on one of The Crucible essay topics. All the below-listed topics are at your disposal. So choose one of The Crucible essay topics, which seem the most suitable for you, and develop it in the format of the essay.

  • Discuss the role that grudges and personal rivalries play in the witch trial hysteria.
  • How do the witch trials empower individuals who were previously powerless?
  • How does John Proctor's great dilemma change during the course of the play?
  • Compare the roles that Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams play in The Crucible.
  • What role does sex, and sexual repression, play in The Crucible?
  • Why are Danforth, Hathorne, and the other authorities so resistant to believing the claim that Abigail and the other girls are lying?
  • What kind of government does Salem have? What role does it play in the action?
  • Analyze Reverend Parris. What are his motivations in supporting the witch trials?
  • Discuss the changes that Reverend Hale undergoes in the course of the play.
  • Compare and contrast the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism.
  • Understand the living conditions in Massachusetts in the 1700s.
  • Examine the dynamics of Puritanism in 1692.
  • Gather historical perspectives of American Colonial period.
  • What is your perception of the girls' allegations in the play? Do they really believe in witchcraft or are they fabricating the events?
  • Is John Proctor a tragic figure? Compare his fate to that of such tragic literary figures as King Oedipus in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex and the title character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
  • Examine the historical facts regarding the Salem Witch Trials and Joseph McCarthy's hearings. In what ways does Miller employ these facts in the service of his drama? How do the two historical events compare to...
  • What was witchcraft? Who practiced it?
  • Describe the social response to witchcraft in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • What social and religious factors are given to account for the harsh response to witchcraft?
  • What can you find out about modern witchcraft or Wicca?
  • Compare and contrast the characters of Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor.
  • Discuss Miller's treatment of women in The Crucible.
  • Explain why the play is a tragic comedy.
  • Explain the symbolic characters and how they develop the themes.
  • Discuss how the themes of The Crucible make it both universal and enduring.
  • What is the function of Reverend Hale in the play?
  • Miller originally wrote The Crucible as a critique of McCarthyism, but he distanced his narrative by using the Salem witch trials as the setting for the play. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this approach.
  • At the end of the play, John Proctor recovers his sense of goodness by tearing up the confession that would have saved his life. Given his character and the events which have led up to this moment, do you find this act believable? Fully explain your response.
  • In The Crucible, Miller suggests that sacrifices may be necessary to restore the social order. Discuss the sacrifices made by the play's characters and whether you think they are necessary.
  • How does the title relate to the story?
  • In The Crucible Arthur Miller is making pointed comments about individuals and how we should operate in society'. Discuss with reference to the text.
  • How are the characters tested and brought down to their essence?
  • What three characters are responsible for the trials and why?
  • How does the Crucible portray justice or injustice?
  • Compare the character of Elizabeth Proctor to that of Mary Warren. What value systems does each represent?
  • Discuss Elizabeth's reaction to John's infidelity. Is she being unreasonable?
  • How are the "little crazy children jangling the keys of the kingdom"?
  • What is Giles Corey's role in the play?
  • Examine Elizabeth Proctor as a symbol of truth. How has her husband "paid for" this truthfulness?
  • What motivates Elizabeth to lie? Is a good name more important than the truth?
  • How is Mary Warren used by both sides? Does she have an individual identity?

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  • 1

    The Crucible is famous as a political allegory, but what exactly is Miller trying to say? Who do you think is being most criticized in the contemporary analogy?

    Miller was particularly offended by those who "named names" before HUAC, and he himself refused to do so. While the Crucible indeed villainized the prosecutors and Court – those in the parallel positions of Joe McCarthy and HUAC – the play martyrs Corey and Proctor for refusing to do so. At the expense of their own lives, Corey and Proctor refused to condemn others, and in Miller's eyes this is the only truly moral decision.

  • 2

    The Crucible features a significant reversal of social roles in the Salem community. Choose a character whose position of power is upended and analyze the development of their role in the town and in the narrative. Can you make any observations about gender in this process?

    The witch trials greatly increased the power and agency of otherwise lowly women like Tituba and Abigail, while bringing down more respected community members like Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth. The position of men remained more stable – they were always in charge, and even if some of them were executed for witchcraft they would always control the positions of highest authority.

  • 3

    What is the role of gossip in the trials? How does Miller use gossip to implicate the whole town in the events of the witch trials?

    Clearly the trials are begun by the wagging of tongues after the girls are found in the woods, but gossip certainly has a more enduring role. Reputations in Salem are made or broken based on slander and rumor, and reputation was a man's only defense against accusation – and even that often failed to correct aspersions. But gossip also proves to be a destructive force even in the hands of the good and unwitting, taking on a life of its own – Giles Corey, for instance, condemns his own wife simply by a slip of the tongue.

  • 4

    Miller makes some significant changes to the historical events for the play – most noticeably, he raises Abigail's age from 11 to 19, and invents an affair between her and Proctor. What purpose does this serve?

    The affair is a dramatic device. It provides motive for Abigail's accusation of Elizabeth, and complicates the relationship between the Proctors. By raising Abigail's age and giving her motives of revenge, Miller can complicate the characterization of what would otherwise be a tale-telling little girl, without compromising her villainy.

  • 5

    Clearly, Proctor is the protagonist of the play, dominating three of the four acts. What begins as an ensemble rendering of the town's drama ends in an examination of a decision by one man, the focus gradually narrowed over the course of the play. How does Miller make this 17th century farmer into a character capable of holding our interest and sympathies for two hours?

    Proctor is developed as a "modern" figure in the play. He is resistant to authority, rebelling against both the church and the state. He sees through humbug and shouts it down. Moreover, he has a complicated relationship with his wife, and is flawed but in an understandable way. He is independent minded, and struggles against the conformity of Salem that is so like 1950s America. In short, he's like every other hero rebel – the same man in so many movies in stories, just realized this time in 17th century Salem.

  • 6

    What started the Salem witch trials? In their contemporary parallel of the red scare, we know that there really were Communists. But in 17th century Salem, there was no true witchcraft. So how did this thing start, and what does Miller have to say about its origins?

    A major point of the play is that the witch trials were not truly started by any event or scandal – the discovery of the girls dancing in the woods was merely a tipping point, not the true origin. Miller is steadfast in his belief that the social structure of Salem is what caused the witch hunt and allowed it to accelerate. If it hadn't been Betty Paris falling sick after dancing in the woods, it would have been something else.

  • 7

    Act One is punctuated by prose passages in which Miller details the background of Salem and the characters. However, this background mixes facts from the historical record with the changes Miller made for dramatic reasons. What do you think of this?

    Because the prose passages are contained within a fictionalized dramatic work, a reader should be aware that the passages are subject to the limitations of the form. However, Miller speaks with the voice of a historian in these passages, not with the voice of a playwright, and gives no indication that what he says is less than historical fact. Indeed, it is a slightly worrisome idea – a play about a man who died for the truth is so free with its own truths.

  • 8

    What is the function of Reverend Hale in the narrative?

    Reverend Hale is an interesting and well-developed minor character. He serves the dramatic function of an outsider, aiding in exposition in the first act even as his presence catalyzes the witch trials. But in the third act, he begins to question the trials, and by the fourth act has renounced them completely and is actively working against them. Hale shows that the ministry and the courts need not all be evil, but that it is possible to realize the error of one's own ways and work to fix their effects.

  • 9

    Mary Warren is a bit of a cipher – we see her only as a pawn of Abigail, and then of Proctor, and then again of Abigail. Do we learn anything about the "real" Mary Warren?

    Mary Warren is a particularly undeveloped character in the narrative, who functions largely as a plot device. We know that she is a weak-willed and terrified girl, who is easily manipulated by people stronger than herself. Abigail and Proctor are the ones who manipulate her, both threatening her with violence and vengeance, which draws a lucid connection between those two. Mary wants to be good, but she lacks the ability to see clearly where this good choice lies.

  • 10

    Are the judges evil? Be sure to define what you mean by "evil" in your answer.

    This is a deceptively simple question. Miller believed that the judges in the witch trials were purely evil, and has stated that if he were to rewrite the play, he would make them less human and more obviously and thoroughly evil. But is evil a function of the will, or a failure of reason? These men did not set out to do evil – they legitimately saw themselves as doing God's work. Is it evil to be wrong? Arguably, the Putnams are the most evil characters in Miller's interpretation of the events, as they both support the trials and clearly are aware of the falsity of the charges.

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