Study Guide with Answers
1. What purpose does the Overture serve?
Miller uses the first act to introduce not only the characters but also his comparison between the Puritans and 1950s America. He accomplishes both of these in his lengthy sidebars as characters come into Ruth’s bedroom.
2. What does the “sparseness” of the Puritan setting reveal about the lives of the townspeople of Salem? The setting mirrors the Puritans’ beliefs. The lack of ornamentation demonstrates the Puritan aversion to vanity and frivolous pursuits.
3. What Puritan primary fear is apparent in the philosophy, “In unity still lay the best promise of safety”? The environment with Native Americans, various wild animals, and the climate forced the Puritans to stick together in order to survive. Individuality or independence could cost lives. Therefore, fear kept the settlers in a state of conformist cooperation.
4. Explain the significance of the forest to the Puritans.
It was the epitome of evil. As far as the Puritans were concerned, the Native Americans were murderous heathens. The animals periodically attacked. There was no wilderness in England, so the unknown quality of the forest made it even more frightening.
5. Explain the irony in the Puritans’ pilgrimage to Salem to escape persecution. Though the Puritans left England to gain religious freedom, among other things, they granted no one in this new world any such freedom. They persecuted, often violently, those who were different.
6. To what twentieth century situation is Miller referring when he declares: “They believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world. We have inherited this belief, and it has helped and hurt us.” Miller is asserting that Americans often believe they possess the true “light” or value system that the rest of the world should follow. This ideology has helped us escape many pitfalls of other countries, but it has also caused other troubles.
7. When Abigail enters, she is described as “a strikingly beautiful girl...with an endless capacity for dissembling.” What does the phrase an “endless capacity for dissembling” suggest? She lies frequently and rather convincingly.
8. When Susanna exits, Abigail makes a confession to Parris, which she recants near the end of the Act. What is the confession, and why does she change her mind? She confesses that there is no witchcraft. Abigail tells Parris she danced and she is willing to be whipped for punishment for this deed. Later she blames Tituba and others for bewitching the girls. She is motivated both by self preservation and a sense of power. 9. Based on his words, what seems to be Parris’s motivation for inadvertently causing the hysteria? Phrases like, “There is a faction sworn to drive me from my pulpit,” and “They will howl me out of Salem for such corruption in my house,” show that his only concern is for keeping his position in the church.
10. Explain the relationship between Abigail and Goody (Elizabeth) Proctor. Goody Proctor fired her live-in servant, Abigail. The two obviously dislike each other since it is rumored that Goody Proctor called Abigail “soiled.” Abigail commented about Goody Proctor, “It’s a bitter woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman!”
11. What are Putnam’s motivations for his actions in Salem? Thomas Putnam acts primarily out of family honor and greed. He is angry that his relative was not hired as minister of Salem, and he is determined to rectify that injustice. He also argues with Proctor over land ownership, claiming that a section of Proctor’s land rightfully belongs to him.
12. Explain the dramatic irony when Parris says, “I know that you—you least of all, Thomas, would ever wish so disastrous a charge laid upon me.” Miller explains to the audience that Putnam secretly wants to ruin Parris, but Parris believes Thomas is his only true supporter.
13. What role...