The Crucible


Plot Summary

The actual plot of The Crucible is deceptively simple, and the play’s richness and complexity lie instead in its characters and in their moral struggles. The play is, with some changes, based on the historical record of events that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The young community was undergoing a period of change and uncertainty, with land rights being a particular concern. The town’s minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, though he has held the position for three years, is not liked or trusted by many in the town, and he is well aware of the shaky ground on which he stands.

The incident that sets the plot in motion at first appears straightforward: Reverend Parris catches a group of girls dancing in the forest with his Negro slave, Tituba. One of the girls is his niece, Abigail Williams, who lives with him, and another his daughter, Betty. In the Puritan culture of the time, the dancing alone was scandalous and worthy of severe punishment. Mortified at being caught, young Betty faints and turns mysteriously ill. Another young girl, Ruth Putnam, is also mysteriously ill as the play begins. However, it is later revealed that there were other things involved. At the urging of Ruth’s mother, Ann Putnam, who has seen seven of her eight children die soon after childbirth, Tituba was “conjuring” in an effort to speak to the dead girls and find out what or who killed them. Abigail had turned to Tituba for a different kind of conjuring: She has had an affair with a local farmer, John Putnam, and hopes to put a curse on Elizabeth Putnam so that she could have John to herself.

As the story slowly comes out and rumors begin spreading through the village, Reverend Parris at first attempts to hush all of the talk of witchcraft, believing it to be a scandal that could undermine his ministry. However, when Reverend Hale, a learned minister from a nearby town with a reputation as an expert on witches, arrives to investigate, Hale insists that it would be just like the Devil to attack the minister, the heart of goodness in the...

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