The Crucible


Story Symbols and Themes


Abuse of Power—In a way that very much parallels the abuses of McCarthyism, Miller’s play demonstrates how a public authority with an inflated sense of its own importance and armed with a sweeping but vaguely defined mission can quickly spin out of control, ruining lives in the process. Granted a high degree of public influence by the loosely theocratic nature of society at the time, both Reverend Parris and Reverend Hale abuse that influence (though each in a somewhat different way). However, it is Deputy General Danforth who best exemplifies abuse of power in this story. By the end of the play, he is increasingly concerned with public perception of his court, denying the existence of a rebellion against the witch trials in a neighboring town and urging John Proctor to confess mainly to maintain the credibility of the court. Similarly, the House and Senate committees investigating Communist influence in the ’50s became obsessed with their own authority, declaring anyone who refused to show proper respect in contempt of Congress.

Collective HysteriaThe Crucible also explores how quickly, in a climate in which good and evil are seen in black-and-white terms, a community or society can become gripped with a paranoid kind of group madness. This dynamic comes through at a number of key moments in the play, including the scene at the end of Act One in which, once Goody Osburn and Sarah Good have been named as witches, the girls rattle off a series of innocent names, carried away as if in a kind of religious fever. In a moving scene, Mary Warren describes how, with the whole world crying on about spirits and witches, she became convinced that she saw things that she in fact did not see. As in the Communist scare of the 1950s, the community was vulnerable to this kind of paranoia in a time of great change and uncertainty and in the face of what was perceived as an all-powerful danger. In both cases, a key dynamic was the way an external threat was transformed into an...

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Essays About The Crucible