The Crucible

Try a teacher's guide that provides a synopsis of The Crucible, the classic play by Arthur Miller about the Salem Witch Trials. Also included in this literature guide are discussion questions and extended learning activities.
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Updated on: November 1, 2000
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This section of the teacher's guide is divided by acts paralleling the acts of the play. It is subdivided by questions, quotations, and activities, many of which can be used across subject areas. When one is more appropriate for one subject area than another, the subject area is indicated. Questions are designed to help students comprehend the play and move beyond comprehension to analysis and evaluation. The questions and quotations can be used as discussion starters or as writing prompts for response journals. As often as possible, activities are grouped by literary characteristics of theme, plot, character, and language and are designed to help students deal with the concepts in a more personal way. The response journal technique is appropriate for all subject areas. Students respond in writing to the questions and quotations in a variety of increasingly complex ways allowing them to develop high level thinking and writing skills.

Levels of Student Response

A. Engaging. The articulation of the reader's emotional reaction or level of involvement, from "This is BOR - ING," to "I couldn't put it down," are called engaging. The reader's articulation of her or his level of engagement with the play may be the first step in responding to it. For example, tell students, "Write about how the scene makes you feel."

B. Describing. Restating or reproducing information that is provided in the play requires selecting some important aspect of it and is often the next level of response. For example, tell students, "Select any quotation from this act and write about what you think it means."

C. Conceiving. Making statements about meaning or inferring from important aspects of the play. For example, tell students, "Write about this quote, discuss not only what it means to you, but what it means in the context of the play or in an historic context."

D. Explaining. Explaining why the characters do what they do; examining their motivation. For example, ask students to explain what the Putnams' motivation might be in suggesting that Betty is bewitched. Throughout their reading of the play, they can write or discuss the Putnams' motivation as they learn more and more about them.

E. Connecting. The reader connects her or his own experiences or previous knowledge with the play. As in all responding to text, connecting is a recurrent movement between the text and one's experiences, knowledge, and attitudes. For example, ask the students to write about a time when they felt they were misunderstood. Now, they might write or discuss how this experience would have been different if they lived in an earlier time or in a place with limited freedom of expression. Next, they might write or discuss how they might try to help people understand them. Finally, they might put themselves in Elizabeth's or John Proctor's place: what would they do to attempt to have their meaning understood?

F. Interpreting. The reader uses all the reactions above to interpret an overall theme or meaning of the text. For example, ask questions such as: "Why did Miller write this play? Was his motivation for writing to simply examine a period in American history? Or, was his intent to express a larger meaning? What might the larger meaning of the play be? What warning does the play give to contemporary society?"

G. Judging. The reader makes judgments about the text: the truth of the text, the importance of the text, the quality of the text, etc. For example, ask student: "Why is this play considered a modern classic? Are there any lessons in it for you? Any lessons for the country?"

NOTE: Miller's commentaries, appearing throughout the reader's edition of The Crucible, increase the play's complexity by linking it to 17th-century Salem or the McCarthy era. Therefore, initially assign only the play. Miller's commentaries can be dealt with in post-reading activities. In addition, since Miller intended the Appendix, Act Two, Scene 2 to add information to the reading of the play, have students read in context.

Act One


  • Who are Reverend Parris, Betty, and Abigail? What is their relationship?
  • Who is Tituba? What is her relationship to the family?
  • What is wrong with Betty?
  • Why does Parris suggest calling in Reverend Hale?
  • Who are Ann and Thomas Putnam? What do they suggest is Betty's problem? What is their motivation for suggesting this?
  • Who is Ruth? What is her relationship to the Putnams? What is wrong with her? How do the Putnams tie her problem to Betty's?
  • Who is Mercy Lewis? What is her relationship to the Putnams?
  • What does the conversation between Abigail, Mercy Lewis, Mary Warren, and Betty reveal about their recent activities?
  • Who is John Proctor? What is his relationship to Mary Warren? What is his relationship to Abigail? How does he feel about his relationship with Abigail?
  • Who is Elizabeth Proctor? What does Abigail think of her? How might this affect the outcome of the play?
  • Who is Giles Corey? Why is he introduced into the play?
  • Who is Rebecca Nurse? What is her role likely to be in the play?
  • Why is the issue of Parris's salary raised?
  • What is the Putnams' grievance over land? (p. 32) What significance might this have in the play?
  • What do the Puritans think of books other than the Bible? How do you learn about this in Act one?
  • How does Hale confuse Tituba? What is the significance of their conversation?

How and by whom are the other villagers accused of witchcraft? What is the motivation for the girls' accusations?


  • "Now look you, child, your punishment will come in its time." (Parris to Abigail, p. 10)
  • "Your name in the town - it is entirely white, is it not?" (Parris to Abigail, p. 12)
  • "They want slaves, not such as I. Let them send to Barbados for that. I will not black my face for any of them!" (Abigail to Parris about why she is being discharged by the Proctors, p. 12.)
  • "How high did she fly, how high?" (Mrs. Putnam to Parris, p. 13)
  • "I'd not call it sick; the Devil's touch is heavier than sick. It's death, y'know, it's death drivin' into them, forked and hoofed." (Mrs. Putnam to Parris, p. 13)
  • "Thomas, Thomas, I pray you, leap not to witchcraft. I know that you - you least of all, Thomas, would ever wish so disastrous a charge laid upon me. We cannot leap to witchcraft. They will howl me out of Salem for such corruption in my house." (Parris, p. 14)
  • "Gah! I'd almost forgot how strong you are, John Proctor!" (Abigail, p. 21)
  • "I have seen you since she [Elizabeth Proctor] put me out; I have seen you nights...I have a sense for heat, John, and yours has drawn me to my window." (Abigail, p. 23)
  • "Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I'll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby." (John Proctor, p. 23)
  • "I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew what lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men!" (Abigail, p. 24) "The psalm! The psalm! She cannot bear to hear the Lord's name! (Mrs. Putnam about Betty, p. 24)
  • "There is prodigious danger in the seeking of loose spirits." (Rebecca to Mrs. Putnam, p. 28)
  • "There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!" (Mrs. Putnam to Rebecca, p. 28)
  • "I like not the smell of this `authority'." (John Proctor to Rebecca, p. 31)
  • "It suggests to the mind what the trouble be among us all these years. Think on it. Wherefore is everybody suing everybody else?" (Giles to assembled group, p. 31)
  • "They [his books] must be; they are weighted with authority." (Hale to Parris, p. 36)
  • "It discomfits me! Last night - mark this - I tried and tried and could not say my prayers. And then she close her book and walks out of the house, and suddenly - mark this - I could pray again!" (Giles to Hale about his wife Martha, p. 40)
  • "What victory would the Devil have to win a soul already bad? It is the best the Devil wants, and who is better than the minister?" (Hale to Parris, p. 41)


Act One serves as an excellent introduction to most of the central characters. (English)

  • Assign each group of students one character. Have them outline on chart paper and report to the class what they have learned about the character and how they learned it.
  • Have students brainstorm and list human frailties found in the character(s) and suggest who possesses each frailty:
    • lust - John Proctor
    • pride - Reverend Hale
    • greed - Reverend Parris
    • revenge - Mrs. Putnam
    • ignorance - Giles Corey
    • self-indulgence - the girls
    • dishonesty - Abigail, the girls, John Proctor
  • Frequently in serious literature one character assumes the role of the voice of reason. In Act one of The Crucible, the voice of reason is Rebecca Nurse. Have students examine the Act for ways in which Rebecca attempts to apply reason to the situation.

Act One also provides an excellent introduction to themes explored in the play.

  • Assign each group of students a different theme (see p.23 of this guide). Have them go through Act one looking for instances in which the theme is addressed. These can be listed on chart paper and shared with the class.
  • Students can select scenes from the play in which aspects of theme are introduced and present these dramatically to the class.

The plot is carefully developed in Act One.

  • Have students examine the act for conflicts between characters. These conflicts can be listed on chart paper.
  • Students can develop a chart that visually presents the rise of action in the plot. (English)
  • Dramatic readings of sections of the Act that are key to plot development can be presented to the class.

The language in the Act is not unfamiliar to students, but its usage is.

  • Students can examine the Act for terms that are used in association with witchcraft.
  • It is interesting for students to search for examples of irony within the Act ("I'd almost forgot how strong you are, John Proctor!" "I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men!" "The marks of his presence are definite as stone"). (English)
  • Students might also discuss the various meanings of color words such as white, black, and blush as used by the characters.
  • It is also interesting to note how gender specific pronouns are used - witches, for example, are always "she." However, some men are also accused of witchcraft on the final pages of the act. (English)
  • Students can now begin a discussion that can continue throughout the reading of the play about why Miller chose the word "crucible" for its title.

Act Two


  • What is the significance of the scene between Elizabeth and John Proctor? What does it reveal about their relationship and about each of their characters?
  • What is the gift Mary Warren gives to Elizabeth?
  • What information does Mary provide about the trial? What role is she playing at the trial? Why does John forbid her from attending?
  • Why does Reverend Hale come to the Proctors' home? What does this scene reveal about Hale's role in the trial?
  • What relationship does Hale suggest exists between the church and the court?
  • What does Proctor tell Hale about why the children were ill? How does he claim to know?
  • What is the point of the discussion between Hale and the Proctors about whether or not they believe in witches?
  • What does Giles report to the Proctors? What is the significance of his revelations?
  • What event begins to change Hale's opinion about the arrests? How does he feel about the court?
  • What role does Cheever play? What is revealed about his character?
  • What do we learn about why Mary Warren gave the poppet to Elizabeth?
  • Why is Elizabeth arrested? On what grounds?
  • What do we learn about Mary Warren's motives at the end of the act?


  • "Oh, it is a black mischief." (John Proctor, p. 53)
  • "John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? I think not." (Elizabeth, p. 54)
  • "Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer!" (John, p. 55)
  • "We must all love each other now, Goody Proctor." (Mary Warren, p. 56)
  • "He sentenced her. He must. But not Sarah Good. For Sarah Good confessed, y'see." (Mary Warren to the Proctors, p. 56)
  • "She never knew no commandments." (Mary Warren to the Proctors, p. 58)
  • "It's God's work we do...I'm - I am an official of the court." (Mary Warren to the Proctors, p. 59)
  • "And thinks to kill me, then to take my place." (Elizabeth to John, p. 61)
  • "No - no, I come of my own, without the court's authority. Hear me. I know not if you are aware, but your wife's name is - mentioned in the court." (Hale to John Proctor, p. 63)
  • "He preach nothin' but golden candlesticks until he had them. I labor the earth from dawn of day to blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows - it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer. I think, sometimes, the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meetin' houses." (John to Hale, p. 65)
  • "Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small." (Hale to Proctor, p. 67)
  • "If you think that I am one [a witch], then I say there are none." (Elizabeth to Hale, p. 70)
  • "God keep you both; let the third child be quickly baptized, and go you without fail each Sunday in to Sabbath prayer; and keep a solemn, quiet way among you." (Hale to the Proctors, p. 70)
  • "They take my wife....And his Rebecca!" (Giles, p. 70)
  • "If Rebecca Nurse be tainted, then nothing's left to stop the whole green world from burning. Let you rest upon the justice of the court; the court will send her home, I know it." (Hale to Francis Nurse, p. 71)
  • "Man, remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven." (Hale, p. 71)
  • "I never kept no poppets, not since I were a girl." (Elizabeth to Cheever, p. 73)
  • "And he [Parris] goes to save her [Abigail], and, stuck two inches in the flesh of her belly, he draw a needle out. And demandin' of her how she come to be so stabbed, she - testify it were your wife's familiar spirit pushed it in." (Cheever to John Proctor, p. 74)
  • "Abby sat beside me when I made it [the poppet in court]." (Mary Warren, p. 76)
  • "Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God's fingers? I'll tell you what's walking Salem - vengeance is walking Salem. (John Proctor, p. 77)
  • "You are a coward! Though you be ordained in God's own tears, you are a coward now!" (John Proctor to Hale, p. 79)


Many of the activities suggested for Act one can be done for each subsequent Act and will not be repeated. The following additional activities are now appropriate.

We learn more about the characters in Act Two. (English)

  • Reverend Hale is a particularly interesting character. Beginning in this act and continuing in the next acts, have students trace his opinions about: witchcraft, his own ability to identify witches, his belief about the role of the church in all aspects of life, and his beliefs about the court system.
  • Another interesting character is Mary Warren. Students can explore dramatically Mary Warren's changing roles. Have one group of students develop a character sketch of Mary Warren giving the poppet to Elizabeth; another portraying Mary when she is told she can no longer attend the trial; another when she reveals her motivation for giving the poppet to Elizabeth; and another when John Proctor confronts her.
  • The relationship of John and Elizabeth Proctor is also interesting. Students can select short scenes from the act that dramatically depict that relationship and present them to the class.
  • Students can attempt to identify a voice of reason in Act two.
  • The theme of human cruelty vs. righteousness is particularly important in this act. Students can go through the act and select quotes that represent this theme. Exploring these quotes in journal writing activities will provide students with the opportunity to think critically about the play.*
  • At this point or after reading the play, have two students report on "Malleus Maleficorum," a medieval guide on torturing witches in order to get confessions, and "Wonders of the Invisible World," Cotton Mather's report on witchcraft during Puritan times.

There are a few examples of figurative language students can explore.

  • What is meant when John uses the metaphor "your justice would freeze beer"? (p. 55)
  • What does John mean when he uses the metaphor "the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meeting houses"? (p. 65)
  • What does Hale mean when he says " a fortress"? (p. 67)
  • Here's a good discussion topic for the class: What does an individual's ability to use figurative language, such as metaphors, tell you about that person? Which characters in the play speak in metaphors?