The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller based on the witch hunts that were once rampant in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts. This Tony Award-winning work demonstrates how mass paranoia and mob mentality can spin madly out of control, violate human rights, and ultimately, destroy lives. Although the play is based on the actual Salem witch trials, Arthur Miller exercised dramatic license, writing Abigail as older and inventing her affair with John Proctor. You might consider relaying these changes and encouraging discussion of the pros and cons of altering true events for the sake of a more theatrical plot.

While the play is literally about the Salem witch trials, Miller drew inspiration from the anti-communist scare in the 1950s, in which fear-mongering and McCarthyism infringed upon many Americans' civil liberties and constitutional rights. It is important to provide a background lesson on Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare so that students can interpret and analyze The Crucible as an allegory for (and criticism of) then-contemporary events. Students can also research more recent events that parallel such incidents of paranoia and unfounded accusations: Who are the modern-day "witches" and "witch hunters"? Exploring this question will illustrate how themes of The Crucible continue to have social relevance—how history all too often repeats itself.

Another activity to consider: a mock trial. With your class, hold a trial for Procter, pretending that he has not yet been hanged. During this trial, your class can debate the level of responsibility held by (or pardon owed to) him and others who were deemed liars. Students will love this interactive, group-oriented approach to ending the unit.

Learn more about how to teach The Crucible below!

Summary of The Crucible

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1953
  • Length: 152 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 1320
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12
  • Tony Award for Best Play (1953)

The Crucible opens in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. The local minister, Reverend Parris, catches a group of girls, led by Abigail Williams, dancing in the forest. When Parris's daughter Betty falls unconscious, accusations of witchcraft fly as Abigail and the other girls try to protect themselves. They allege that Mary Warren and others they dislike have bewitching powers. John Proctor, who has had an affair with Abigail, is shocked by the mass hysteria. He is reluctant to expose her lies— that is, until she asserts that his wife, Elizabeth, is a witch, too. Proctor tries to convince the judge that Abigail and the others are frauds, but he is labeled a liar who harbors the devil. John Proctor and others on trial refuse to falsely confess in order to avoid execution. As a result, they are hanged.

Content Warning: The Crucible contains references to executions and adultery.

What Your Students Will Love About The Crucible

  • Following an exciting, suspenseful plot
  • Relating to how quickly a lie can spread

Potential Student Struggles With The Crucible

  • Some archaic language

Learning Objectives for The Crucible

  • Compare the Salem witch hunts of 1692 to the Red Scare in the United States in the 1950s.
  • Discuss how superstition, mass hysteria, greed, and revenge fuel the plot.
  • Define "tragic hero" and explore to what extent John Proctor can be considered one.
  • Trace the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor as it develops throughout the play.
  • Identify and analyze Miller's frequent use of allusion and metonymy to create a universal application of his theme.

Literary Elements in The Crucible

  • Allegory
  • Allusion
  • Dramatic Irony
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Metonymy
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Tragic Hero

Major Themes in The Crucible

Ethics — This play shows the consequences of mob mentality and rumors; these problematic social behaviors lead to morally questionable executions.

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Lies — In The Crucible, characters deceive each other while also lying to themselves.

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Individual & Society — The Crucible reflects the dangers individuals face when society turns on them.

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External Resources