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The Salem Witch Trials As Depicted in the Crucible

The Crucible is a 1996 American film produced by David Picker. The movie, written by Arthur Miller and adapted from his 1953 play of the same title, draws focus on the inconsistencies of the Salem Witch Trials and how dark behaviors and hidden agendas can lead to uncouth behavior. The Salem Witch Trials, which occurred in Salem, Massachusetts Bay province from 1692 to 1693, are infamous for the unfair prosecution and execution of atleast 20 people. The trials began after a group of young girls and a slave, Tituba, began practicing witchcraft. Locals noted the unusual behavior -usually associated with witchcraft, demonstrated by the girls and reported them to the authorities. Rather than take responsibility for their actions, the girls accused Tituba and two other women of bewitching them. Ironically the girls got off the hook by accusing others of the very things they perpetrated. This desperate and perhaps childish scapegoating led to mass paranoia and an atmosphere riddled with fear that everyone was a potential witch. The colonists –largely Puritans, panicked and began a massive witchhunt to trace the whereabouts of other witches hiding within the society. Although Miller made some adjustments to the original historical detail to make the plot more interesting, The Crucible provides its audience with an accurate scenario of what happened in Salem, and the themes in the movie are reminiscent of what is happening in modern society today. Miller uses several themes in The Crucible, such as hysteria, intolerance, and social status to make the historical experiences relatable and explore human motivation and subsequent behavior.

One of the most prominent themes in the crucibles is how hysteria can tear a whole community apart. Hysteria replaces rational thinking and leads people to believe that their neighbors, whom they would typically consider as upstanding people under normal circumstances, commit heinous and absurd crimes. In The Crucibles“the villagers participate in the hysterical atmosphere not only because of the need to maintain religious piety but also to exact revenge on their enemies and express repressed emotions.” This quote shows that hysteria, even in modern times, can only thrive if certain people benefit from it. Hysteria allows people to express their inner darkest desires and urges under the guise of righteousness. In The Crucible, Abigail takes advantage of the witch hunt to have Elizabeth Proctor, her husband’s lover, prosecuted and jailed for witchcraft. There are other cases where people thrive on hysteria in the crucibles. For instance, “Reverend Parris can strengthen his standing within the village, by wrongly accusing people like Proctor who question his authority.” In addition, “Francis’s virtuous wife is wrongfully accused and convicted of killing Ann Putnam’s babies by using supernatural powers,” and “Thomas Putnam can acquire land wrongfully by accusing his neighbors of witchcraft.” In the movie’s historical context, historians believe that several people within the colony, more specifically the Putnam family, took advantage of the Salem witchhunt to exert revenge against rival neighbors and other people who did not abide by the strict religious doctrines and societal rules of the Puritan culture. “Therefore, it is no surprise that most people who were wrongly convicted and executed for witchcraft were outspoken women, colonists with a history of crime, or colonists who were against the unfair manner in which the witch trials were being conducted.” Through The Crucible, Miller depicts a scenario reminiscent of the historical period and how hysteria can supplant logic and make people believe even the most absurd lies.

Another recurring theme in The Crucible is intolerance. The prominent religion in Salem is Puritanism, an austere form of Protestanism. The Puritan church works in unisons with the state to maintain law and order, and adherence to societal norms. Puritans were against any behavior that contradicted the minister’s interpretation of the Bible on what was considered morally acceptable behavior. As Danforth says in Act III, “you are either with us or against us,” anyone who went against the established moral laws either publicly or in their private life was treated as a threat not only against society but also to God’s Rule and true religion. Therefore, townsfolk in Salem cannot deviate from social norms because everyone belongs to either God or Satan; deviation from God’s will is considered a satanic act. This ideology also guided the reasoning behind the witch trials in historic Salem. “The Puritan culture had no tolerance for unacceptable or inappropriate behavior”; therefore, “individuals who transgressed the will of God were punished severely in public.” The witch trials are the perfect example of this intolerance (and public execution of witches was the best option to restore the community’s purity). Miller accurately captured the intolerance and religious fanaticism that prevailed in historic Salem and effectively incorporated them into The Crucible.

Another tremendously important theme in the crucibles is social status. The society portrayed in the film contains many class divisions. “Women are considered inferior to men, while white folks are deemed more important than people of color,” in addition, “wealthy people have a higher social status than their impoverished counterparts.” This dichotomy explains why Tituba is the first character to confess to witchcraft allegations in the play. Being the only woman of color in The Crucible, she knows that she ranks too poorly in social standing to survive the allegations of witchcraft. Therefore, “she figures that the only way to save her life is to confess and assist the townsfolk in finding other witches.” Furthermore, the young girls in the film are quick to accuse two women (Goody Good and Goody Osburn) of bewitching them based on a gut feeling that no one would doubt their allegations. And rightly so because “since these women are the poorest and weakest members of their society, no one will bother looking for evidence to substantiate their allegations.” As depicted in the crucibles, these divisions accurately represent the class divisions that existed in historic Salem. According to various sources, none of the people who faced witchcraft allegations during the Salem witch trials had high social standing. “Most of the accused persons” were either very poor or belonged to minority racial groups.” Miller allows the audience to witness these social privileges firsthand by transforming faceless characters from Salem’s history into real characters with emotion and free will.

As seen from the discussions presented in this essay, Miller’s incorporation of themes such as hysteria, intolerance, and social status into the movie, The Crucible, provides the audience with a realistic scenario that is believable and educational. Furthermore, it applies to modern society because most people can relate to atleast one theme in the film. Miller goes further than depicting what truly happened in Salem to study human motivation and subsequent behavior through these and other themes in the play. Therefore the movie is an enduring masterpiece because it will continue to affect its audience by allowing them to see how dark desires and hidden agendas can lead to death and destruction.


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Baker, I. L. “Arthur Miller’s Art in the Crucible.” The Crucible, 1991, 39–48.

Bilal, Muhammad, Wajid Riaz, and Shaista Malik. “Facts behind the Traumatic Sexual Oppression in Maryce Conde’s I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem.” Liberal Arts and Social Sciences International Journal (LASSIJ) 4, no. 1 (2020): 91–101.

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Godbeer, Richard, and Mary Beth Norton. “In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692.” The New England Quarterly 76, no. 3 (2003): 484.

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Reed, Isaac Ariail. “Deep Culture in Action: Resignification, Synecdoche, and Metanarrative in the Moral Panic of the Salem Witch Trials.” Theory and Society 44, no. 1 (2015): 65–94.

Reed, Isaac. “Why Salem Made Sense: Culture, Gender, and the Puritan Persecution of Witchcraft.” Cultural Sociology 1, no. 2 (2007): 209–34.

Smith, Michelle. “Reading in Circles: Sexuality and/as History in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.” Callaloo 18, no. 3 (1995): 602–7.


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