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The play, ‘The crucible’, shows how people react to mass hysteria caused by a group of people, as people did during the McCarthy hearings in the 1950’s. The “House un-American activities committee” searched for communist sympathisers because they were felt to be a threat to the state. Many Americans were wrongly accused of being communist sympathisers and were convicted and sentenced without any real evidence of them having committed a crime. Mere suspicion was classed as evidence. And like the during the witch hunts, anyone who spoke out was accused which made defending yourself a death wish. This is how McCarthyism was linked with the witch-hunts that had taken place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
The title of the play describes exactly what was happening at the time of the witch-hunts. A crucible is a container in which metals are heated to extracted the pure element from impurities, and crucible is another word for a cauldron that witches use to brew their magic potions in. So the word ‘crucible’ could metaphorically be used to explain how the activities in Salem were like a potion brewing in a cauldron with the potion being ‘mixed’ to separate the witches (impurities) from the good, god-loving citizens (element).
The opening scene of the play shows the girls dancing in the woods around a cauldron, they are spotted by Parris who also see’s that one of them is naked. The people of Salem were Puritans and so dancing was perceived as a sin. The morning after the dancing, two of the youngest girls cannot wake from bed. A doctor is called to help the girls but he cannot diagnose what is wrong with them or how they can be helped, His only advice is to look to the unnatural. The girls do not confess to their activities until Parris confronts them. Abigail says all that they did was dance and strongly denies that any of them were naked, ‘Uncle, we did dance.’ ‘There is nothin’ more. I swear it, uncle.’
Mrs Putnam, the mother of the other ill child, believes that her daughter Ruth and Parris’s daughter Betty’s illnesses are caused by the devil. Parris calls for Hale who is an expert on ‘demonic arts’ Parris is the minister of the Village, much to the Putnam’s dismay. Mr Putnam’s brother was in competition with Parris for the position of minister and so the Putnam’s have a grudge against not only Parris, but the Nurse family who prevented him from being minister and many of there neighbours for various reasons. Especially with Giles Corey who has worked out that the Putnam’s will do anything to get their hands on other peoples land, ‘This man is killing his neighbours for their land!’ John Proctor also has a grudge against Parris.
Hale arrives in Salem, He is a confident and well education young man who believes he has all the answers. As he is examining Betty Giles Corey distracts him by asking him questions about his wife. Giles says that his wife reads strange books whilst they are in bed and while she is reading, he cannot pray. Hale carries on trying to help Betty with little effect. Parris tells Hale that he thinks he saw a kettle in the grass with the girls in the wood with something moving inside it. Hale questions Abigail but she denies that she drank blood and called the devil. Abigail then realises that if the truth is found out she will get in a lot of trouble and so she passes the blame onto Tituba, Parris’s black slave, by saying that Tituba forced her to drink blood and even blames her wicked dreams on the slave.
Tituba confesses to save herself from being hung. She mentions four people’s names that she supposedly saw with the devil. Abigail mentions more and more names and then the rest of the girls join in, mentioning the names of anyone they hate, have a grudge against or just dislike. As the girls cried out more names, the hysteria began to grow. By accusing others of witchcraft they are diverting attention away from their original misdemeanours.
We can see that the Proctors relationship is not very strong, they make petty small talk over dinner and don’t appear to be happy together. One reason for this may be that Elizabeth has not forgiven John for having an affair with Abigail whilst she was ill. Whilst Mary was at court with the other girls where people were being tried for witchcraft she made a poppet for Elizabeth. Abigail was sitting next to Mary whilst she made it.
By now 39 women had been arrested and Goody Osborn was sentenced to hanging. Mary, who had always been a very shy, timid girl was now becoming very easily led along by Abigail and just as confused between fact and fantasy as the other girls and. This is apparent when she tells the Proctors that Sarah Good had confessed to having made contact with Lucifer, and that Sarah Goods spirit tried to choke her in the courtroom. Mary then speaks of even more fantasy when she says that terrible stomach pains had been inflicted upon her when she had turned the old woman away whilst she was begging. Mary also accused the old woman of mumbling a spell to her, but Sarah Good claimed it was not a spell, it were her commandments. The court asked her to repeat the commandments, but she could not.