The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Source: The Salem Witch Trials
Arthur Miller based his play on historical accounts of the Salem witch trials of 1692. According to those accounts, more than 150 people were accused of witchcraft and jailed. Twenty of them were executed. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill near Salem and one was pressed to death with heavy stones laid on his chest. To suit the dramatic design of The Crucible, Miller altered some of the facts. For example, he changed the ages of some Salem residents and merged others into a single character. During the actual trials, William Stoughton was the presiding judge, assisted by nine associate judges. In the play, there are only two judges. Thomas Danforth, of Boston, an associate judge in the actual trials, becomes the presiding judge. Thomas Hathorne, of Salem, an associate judge in the actual trials, is the associate judge in the play. Hathorne was an ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the 19th Century author of two outstanding works on old Salem: The Scarlet Letter, a novel, and “Young Goodman Brown,” a short story. Hawthorne inserted a “w” into his surname to disassociate himself from Judge Hathorne. Belief in evil forces such as witches, warlocks, and diabolical spirits was widespread in America and Europe during and before the 17th Century.
Type of Work
The Crucible is a tragic stage play based on accounts of the Salem Witch trials of 1692. When it was first performed, it was presented as an allegory for Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's notorious "Red Scare" hearings that accused many innocent Americans of being subversive communists.
Year of Publication and Link With McCarthyism
Arthur Miller published The Crucible in 1953, and debuted it that year at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City. He wrote the play in part to renounce the unfair tactics of congressional committees investigating Americans suspected of subversive behavior. The House Un-American Activities Committee, established in 1938, began holding hearings in the late 1940's to identify Americans with communist sympathies, focusing on Hollywood actors, directors, and writers. Witnesses who refused to identify acquaintances exhibiting suspicious behavior were blacklisted, a penalty that ruined reputations and made it difficult for many in the film industry to get work. When Senator Joseph R. McCarthy began conducting his own investigation in the U.S. Senate in the 1950's, he accused hundreds of innocent people of having communist ties, using tactics not unlike those used in the Salem witch trials. For example, instead of asking a witness “Are you a communist?” he was more likely to ask “Are you still a communist?” The insertion of the word still made it impossible for a witness to answer yes or no to the question while maintaining his innocence. In response to McCarthy’s unfair tactics, journalists coined the term McCarthyism to describe the use of groundless evidence and accusations in public inquiries. Miller himself appeared before Congress in 1956 but refused to provide the names of persons under suspicion. He was found guilty of contempt, but he appealed the verdict and was exonerated.

The action takes place between spring and autumn in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the town of Salem and the surrounding countryside. Salem was a theocracy in which the Christian moral law, as interpreted by the Puritan settlers of the town, was supreme.

Protagonist: John Proctor
Antagonist: Abigail Williams

John Proctor Honest farmer forced to defend his wife and himself against witchcraft charges. While his wife was ill, he succumbed to temptation and was intimate with Abigail Williams, a beautiful but malevolent 17-year-old. Although Proctor later rejects Abigail and admits his wrongdoing to his wife, Abigail continues to pursue him.
Elizabeth Proctor John Proctor’s loyal and upright wife. She comes to realize that she may have been partly at fault for her husband's unfaithfulness because she was not always as warm and loving as she could have been.

Rev. Samuel Parris Salem's current minister. A faction in his congregation is attempting to replace him. He at first attempts to silence rumors of witchcraft because his own daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail Williams, were involved in conjuring rites. However, he later vigorously supports the witch trials when he sees that they will work to his advantage.
Betty Parris Daughter of the Rev. Parris. At the beginning of the play, she lies in a stupor supposedly caused by witchcraft.
Abigail Williams Seventeen-year-old orphan whose parents were killed by Indians. She lives with her uncle, the Rev. Parris, and his daughter, Betty. In a conjuring rite in the forest, where Abigail and other girls dance wildly around a cauldron, Abigail drinks rooster blood in attempt to summon spirits to kill Elizabeth Proctor. Mrs. Proctor had fired Abigail from her job as a servant at the Proctor farm because Abigail seduced her husband.
Tituba Slave of the Rev. Parris. The minister brought her to Salem from Barbados, where she learned occult practices. She presides at a conjuring session involving teenage and adolescent girls from Salem.

John, Ann Putnam Wealthy husband and wife who use the witchcraft frenzy implicate rivals and enemies.
Rev. John Hale Expert in detecting spirits. Well educated, he takes pride in his knowledge of the occult, but he is fair-minded. Although he first believes townspeople may be practicing witchcraft, he later defends accused persons, in particular Mr. and Mrs. Proctor.
Rebecca Nurse Charitable Salem resident whom Ann Putnam accuses of witchcraft.
Mary Warren Eighteen-year-old servant of the Proctors who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest. She first agrees to testify against Abigail and the others. But, under pressure from her peers and the court, she renounces her testimony and sides with Abigail.

Deputy Governor John Danforth Presiding judge who conducts the witchcraft hearings and trials. He admits spectral evidence (testimony of witnesses who believe they saw townspeople in the presence of the devil) but refuses to accept a deposition presented by John Proctor. The deposition, signed by Mary Warren, is intended as evidence that could lead to the exoneration of Elizabeth Proctor and others.
John Hathorne Associate Judge.
Giles Corey Innocent citizen accused of witchcraft after he attempts to defend his wife, Martha, and expose scheming John Putnam. A courageous 83-year-old who defies the court, he is pressed to death with heavy stones. Martha Corey is hanged.
Mercy Lewis Teenage servant of the Proctors who took part in the conjuring rite in the forest.
Susanna Walcott Teenager who took part in the rite in the forest.
Sarah Good Poor, homeless woman accused of witchcraft.

The Salem Witch Trials - National Geographic Tour

Victims of Mass Hysteria Webquest

Which Witch is Real? ..

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Written by Thornton Wilder, Our Town explores the lives of people living in a small, quintessentially American town. It was first produced in 1938 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

Group Research Pre-Reading:
1. Thornton Wilder
2. Critical Reception of Drama
3. Daily Farm Life in Rural New England: 1900
4. Marriage Rituals 1900 vs. 2000
5. Funeral Rituals 1900 vs. 2000
6. Peterborough, New Hampshire

The Play is divided into three aspects of the human experience:

ACT ONE: Daily Life

ACT TWO: Love / Marriage
ACT THREE: Death / Loss

Act One:
The Stage Manager, serving as the play’s narrator, introduces the audience to Grover’s Corners, a small town in New Hampshire. The year is 1901. In the early morning only a few folks are about. The paperboy delivers papers. The milkman strolls by. Dr. Gibbs has just returned from delivering twins.
Note: There are very few props in Our Town. Most of the objects are pantomimed.
The Stage Manager arranges a few (real) chairs and tables. Two families enter and begin pantomiming breakfast.

The Gibbs Family:

  • Dr. Gibbs: Hardworking, soft-spoken, disciplined.
  • Mrs. Gibbs: The Doctor’s wife. She believes her husband is overworked and should take a vacation.
  • George: Their son. Energetic, friendly, sincere.
  • Rebecca: George’s little sister.

The Webb Family:

  • Mr. Webb: Runs the town’s newspaper.
  • Mrs. Webb: Strict but loving to her children.
  • Emily Webb: Their daughter. Bright, hopeful and idealistic.
  • Wally Webb: Her younger brother.

Throughout the morning and the rest of the day, the townspeople of Grover’s Corner eat breakfast, work in town, do household chores, garden, gossip, go to school, attend choir practice, and admire the moonlight.
Here are some of Act One’s more compelling moments:
Dr. Gibbs calmly chastises his son for forgetting to chop firewood. When George has tears in his eyes, he hands him a handkerchief and the matter is resolved.
Simon Stimson, the church organist, leads the church choir while intoxicated. He staggers home drunk and deeply troubled. The constable and Mr. Webb try to assist him, but Stimson wanders away. Webb wonders how the man’s sorry situation will end, but decided there is nothing to be done about it.
Emily Webb and George Gibbs sit at their windows (according to the stage directions, they are perched on ladders). They talk about algebra and the moonlight. Their words are mundane, perhaps, but their fondness for each other is obvious.
Rebecca tells her brother a funny story about a letter Jane Crofut received from a minister. It was addressed:
Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God.
Act One ends with the Stage Manager tell the audience: “That’s the end of the First Act, friends. You can go and smoke now, those that smoke.

Act Two:
The Stage Manager explains that three years have passed. It is the wedding day of George and Emily.
The Webb and Gibbs parents lament how their children have grown so quickly. George and Mr. Webb, his soon-to-be father-in-law, awkwardly converse about the futility of marital advice.
Before the wedding commences, the Stage Manager wonders how it all began, both this specific romance of George and Emily, as well as the origins of marriage in general. He takes the audience back in time a bit, to when George and Emily’s romantic relationship began.
In this flashback, George is the captain of the baseball team. Emily has just been elected as the student body treasurer and secretary. After school, he offers to carry her books home. She accepts but suddenly reveals how she does not like the change in his character. She claims that George has become arrogant.
This seems to be a false accusation, however, because George immediately apologizes. He is very grateful to have such an honest friend as Emily. He takes her to the soda shop, where the Stage Manager pretends to be the store owner. There, the boy and girl reveal their devotion to one another.
The Stage Manager segues back to the wedding ceremony. Both the young bride and groom are scared about getting married and growing up. Mrs. Gibbs snaps her son out of his jitters. Mr. Webb calms his daughter’s fears.
The Stage Manager plays the role of the minister. In his sermon he says of the countless who have gotten married, “Once in a thousand times it’s interesting.”

Act Three:
The final act takes place in a cemetery in 1913. It is set upon a hill overlooking Grover’s Corner. About a dozen people sit in several rows of chairs. They have patient and somber faces. The Stage Manager tells us that these are the dead citizens of the town.
Among the recent arrivals are:

  • Mrs. Gibbs: Died of pneumonia while visiting her daughter.
  • Wally Webb: Died young. His appendix burst during a Boy Scout trip.
  • Simon Stimson: Facing troubles the audience never understands, he hangs himself.
A funeral procession approaches. The dead characters comment nonchalantly about the new arrival: Emily Webb. She died while giving birth to her second child.
The sprit of Emily walks away from the living and joins the dead, sitting next to Mrs. Gibbs. Emily is pleased to see her. She talks about the farm. She is distracted by the living as they grieve. She wonders how long the sensation of feeling alive will last; she is anxious to feel like the others do.
Mrs. Gibbs tells her to wait, that it is best to be quiet and patient. The dead seem to be looking to the future, waiting for something. They are no longer emotionally connected to the troubles of the living.
Emily senses that one can return to the world of the living, that one can revisit and re-experience the past. With the help of the Stage Manager, and against the advice of Mrs. Gibbs, Emily returns to her 12th birthday. However, everything is too beautiful, too emotionally intense. She chooses to go back to the numbing comfort of the grave. The world, she says, is too wonderful for anyone to truly realize it.
Some of the dead, such as Stimson, express bitterness to the ignorance of the living. However, Mrs. Gibbs and the others believe that life was both painful and wonderful. They take comfort and companionship in the starlight above them.
In the last moments of the play, George returns to weep at Emily’s grave.

EMILY: Mother Gibbs?
MRS. GIBBS: Yes, Emily?
EMILY: They don’t understand, do they?
MRS. GIBBS: No, dear. They don’t understand.

The Stage Manager then reflects upon how, throughout the universe, it may be that only the inhabitants of earth are straining away. He tells the audience to get a good night’s rest. The play ends.

Norman Rockwell Painting Project

When most Americans think about the turn of the century in America, they think of Our Town and Norman Rockwell. Both are related to rural New England. Norman has a lot to say that is similar to Wilder, although he glosses over much of the darkness.

Every painting has a story to tell. Work with a small group to examine a Rockwell painting and ask yourselves the following questions:

  • What are the important details?
  • What important details are left out?
  • What is centered in the painting? Why?
  • What message is the painter trying to give to the viewer?
  • What is the overall theme to the painting?
  • Can you connect this painting to a scene in the drama: Our Town?

Be prepared to share your painting and discussion with the class. Use the link below as a resource.

Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

This is a song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It is full of metaphor, allusion, and offers a different take on Our Town.

Click Here to Listen

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from ?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong ?

Father mckenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near.
Look at him working. darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Eleanor rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father mckenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Listen and read the song lyrics to Eleanor Rigby. Answer the following questions:
  • What does Eleanor Rigby do in the church?
  • Why is that sad?
  • Complete the quote: "Wearing the face "
  • Explain the quote.
  • Who is the quote for?
  • What is Father McKenzie doing?
  • Why will no one hear it?
  • What was his sermon for?
  • Where did Eleanor Rigby die?
  • How was she buried "along with her name"?
  • Why was "no one saved"?
  • Who is similar to Eleanor Rigby in Our Town?
  • How is the character in Our Town different?