Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible". A Portrayal of a Puritan Society

Term Paper, 2010

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction
1.1. The coming about of The Crucible
1.2. Puritanism - Puritan

2. The Puritan World in The Crucible
2.1 Church Services
2.2 The Bible
2.3 Believe in the Devil and his servants
2.4 Everybody can be a target
2.5 Women and their link to the devil
2.6 Oppression of personal feelings and freedom
2.7 Clergy and Judges
2.8 Confession

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

“With belief in witchcraft almost universal in Europe and America in the seventeenth century, the New England Puritans had no need to invent a theory of demonology. But as Puritans they applied such notions with a vigour and persistence unrivalled among their fellow colonists. Only in New England did persecution of witches assume epidemic proportions; only there did people die for consorting with Satan. The precise reasons for the outbreaks in Connecticut and Massachusetts remain obscure, but there seems little doubt that a casual connection obtained between the hyper-religiosity of the Puritan mind and the rooting out of the devil’s agent […]” (Vaughan 276)

What happened in Salem, in 1692, is today described as one of the darkest episodes in American history. Still today, historians try to find out what caused the disastrous outbreak of the witch craze but the only thing they can be sure about is that they can not explain why so many people had to die. (Breslaw 104) “Accusations of witchcraft were not unusual in the seventeenth-century world […]” (Breslaw 103) What was so special about the time and place that such an outbreak of random accusations became possible? “[…] “Salem” has become an icon in American culture. The trials have become a metaphor for hysterical prosecution, unfounded accusations, and confessions that have no reasonable explanation.” (Reis 10) Believe in witchcraft had existed for hundreds of years before the hysteria broke out in Salem. The colonists who came to Massachusetts had a strong belief in the devil and his agents and were mainly Puritans, who came to America to gain religious freedom. (Langston 8)

There are many things you could compare between the historical account of the witch hunt and Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. This paper is going to analyse the portrayal of a Puritan society in Miller’s play and will try to find out whether the religion of the people and therewith their way of life have caused the rising of the witch scare and the horrible outcome for the characters in the play. It is going to be analysed why normal people start accusing their neighbours and friends for witchcraft although many of them are aware of the consequences for the accused.

At first it is going to be described how Arthur Miller informed himself about the happenings of 1692 in order to underline his credibility of being able to create the Puritan society of that time. In the following the terms ‘Puritanism’ and ‘Puritan’ will be briefly defined. The main part of the paper will concentrate on the analysis of Puritan traits, beliefs, and lifestyles in The Crucible in order to find out whether they might have played a part in the catastrophe.

1.1. The coming about of The Crucible

Arthur Miller did a lot of research on the topic before he started writing his play in 1952. (Gottfried 214) He visited Salem to see everything for himself and had a look at the documents from 1692 in Salem courthouse. The documents told him what happened to the people of that time and he learned a lot about the procedures of the court. (Martin, Centola 27) In his book The Crucible in history Miller wrote that “one of [his] most useful sources was the 1867 two-volume history of the trials by Charles W. Upham, who had been Mayor of Salem, albeit nearly a century and a half after the catastrophe” (Miller, 2000, 48) In a ‘Note on the historical accuracy of the play’ Arthur Miller himself admitted that his work is not entirely historical and the documents which describe the goings-on of 1692 can easily prove that the author changed a number of things in order to make them fit in his drama. (Miller, 2002, 1975) Miller reduced the settings to one place for each act and he also limited the number of characters to the most important ones, fusing many of them into one. You can also see in the documents that the whole incident did not happen in such a short period of time. In fact a timeline of the happenings shows that it all started in January 1692 and only ended a year later. (Fremon appendix) Despite the fact that Miller had to change some things to arrange his drama he still takes the reader into a time of deep religious believers and captures the essence of it, portraying the Puritan society of 1692 Salem.

1.2. Puritanism - Puritan

The American Puritanism had its origins in England and developed in the second half of the seventeenth century. There were many people who wanted to change the English church. (Vaughan 1) The Puritan movement emerged quickly and soon they were not welcome in England anymore because they thought the changes that were made in England were not enough and they wanted the church to change further. (Vaughan 35) In seek of refuge they travelled to New England, America, and founded Plymouth plantation, which was the beginning of the Puritan tradition in America. (Vaughan 41) Puritanism is said to be an amorphous, multifaceted, and dynamic movement and any broad definition seems to be inadequate. (Vaughan xi) The people who came to New England brought their cultural English background with them and their religious commitment can be called a radically reformed Protestantism. (Vaughan xii) Their culture but also their religion was reshaped in America in many ways. They founded a special “New England Way of life”. (Vaughan xii)

“[…] New England Puritans established an experiment in Christian living that reconstructed not only church policy and procedures but most of society’s institutions and everyday practices. […] The central Puritan religious experience—the soul’s conversion or rebirth—required adherents to reform their lives. Puritanism asked them to look with new eyes at the nature and structure of government, at the role of communities, at the obligations of families; to have new attitudes toward work, toward leisure, toward witches and the wonders of the world.” (Vaughan xiii)

Being a Puritan therefore affected every moment of a person’s existence. The religion was essential not only for private life but it also affected the life of the community; it affected politics and also the economy.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Puritan as “[a] member of that party of English Protestants who regarded the reformation of the church under Elizabeth as incomplete, and called for its further purification from what they considered to be unscriptural and corrupt forms and ceremonies retained from the unreformed church” (Murray 1621) The term is also used to describe people who are “[…] extremely strict, precise, or scrupulous in religion or morals.” (Murray 1621)

2. The Puritan World in The Crucible

In the beginning of the play Miller gives a brief account of the situation in Salem right before the outbreak of the witch hunt. He mentions that many Europeans saw the New Colonies as a group of fanatics who led a strict and somber life. He also notes that people had a preference of minding everybody’s business. (Miller, 2002, 1976) The characters in his play are a very dedicated folk and live in a communal society joint by a religious ideology. They believe that they can only be safe if they stick together and live in good organized Christian community. They are afraid of everything different and believe that the devil is living in the woods that surround Salem village. On top of that the people also live in a time of change where some of them try to become more independent from the community and start to think about their own life and their success first. The people of Salem have developed a theocracy that combines religion and state. This combination of power which is built on the idea of exclusion and prohibition is supposed to hold them all together and to protect them from material or ideological enemies. (Miller, 2002, 1977) The witch hunt and the harsh reaction to the witch craze is the effect of a society that is starting to get out of balance in their turn toward greater personal freedom. But out of the oppression of personal freedom comes the accusation of witch craft. They have had to oppress personal feelings for such a long time that some characters use the opportunity for revenge. (Miller, 2002, 1978) “Old scares could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord […]” (Miller, 2002, 1978)


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible". A Portrayal of a Puritan Society
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Proseminar: Lost in Literature
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arthur, miller’s, crucible, portrayal, puritan, society
Quote paper
Anika Kehl (Author), 2010, Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible". A Portrayal of a Puritan Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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