SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS FOR THE CRUCIBLE
Go to the Learning Guide for this film.
Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet
Enrichment Worksheets are a TWM innovation containing text and questions designed to get students thinking. Questions are focused on comprehension, application, analysis, syntheses or evaluation. Questions can be answered in class or as homework, as quickwrites, journal entries, formal essays, or research papers. For a version of the Worksheet in word processing format, click here. Worksheets should be reviewed and modified as necessary to make sure they are suitable for the class.
The Witchcraft Trials of 1692 and the Red Scare of 1947 - 1956
Witchcraft hysterias occurred in both Catholic and Protestant areas of Europe from about 1480 through the end of the 1600s. Scholars estimate that from 1500 to 1660, some 50,000 to 80,000 suspected witches, 80% of them women, were executed. Persecutions continued into the 1700s. In Europe, witchcraft persecutions often led to more devastating effects than the hysteria in Salem. In some cities hundreds were executed as witches. In a few Swiss villages, after the waves of anti-witch hysteria, there were scarcely any women left.
The Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692 led to the imprisonment of more than 100 people and the execution of 20. Four died in prison. Men were executed as well as women. The accusations were made by a group of young women demonstrating symptoms of hysteria. They accused various people in the village of appearing to them as specters that would pinch, suffocate or stab them. Often the only way those accused could avoid being hanged was to confess guilt and to give the names of other alleged witches.
Question 1: What is your image of how a witch would look and behave and how would such an image engender fear even in powerful men and women?
The twenty people executed in Salem were those who continued to maintain their innocence, refused to confess, and would not name others. Nineteen were hanged. One man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death, a method of torture used in England on people who would not plead in court. A plea was necessary before the court could take jurisdiction and condemn the prisoner. It was thought that the weight of rocks on the chests of the accused would push the words "guilty" or "not guilty" from their lips.
The only words that pressing got out of Giles Corey were, "more weight, more weight." Historians believe that Corey thought he would be condemned anyway and by refusing to plead he prevented the court from finding that he was a witch. Upon conviction as a witch, his property would have been confiscated and his children would have been without an inheritance. This suggests that for some, the witch trials were motivated by a desire for material gain.
In writing about the Salem witch trials, Arthur Miller sought to re-create the atmosphere in which hysteria can thrive and spread to others; he never claimed that his play was historically accurate. Most historians agree that he gets the sense of the times right: the fear, the intensity, the infectious nature of the hysteria, the retribution brought down upon those who doubted the accusers, and the use of the situation by certain individuals to expropriate and sell the land of the accused.
Arthur Miller was clearly more interested in the story of the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the Red Scare of the period 1947-1956 than in a study of American history in colonial times. In the years after World War II, competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union became intense. Spies from the Soviet Union stole secrets of making an atomic bomb. There was great fear of communists in the country, which was fanned by politicians from both parties. President Truman established Loyalty Boards to ferret out communists in the federal government. Other politicians sought headlines and political advantage by making unsupported accusations about the presence of communists in the government or other institutions. Suspicion was extended to people who had joined non-communist political organizations that were later labeled as communist front organizations because they took the same positions as the Communist Party.
The most notorious politician to foment the Red Scare was Senator Joseph McCarthy. He came to prominence with by chairing a special Senate investigating committee and by making mostly baseless claims that communists had infiltrated the State Department and other agencies of the government. When he attacked the U.S. Army in televised hearings, the irresponsibility of this conduct was made manifest and McCarthy was eventually censured by the Senate. McCarthy's name has come to be associated with political attack using guilt by association, innuendo, and unsupported charges.
Question 2: Why would an ordinary person care if another person's freedom of speech is restricted due to extreme political beliefs?
The main vehicle for what came to be known as the "McCarthyites" or the "redbaiters," because of the association of the color red with communism, was the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). This was a committee of the House of Representatives which would call witnesses to testify and demand that they disclose their past political associations. Witnesses were required to repent their connection with the Communist Party of the USA or left wing political organizations and to identify other people who had attended legal political meetings. Refusal to cooperate with the HUAC would ruin careers. If a witness refused to testify about past political associations, relying on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the witness would be cited for contempt of Congress. The government would then prosecute the witness for criminal contempt of Congress. Some people were convicted and sent to federal prison for several years. Witnesses who cooperated with the HUAC and the McCarthyites, who disavowed their prior leftist connections, and who named others with liberal political associations, were exonerated.
Loyalty boards, both state and federal, conducted thousands of loyalty hearings in which public employees and people who held licenses issued by the states were accused of harboring communist sympathies. Persons accused of disloyalty were required to demonstrate that they were not communists. Often these hearings were not conducted by judges and there were no rules of evidence. Unsupported suspicion was often enough to cost a person his or her job or license to practice a profession. Proceedings could be leaked to the press resulting in ruined careers and reputations. There was never any demonstration that these hearings increased the security of the United States.
Private industry also capitulated to the redbaiters, firing people based on unsupported accusations and placing their names on blacklists which prevented them from getting other jobs in their profession. One of the most infamous blacklists was in the entertainment industry. It included the names of more than a hundred people and was extended to include those who had supported many of the reforms that the communists had also supported and even those who simply opposed the blacklist. Hollywood studios hired a business called "Red Channels" to investigate the background of people seeking to work in the film industry. The redbaiters came to have a financial interest, in addition to their political interests, in extending the hysteria, just as some of the participants in the witch hunts centuries earlier obtained an economic benefit from the hysteria.
Question 3: What was so frightening about individual American's participating in the Communist Party that society would respond as if they were serious threats to the democratic system?
The Communist Party of the United States was organized in 1919. In the 1930s and early 1940s, in response to the inability of the American economy to provide jobs and financial security during the Great Depression, many socially conscious Americans joined liberal organizations. Some joined the Communist Party. However, voters in the U.S. have never supported the Communist Party; it has never elected a representative to Congress nor has it been popular with the "oppressed masses" it sought to champion. After the Second World War, as the authoritarian and anti-U.S. nature of the Soviet Union became apparent, membership in the Communist Party, USA dropped to virtually nothing. Because of protections specified in the First Amendment, it has never been illegal to belong to the Communist Party.
The Communist Party, USA was thoroughly penetrated by the FBI. An old joke goes that at some communist party meetings, there were more undercover FBI agents, posing as members of the party, than real communists.
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Additional Helpful Background:
The first film version of the play was produced in France in 1957 and entitled "Les Sorcieres de Salem". The screenplay was written by Jean Paul Sartre and the film was directed by Raymond Rouleau. It was produced in France because movie makers in the United States were afraid of being branded as communist sympathizers if they made the film. The play was not made into a movie until 1996, some five years after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Arthur Miller (1915 - 2005) was one of America's greatest playwrights. His works include "Death of a
Salesman" and All My Sons; Miller and his plays have been
the recipient of many awards including the Tony Award, the
Pulitzer Prize, and the New York Drama Critics Awards. Most
of Miller's plays concern the responsibility of people to
each other in light of the common goals shared by
Additional Discussion Questions:
Continued from the Learning Guide...
QUESTIONS RELATING TO THE WITCHCRAFT TRIALS AS A METAPHOR FOR THE RED SCARE OF 1947 - 1956:
5. Miller reports the following facts at the end of the play:
Twenty years after the last execution, the
government awarded compensation to the victims still
living and to the families of the dead. However, it is
evident that some people still were unwilling to admit
their total guilt, and also that the factionalism was
still alive, for some beneficiaries were actually not
victims at all, but informers ....
How do you account for the facts that Miller notes? Suggested Response: As time passed and the hysteria was long gone, people were able to look back and see rationally what had really happened. They no longer felt threatened.
[Within 20 years after the witchcraft trials] to all intents and purposes, the power of theocracy in Massachusetts was broken.
6. Name other situations in which a feeling of hysteria caused the deaths of innocent people? Suggested Response: There are many. They include: anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia; the Holocaust; the genocide in Cambodia, 1975 to 1997, and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
7. Do you believe that the torture of prisoners by U.S. authorities at Abu Ghraib, the prison at Guantanamo and other locations, was justified or did it betray American core values? Suggested Response: This is a matter of debate, but most people would answer that torture is against basic American values. In addition, torture has not been shown to be an effective interrogation technique. People in great pain will tell the interrogator anything to get the pain to stop.
8. One of the explanatory paragraphs Miller inserted into his play states the following:
When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we [America during the Red Scare] shall be pitied someday. It is impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.
Identify some social repressions in your life. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer. Examples that students might cite are: clothing regulations at schools, restrictions on what students can write in the student newspaper, restrictions on the use of profanity or hate speech, etc.
9. Does the fact that there were a few Soviet spies who may have been able to cause serious harm to the country justify the denial of rights to thousands of innocent individuals? Give your reasons. Suggested Response: A good discussion will include the following: The First Amendment protects the rights to free speech and political association. Membership in the Communist Party has never been illegal. One of the foundations of the American society, from the Founding Fathers onward, has been that it is much worse for innocents to be punished than for some of the guilty to go free. People are considered innocent until proven guilty. The government has many other resources with which to catch spies. As the character of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons said "If you tear down all the protections of the law, when the wind blows again where will you find shelter?"
QUESTIONS RELATING TO LITERARY ELEMENTS
10. In terms of story, rather than historical accuracy, which character serves as the narrative's protagonist? Suggested Response: John Proctor is the protagonist. The story is his. It is his sexual philandering that rouses Abigail to generate the hysteria against witchcraft, he is the one who grows in terms of honor, and it is through his character that the moral lessons of the play are taught.
11. Which character serves as the antagonist? Suggested Response: Abigail is the antagonist. Her desire to seek revenge against John Proctor or to win his affections causes the tension in the film and provokes the changes in both John and his wife, Elizabeth, that create theme. It could also be said that the community which allows itself to become the prosecutor of John Proctor is also the antagonist. Abigail acts through the community.
12. What gives Abigail the power to disrupt the community and to get many young women to follow her lead in claiming witchcraft? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Students may suggest that a general sense of sexual repression existed in the time period in which the film is set and this may have given rise to pent up sexual frustrations released in the hysteria. The opening scene, with the fire and nude dancing exemplifies this. Guilt may have been a factor as well as fear of reprisal. It was easier for these girls to blame witchcraft for sexual longing than to admit the feelings themselves. Others may decide that John Proctor gave Abigail the power to provoke the hysteria with his sexuality and by his provocative behavior; Abigail seems to believe that it is Elizabeth Proctor who keeps John away from her, rather than his own desire.
13. In what ways does Elizabeth Proctor change through the course of the story? Suggested Response: Elizabeth Proctor is a cold and punitive woman until the moment she realizes that her husband is threatened. At this point she lies to protect him, choosing to value love over honesty. Ironically, this dooms her husband. She then forgives him for his adultery, admits her feelings of jealousy and insecurity, apologizes for her coldness and encourages him to remain true to himself. Her redemption results in her death.
14. Before Elizabeth forgives him, Proctor is willing to sign the false confession in order to save his life and hers. But after she forgives him he chooses to die rather than to admit to something he didn't do. Can you explain this change of mind? Suggested Response: Here is one explanation. Once his wife absolves him of his guilt, Proctor is able to regain his self-respect and act according to his higher nature. He will not falsely name others. In his refusal, with his new found self-respect, he comes to the point where he will not name himself; he tears up the confession and gets on the wagon with the other doomed townspeople.
15. What irony can be found in the scene in which John Proctor and two others are hanged? Suggested Response: The three condemned citizens are reciting the Lord's Prayer which includes the words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." This recitation brings into clear focus the merciless, even murderous nature of the good Christian people of the village who are watching the hanging. Those being trespassed against are doing the forgiving.
TWM's Standard Questions for Use With Any Film That is a Work of Fiction and Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays help stimulate student interest and assist in the exploration of characterization, plot, theme, and other literary devices.
Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions
See Discussion Questions 1 and 2 in the Learning Guide and 5 - 8 above.
1. Was Elizabeth Proctor in any way responsible for her husband's infidelity? Suggested Response: John Proctor was responsible for his actions. Many people misunderstand this type of question and take it as a question about factual causation. Certainly, a cold and unloving spouse will, as a matter of fact, contribute to any infidelity by the other spouse. This is especially true in societies in which divorce was not a practical option. However, people are responsible for their own actions and while John Proctor may have had complaints against his wife, he is the one who committed adultery.
2. Should Elizabeth have forgiven her husband's infidelity? Suggested Response: Forgiveness liberates both the person who forgives and the person who is forgiven. When the transgressor is truly remorseful, forgiveness is a win/win proposition. Once Elizabeth forgave her husband, he was able to regain his self-respect and act according to his higher nature. Forgiveness allowed Elizabeth to get in touch with her feelings of love for her husband.
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)
1. Are there any circumstances in which a person should admit to doing something that he or she didn't do? If so, when? Suggested Response: While it might be easier in the short run, many untoward consequences can flow when a person admits to crimes or offenses that he or she did not commit. Once the admission is made, it is very hard to withdraw it. In a criminal court, once a conviction occurs based on the admission, it is like any other conviction. Punishments for later infractions will be worse. Jobs may be lost, etc.
2. If you were John Proctor, or any of the other people accused of being witches, and you were faced with the choice of the hangman's noose or confessing your own guilt to imaginary crimes while accusing innocent people of conspiring with you, what would you have done? Suggested Response: Condemning yourself is one thing. It's risky, as described in the preceding questions, but implicating other people is clearly unethical.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)
3. What is wrong with guilt by association? What can we tell from the fact that one person associates with another? Suggested Response: That one person associates with another, tells us very little about each of those persons. For example, if a person is seen talking to a member of Al Qaeda, this doesn't tell us that the other person is a terrorist. It might be grounds for suspicion and heightened surveillance, but the fact of the association or of repeated association proves nothing. There is also a constitutional aspect to this question, since the First Amendment protects freedom of association. It is illegal for the government to take action against a person because of mere political association.
Post-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet
The following Enrichment Worksheet will give students valuable information and is suitable to distribute after they see the film, either before or after class discussion. Click here for a version of the worksheet in word-processing format.
Notes on "The Crucible"
Arthur Miller, the man who wrote "The Crucible" commented on the connection between the Salem witch trials and the Red Scare. Describing the time he spent going over original documents from the time of the trials. He said,
. . . [G]radually, over the weeks a living connection between myself and Salem, and between Salem and Washington, was made in my mind & for whatever else they might be, I saw that the hearings in Washington were profoundly and even avowedly ritualistic. After all, in almost every case the [House Un-American Activities] Committee knew in advance what they wanted the witness to give them: the names of his comrades in the [Communist] Party. The FBI had long since infiltrated the [Communist] Party, and informers had long ago identified the participants in various meetings. The main point of the hearings, precisely as in Seventeenth Century Salem, was that the accused make public confession, damn his confederates as well as his Devil master, and guarantee his sterling new allegiance by breaking disgusting old vows -- whereupon he was let loose to rejoin the society of extremely decent people. In other words, the same spiritual nugget lay folded within both procedures -- an act of contrition done not in solemn privacy but out in the public air. The Salem prosecution was actually on more solid legal ground since the defendant, if guilty of familiarity with the Unclean One, had broken a law against the practice of witchcraft, a civil as well as a religious offense; whereas the offender against HUAC could not be accused of any such violation but only of a spiritual crime, subservience to a political enemy's desires and ideology. He was summoned before the Committee to be called a bad name, but one that could destroy his career. . . . Timebends, A Life by Arthur Miller, page 331.
Several years after he wrote "The Crucible," Arthur Miller himself was called to testify before the HUAC. He refused to answer the Committee's questions about the names of persons who had been present at meetings of writers that he had attended in the 1930s. As a result, he was charged with criminal contempt of congress, tried and then convicted. The conviction was later thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Question 1: Why would one of the country's most celebrated playwrights risk going to jail for refusing to give names that the HUAC already had in its files?
It has been argued that there were no real witches while there actually were real communists, some of whom were subservient to the Soviet Union, a real threat. Miller responds that during the time of the Salem trials, the best minds in America and in Europe believed in the existence of witches. He notes that on three occasions, the Bible warns against witches. Historians, both secular and religious, confirm that witches have existed and continue to exist, though not in the stereotypical image used to raise hysterical fear in centuries past; they never rode broomsticks nor did they have green skin, although they may have used frogs in some of their traditional remedies. Both witches and communists were feared, both reviled. Both were seen as a serious threat to the dominant paradigm and as such had to be eliminated, especially when there was economic or political gain to be had in the process. Miller comments on the offense of the accused in both situations:
The House Un-American Activities Committee [had] been in existence since 1938, but the tinder of guilt was not so available when the New Deal and Roosevelt were openly espousing a policy of vast social engineering often reminiscent of socialist methods. But as in Salem, a point arrived, in the late forties, when the rules of social intercourse quite suddenly changed, or were changed, and attitudes that had merely been anti-capitalist-antiestablishment were now made unholy, morally repulsive, and if not actually treasonous then implicitly so. America had always been a religious country. Timebends, A Life by Arthur Miller, pages 341 & 342.
The House Un-American Activities Committee was abolished in 1975. The religious fervor Miller mentions can be seen in the term "godless communists" that was commonly used in the period following World War II and in the sudden inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Question 2: How does religion play a role in the anti-terrorist campaign being waged around the globe today?
The universality of the "The Crucible" is demonstrated by the fact that people in countries other than the U.S. can use the play/film as a window through which to view their own efforts to gain the personal freedom. Miller, in his autobiography, describes the following incident:
In Shanghai in 1980, ["The Crucible"] served as a metaphor for life under Mao and the Cultural Revolution, decades when accusation and enforced guilt ruled China and all but destroyed the last signs of intelligent life. The writer Nien Cheng, who had spent six and a half years in solitary confinement and whose daughter was murdered by the Red Guards, could not believe that a non-Chinese had written the play. "Some of the interrogations," she said, "were precisely the same ones used on us in the Cultural Revolution." It was chilling to realize what had never occurred to me until she mentioned it -- that the tyranny of teenagers was almost identical in both instances. Timebends, A Life by Arthur Miller, page 348.
"The tyranny of teenagers," is the focus of action in the "The Crucible" but not in the American experience during the Red Scare. No youthful exuberance can explain the excess of the McCarthy and HUAC hearings, or the two hundred years of persecution suffered by witches prior to the events in Salem. Miller's play brought forth the universal truth of religious and political intolerance and as such it is important in the world-wide battle for rights clearly spelled out in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
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Continued from the Learning Guide...
4. "The Crucible" provides opportunities for teachers to develop expository writing skills in a format that is important in terms of mass media today. Students can be asked to write investigative reports, as might appear in a newspaper or on an internet site dedicated to explaining in-depth information. The reports are expository, but are addressed to an audience other than a teacher. Students need to understand their audience and try to keep interest levels high as they explain the information necessary to hold the attention of an intelligent reader. Any of the following topics are ideal offshoots of the concepts presented in "The Crucible".
- The Inquisition as oppression of pagans;
- Witch trials worldwide;
- The underlying causes of McCarthy era investigations; and
- Propaganda in film promoting government causes, such as WWII [Note that TWM has Learning Guides to Allied propaganda films from the Second World War: "Mrs. Miniver" (England) and "Ballad of a Soldier" (Soviet Union).]
5. Opinion pieces are an excellent tool to teach persuasion. Keeping with mass media as the audience for their essays, students can be asked to develop logical, informed papers that are supported with facts and pointed argumentation. Either side of the following posits can be addressed:
- Fear is a potent tool of a repressive governmental system;
- The First Amendment does not mean the government must accept as valid, religions that frighten the population;
- The anti-pagan movement, including the witch trials, was misogynistic, directed primarily against women;
- The Great Depression was the result of panic and fear.
Debates can be organized for any of the topics raised in the discussion questions or in the assignments. More sophisticated classes may want to address the following:
Which of the two Proctors, John or Elizabeth, was most culpable in creating the situation that resulted in their deaths?
All students can be asked to memorize the First Amendment and to recite this crucial addition to the U.S. Constitution aloud.
Any of the writing assignments can be presented to the class as oral reports by one or a group of students. See also additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction and TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
Other Lesson Plans:
Bridges to Reading:
This play was written to be read as well as
performed. Miller has inserted explanatory paragraphs which
describe the various characters in the play and which set out
his views. See, for example, the first explanatory insert in Act
One, in which Miller describes the fact that the dangers of
Indians and famine, which the Puritan theocracy was organized to
combat, were lessening and that certain people in Salem were
chafing at the restrictions of Puritan society:
The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these
pages, developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose
grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we
will discover its resolution. Simply, it was this: for good
purposes, even high purposes, the people of Salem developed
a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose
function was to keep the community together, and to prevent
any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by
material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a
necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all
organization is and must be grounded on the idea of
exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy
the same space. Evidently the time came in New England when
the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted
by the dangers against which the order was organized. The
witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which
set in among all classes when the balance began to turn
toward greater individual freedom.
Classes can also read the following passages of Miller's autobiography Timebends, A Life.
Pages 332 - 335 contain a description of his meeting with Elia Kazan, the famous director of plays and television, when
Kazan tried to explain his decision to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee.
At pages 336 and 337 Miller describes his examination of the original court
records in Salem and his discovery of the dramatic center of the play.
When one rises above the individual villainy displayed,
one can only pity them all, just as we [America during the Red Scare]
shall be pitied someday. It is impossible for man to organize his social
life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be
struck between order and freedom.
Historical novels suitable for middle school and junior high
readers concerning the Salem witchcraft trials and witchcraft
trials in general include: Beyond the Burning Time by Kathryn
Lasky; Hester Bidgood - Investigatrix of Evill Deedes by H.W.
Hildick; Tituba of Salem Village by Ann Petry, Crowell.
For an interesting look into the concept of witches, students may want to read The Seventh Son, by Orson Scott Card and Bless Me Ultima, by Rodolfo Anaya.
Links to the Internet:
Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
Selected Awards: 1997 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Writing,
Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium (Miller); Best
Supporting Actress (Joan Allen); 1997 Golden Globe Awards
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Scofield).
Featured Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield,
Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- A Delusion of Satan, the Full Story of the Salem Witchcraft Trials by Frances Hill; Doubleday; 1995;
- Timebends, A Life, Arthur Miller, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1987;
- The Portable Arthur Miller; edited by Christopher Bigsby; Penguin Books; 1977.
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