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One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.

SUBJECTS — U.S./1629 - 1750, 1945 - 1991; & Massachusetts;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Fairness.
Age 14+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for intense depiction of the Salem witch trials; Drama;1996; 124 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

This Learning Guide contains curriculum materials that are helpful in presenting both the play and the film.

Description: The Crucible is a film version of Arthur Miller's classic play about Puritan society, the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, and, metaphorically, the Red Scare during the period 1947 - 1956. Miller wrote the screenplay for the movie, giving the film more credibility than most screen adaptations of theatrical works.

Rationale for Using the Movie: The play is a classic of the American stage and one of the premier works of historical ficion in American literature. The film makes Miller's concepts applicable in terms of metaphor to situations that society faces today. Moreover, the film addresses individual responsibility in terms of honesty, integrity, and forgiveness.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: By studying "The Crucible" students of both American Literature and U.S. History will better understand how a frightened society can ignore fundamental beliefs in justice, as well as its own basic principles of the primacy of law. In addition, with the curriculum materials provided by this Learning Guide, students will look at the underlying causes of historical events. Finally, through discussion and writing assignments, students will sharpen skills associated with analysis and persuasion.

Possible Problems: Minor: There is some violence, but none as graphic or gruesome as the actual incidents that occurred during the efforts to exterminate witches.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introducing the Movie
      After Viewing the Movie
             • Discussion Questions
             • Post-Viewing Worksheet
             • Assignments


Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet

Additional Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Post-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.


Introducing the Movie

Introductory Class Discussion: Teachers may want to introduce the film with the following commentary and question. This should lead students to an open-minded approach to the movie both in terms of the historical events that occurred in Salem in 1692 and the machinations of the professional redbaiters in the l950s.
Many people argue that the threat of international terrorism with its fanatic ideology and its chief weapon, the suicide bomber, is much different than threats faced in the past whether from witches or communists. They contend that terrorism cannot effectively be countered without widespread surveillance and restrictions on the rights of the accused. They contend that protection of society requires invasion of privacy and limits on the civil liberties of all citizens.

How much privacy and how many of your rights are you willing to give up in order to feel confident about your physical safety in a society being attacked by international terrorists?

Points to Be Raised in the Discussion: Taking off shoes or being x-rayed at an airport may not seem important. Being subject to constant observation and having phone records, library records, and other information taken by the government without warrants may or may not be an issue. Torture, however is another matter, and students will want to weigh in on this volatile topic. Teachers may want to remind students that those who argue that society needs to allow disclosure of private information or reduce protections for accused persons and scale back civil liberties are trusting the government not to go too far and to avoid targeting innocent people. Historically, even governments in Western democracies have a tendency to abuse their powers leading to the oppression of innocent people. The number of terrorism prosecutions that have resulted in juries acquitting the accused are a cautionary tale.

Information Helpful in Appreciating the Film:

Students will better appreciate the play and the movie if they know some basic facts about:
    (1) The Salem Witchcraft Trials;

    (2) Witchcraft Trials in Western Europe, and

    (3) The Red Scare of 1947 - 1956.
A minimal presentation of this information is set out in TWM's Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet for "The Crucible".

Presentation of the introduction can occur as follows:

    (A) Assign groups of students to research these and other related topics and present their findings to the class;

    (B) Students can be assigned to read and respond to the Worksheet in class or as homework; or

    (C) Teachers can provide the information in the worksheet to the class through direct instruction.


After Viewing the Movie
Discussion Questions:

1.  How does "The Crucible," a story about the seventeenth century, relate to the Red Scare of the period 1947 - 1956, some 250 years later? What are the significant differences between the Salem Witchcraft Trials and the Red Scare? Suggested Response: Here are some similarities. Since society in the 1600s believed in witches and the threat of the devil, both societies felt threatened from powerful outside forces which had gained the allegiance (or so it was believed) of persons living within the community. In both, people felt that the foundations of society and their own basic beliefs were being attacked; both required ritualistic reaffirmations of faith in commonly held beliefs before the accused could be exonerated of guilt; both were used by unscrupulous persons to advance their own political or economic interests. In both situations, many innocent people were wrongly accused. In both situations, there was a feeling of hysteria, and the usual safeguards for protecting people were not observed.

2.  While the similarities are striking, there were many differences between the situation in Salem and in the HUAC hearings. Which differences stand out most vividly to you? Suggested Response: In Salem, people were executed, while in the Red Scare, the worst punishments were several years in prison with the most frequent punishment being a ruined career. Another difference is that, in Salem, teenagers were the instigators of the hysteria. In the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s, adults were the accusers. In the 20th century hysteria, politicians played a leading role as accusers and instigators. Students may suggest additional differences.

3.  What can be learned from the characters of John and Elizabeth Proctor? Where did they go wrong? What did they do that was right? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer. John Proctor paid a terrible price for his dalliance with Abigail, which stirred feelings in her that he did not anticipate. By the end of the story, he shows the power of redemption, self-respect, and honor. He illustrates the price that sometimes must be paid when one stands upon principle against dishonor. Elizabeth is initially cold but by the end of the story shows the power of love, forgiveness, and honesty. All is lost in the one moment when she tells a lie.

For 10 additional discussion questions, including six relating to the literary elements of the play/film click here.

Post-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet:

TWM's Post-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet for "The Crucible" provides comments by Arthur Miller that will cement the lessons of the play in students' minds. The handout is intended for advanced students, and for some classes, it may be better for teachers to simply tell students about (1) Miller's prosecution by the HUAC and (2) what Chinese dissident Nien Cheng told him after she had been released from more than six years in solitary confinement and saw "The Crucible" when it was first performed in China. See the Worksheet for details.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1. Research information on one of the following topics and write a formal expository essay on your findings.

  • The nature of hysteria as a social phenomenon, including a reference to the Salem witchcraft trials, the War of the Worlds panic on the eve of World War II, etc.;

  • The effects of the Red Scare on Hollywood and on film in general;

  • The use of loyalty oaths in the Red Scare and their effectiveness as a tool for discovering subversives;

  • The underlying causes of the Red Scare of the late forties and early fifties; and

  • The use of fear to sell products or ideas, for example, the sale of underground bomb shelters after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the sale of information on suspected communists by Red Channels.

2. Develop a logical, informed opinion on either side of the following posits and write a persuasive essay directed toward your classmates as a target audience:

  • The Patriot Act contains provisions which infringe on the rights of Americans and should be repealed;

  • The McCarthy and HUAC investigations during the Red Scare of 1947 - 1956 served to strengthen the United States by eliminating communists from public life and government service;

  • Panic over the events of 9/11, including the anthrax scare and the fear of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, led to war in the Gulf region;

  • Religious intolerance was a tool used in the perpetration of the Salem Witch Trials, the McCarthy era investigations, and the current war on terrorism; and

  • Torture is an important technique used by those in authority that is sometimes vital in keeping society safe.

3. Debates can be organized for any of the topics raised in the discussion questions or in the assignments.

For additional assignments, click here.


For a discussion of the career of Arthur Miller, see Learning Guide to "All My Sons"

BUILDING VOCABULARY: McCarthyism (making baseless accusations of subversive activities for political advantage), Red Scare, subversive, blacklist, left wing, right wing, hysteria, hysterical symptoms, Puritan, theocracy.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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Parenting Points: Your child may be viewing the film ancillary to assignments in classes requiring him or her to read the play. You may want to engage in conversation about the differences between the play and the film or about the connection between witch hunts and various historical events.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: For other movies dealing to some extent with Red Scares, see Modern Times, High Noon, On the Waterfront, and The Grapes of Wrath.

This Learning Guide was wxritten by James Frieden and Mary RedClay. It was last revised on September 2, 2012.

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