Study Guide

The Crucible Good vs. Evil

By Arthur Miller

Good vs. Evil

Act I
John Proctor

PROCTOR: Can you speak one minute without we land in Hell again? I am sick of Hell!
PARRIS: It is not for you to say what is good for you to hear!
PROCTOR: I may speak my heart, I think!
[…]
PARRIS, now he's out with it: There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party.
PROCTOR: Against you?
PUTNAM: Against him and all authority!
PROCTOR: Why, then I must find it and join it.
There is shock among the others.
REBECCA: He does not mean that.
PUTNAM: He confessed it now!
PROCTOR: I mean it solemnly, Rebecca; I like not the smell of this "authority. "
REBECCA: No, you cannot break charity with your minister. You are another kind, John. Clasp his hand, make your peace.
PROCTOR: I have a crop to sow and lumber to drag home. (I.275-277; 278-289)

Parris tries to assert his religious authority over Proctor, but Proctor is uninterested in the minister’s message. Parris suggests that there is a battle going on, a battle of good vs. evil, and that Proctor is on the wrong side. In fact, the battle is more political than religious, with Parris trying to keep a tight grip on his flock.

Reverend Parris

ABIGAIL: She heard you singin' and suddenly she's up and screamin'.
MRS. PUTNAM: The psalm! The psalm! She cannot bear to hear the Lord's name!
PARRIS: No, God forbid. Mercy, run to the doctor! Tell him what’s happened here!
Mercy Lewis rushes out.

MRS. PUTNAM: Mark it for a sign, mark it!
Rebecca Nurse, seventy-two, enters. She is white-haired, leaning upon her walking-stick.
PUTNAM, pointing at the whimpering Betty: That is a notorious sign of witchcraft afoot, Goody Nurse, a prodigious sign!
MRS. PUTNAM: My mother told me that! When they cannot bear to hear the name of—
PARRIS, trembling: Rebecca, Rebecca, go to her, we're lost. She suddenly cannot bear to hear the Lord's name!
[...]
Everything is quiet. Rebecca walks across the room to the bed. Gentleness exudes from her. Betty is quietly whimpering, eyes shut. Rebecca simply stands over the child, who gradually quiets.
MRS. PUTNAM, astonished: What have you done? (I.213-220; 225-226)

Betty’s sudden whining at the name of Jesus indicates her relationship with the Devil—a classic sign of good vs. evil. But Rebecca Nurse suggests she just needs a mother’s touch. The more earnestly religious characters, like Rebecca, realize that supernatural conflict has its roots in human suffering, not the other way around.

The parochial snobbery of these people was partly responsible for their failure to convert the Indians. Probably they also preferred to take land from heathens rather than from fellow Christians. At any rate, very few Indians were converted, and the Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand. To the best of their knowledge the American forest was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God. (I.10)

The Puritans in Salem saw the world divided into clear realms of power: good vs. evil. In this case, the narrator suggests that the forest was seen as the realm where evil prevailed, while the town was the realm where good, or God, prevailed.

Mrs. Ann Putnam

MRS. PUTNAM: Reverend Parris, I have laid seven babies unbaptized in the earth. Believe me, sir, you never saw more hearty babies born. And yet, each would wither in my arms the very night of their birth. I have spoke nothin', but my heart has clamored intimations. And now, this year, my Ruth, my only—I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin’ on her life too. And so I thought to send her to your Tituba—
PARRIS: To Tituba! What may Tituba—?
MRS. PUTNAM: Tituba knows how to speak to the dead, Mr. Parris.
PARRIS: Goody Ann, it is a formidable sin to conjure up the dead!
MRS. PUTNAM: I take it on my soul, but who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?
PARRIS, horrified: Woman!
MRS. PUTNAM: They were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir. For how else is she struck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth? It is a marvelous sign, Mr. Parris!
PUTNAM: Don’t you understand it, sir? There is a murdering witch among us, bound to keep himself in the dark. (I.103-110)

Mr. and Mrs. Putnam are convinced there is a supernatural explanation for all their dead babies. Though there could be a hundred other explanations for their only surviving daughter Ruth Putnam’s behavior (including her relationship with Abigail), they find it more comforting to explain it as proof of witchcraft. If evil took their babies, then there is nothing they can do but seek God’s help—which is more comforting than thinking it might be their own fault or nobody’s. At least this gives them somebody or something to fight against.

Thomas Putnam

PUTNAM: Now look you, sir. Let you strike out against the Devil, and the village will bless you for it! Come down, speak to them—pray with them. They're thirsting for your word, Mister! Surely you’ll pray with them.
PARRIS, swayed: I'll lead them in a psalm, but let you say nothing of witchcraft yet. I will not discuss it. The cause is yet unknown. I have had enough contention since I came; I want no more. (I.125-126)

Thomas Putnam urges Parris to take spiritual control of the situation and show who is in charge. Parris agrees with him, but still wants to be cautious. He recognizes how the battle of good vs. evil can easily get out of hand. Parris is probably also influenced by Putnam’s wealth and power.

Reverend John Hale

HALE: Tituba. You must have no fear to tell us who they are, do you understand? We will protect you. The Devil can never overcome a minister. You know that, do you not?
TITUBA, kisses Hale's hand: Aye, sir, oh, I do.
HALE: You have confessed yourself to witchcraft, and that speaks a wish to come to Heaven's side. And we will bless you, Tituba.
TITUBA, deeply relieved: Oh, God bless you, Mr. Hale!
HALE, with rising exaltation: You are God's instrument put in our hands to discover the Devil's agents among us. So speak utterly, Tituba, and God will protect you.
TITUBA, joining with him: Oh, God, protect Tituba! (I.456-469)

In a world where evil is certain and the faith that God works through ministers is absolute, it is difficult to imagine Tituba making any other choice. The ministers have the power of government behind them. Also, Tituba does not have as much of a stake in the health of the community. As a slave, she has been granted none of its privileges.

Act III
John Proctor

PROCTOR: Mary, tell the Governor what they—(He has hardly got a word out, when, seeing him coming for her, she rushes out of his reach, screaming in horror.)
MARY WARREN: Don't touch me—don't touch me! (At which the girls halt at the door.)
PROCTOR, astonished: Mary!
MARY WARREN, pointing at Proctor: You're the Devil's man!
He is stopped in his tracks.
PARRIS: Praise God!
GIRLS: Praise God!
PROCTOR, numbed: Mary, how—?
MARY WARREN: I'll not hang with you! I love God, I love God.
DANFORTH, to Mary: He bid you do the Devil's work?
MARY WARREN, hysterically, indicating Proctor: He come at me by night and every day to sign, to sign, to—
DANFORTH: Sign what?
PARRIS: The Devil's book? He come with a book?
MARY WARREN, hysterically, pointing at Proctor, fearful of him: My name, he want my name. "I'll murder you," he says, "if my wife hangs! We must go and overthrow the court," he says!
Danforth's head jerks toward Proctor, shock and horror in his face.
PROCTOR, turning, appealing to Hale: Mr. Hale!
MARY WARREN, her sobs beginning: He wake me every night, his eyes were like coals and his fingers claw my neck, and I sign, I sign...
HALE: Excellency, this child's gone wild!
PROCTOR, as Danforth's wide eyes pour on him: Mary, Mary!
MARY WARREN, screaming at him: No, I love God; I go your way no more. I love God, I bless God. (Sobbing, she rushes to Abigail.) Abby, Abby, I'll never hurt you more! (They all watch, as Abigail, out of her infinite charity, reaches out and draws the sobbing Mary to her, and then looks up to Danforth.)
DANFORTH, to Proctor: What are you? (Proctor is beyond speech in his anger.) You are combined with anti-Christ, are you not? I have seen your power; you will not deny it! What say you, Mister? (III.496-519)

Though we, the audience, are aware that the categories of “good” and “evil” have gotten terribly mixed up in this play, Mary is faced with a life-or-death situation. If she does what is really “good” she will die by those who hold the power and declare it “not good”; if she does what is wrong—if she lies—she joins those with power who declare that this is, indeed, good.

No wonder many people chose to confess and align with powerful forces. According to the play, young people in particular are susceptible to this weakness.