Study Guide

The Crucible Justice

By Arthur Miller


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Act I
Mrs. Ann Putnam

MRS. PUTNAM, as though for further details: They say you've sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly?
PARRIS, with dwindling conviction now: A precaution only. He has much experience in all demonic arts, and I—
MRS. PUTNAM: He has indeed; and found a witch in Beverly last year, and let you remember that.
PARRIS: Now, Goody Ann, they only thought that were a witch, and I am certain there be no element of witchcraft here.
PUTNAM: No witchcraft! Now look you, Mr. Parris—
PARRIS: Thomas, Thomas, I pray you, leap not to witchcraft. I know that you—least of all you, Thomas—would ever wish so disastrous a charge laid upon me. We cannot leap to witchcraft. They will how me out of Salem for such corruption in my house.
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! (I.89-94; 103-109)

Parris is concerned with his reputation; the Putnams are concerned about getting justice for their dead babies. But even the Putnams’s “justice” is basically just vengeance. Although these characters claim to be deeply religious, their actions show that they only believe in justice on earth and not, as their Christian values would have it, in another realm. They want immediate satisfaction.

Mary Warren

Enter Mary Warren, breathless. She is seventeen, a subservient, naive, lonely girl.
MARY WARREN: What'll we do? The village is out! I just come from the farm; the whole country's talkin' witchcraft! They'll be callin' us witches, Abby! Abby, we've got to tell.
MERCY, pointing and looking at Mary Warren: She means to tell, I know it.
MARY WARREN: Abby, we’ve got to tell. Witchery's a hangin' error, a hangin' like they done in Boston two year ago! We must tell the truth, Abby! You'll only be whipped for dancin', and the other things! (I.144-147)

Justice in the colony includes punishment for witchcraft crimes as well as dancing. This is, in part, because it is a theocracy.

Rebecca Nurse

REBECCA: Pray, John, be calm. (Pause. He defers to her.) Mr. Parris, I think you'd best send Reverend Hale back as soon as he come. This will set us all to arguin' again in the society, and we thought to have peace this year. I think we ought rely on the doctor now, and good prayer.
MRS. PUTNAM: Rebecca, the doctor's baffled!
REBECCA: If so he is, then let us go to God for the cause of it. There is prodigious danger in the seeking of loose spirits. I fear it, I fear it. Let us rather blame ourselves and—
PUTNAM: How may we blame ourselves? I am one of nine sons; the Putnam seed have peopled this province. And yet I have but one child left of eight—and now she shrivels!
REBECCA: I cannot fathom that.
MRS. PUTNAM, with a growing edge of sarcasm: But I must! You think it God's work you should never lose a child, nor grandchild either, and I bury all but one? There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!
PUTNAM, to Parris: When Reverend Hale comes, you should proceed to look for signs of witchcraft here. (I.246-252)

Rebecca Nurse suggests that they look inside themselves for answers to their problems, rather than blaming supernatural forces. But Mrs. Putnam is bent on finding justice, and she sees the supernatural as perhaps the only way to do so.

Act II
Elizabeth Proctor

ELIZABETH: It is a mouse no more. I forbid her [Mary] go, and she raises up her chin like the daughter of a prince and says to me, "I must go to Salem, Goody Proctor; I am an official of the court!"
PROCTOR: Court! What court?
ELIZABETH: Aye, it is a proper court they have now. They've sent four judges out of Boston, she says, weighty magistrates of the General Court, and at the head sits the Deputy Governor of the Province.
PROCTOR, astonished: Why, she's mad.
ELIZABETH: I would to God she were. There be fourteen people in the jail now, she says. (Proctor simply looks at her, unable to grasp it.) And they'll be tried, and the court have power to hang them too, she says.
PROCTOR, scoffing, but without conviction: Ah, they'd never hang—
ELIZABETH: They'll hang if they'll not confess, John. The town's gone wild, I think. She speak of Abigail, and I thought she were a saint, to hear her. Abigail brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel. And folks are brought before them, and if they scream and howl and fall to the floor—the person's clapped in the jail for bewitchin' them.
PROCTOR, wide-eyed: Oh, it is a black mischief.
ELIZABETH: I think you must go to Salem, John. (He turns to her.) I think so. You must tell them it is a fraud. (II.46-54)

Justice in the witchcraft trials means confessing or dying—so even if you’re not guilty, you must confess to avoid death. But both Elizabeth and Proctor know it’s a fraud because of their earlier association with Abigail.

PROCTOR, with solemn warning: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more. I have forgot Abigail, and—
PROCTOR: Spare me! You forget nothin' and forgive nothin'. Learn charity, woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven month since she is gone. I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!
ELIZABETH: John, you are not open with me. You saw her with a crowd, you said. Now you—
PROCTOR: I'll plead my honesty no more, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH, now she would justify herself: John, I am only—
PROCTOR: No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed! Some dream I had must have mistaken you for God that day. But you're not, you're not, and let you remember it! Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not.
ELIZABETH: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John (with a smile), only somewhat bewildered.
PROCTOR, laughing bitterly: Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer! (II.65-87)

Elizabeth is a good and just woman, but forgiveness is difficult under any circumstances—and as a result, her husband feels judged every day of their marriage. The situation is a difficult one. It’s impossible for Elizabeth to know whether her husband is dishonest because he still desires Abigail or if he is simply too scared of Elizabeth’s suspicions to be honest. They both assume the worst about the other person.

Mary Warren

MARY WARREN, like one awakened to a marvelous secret insight: So many time, Mr. Proctor, she come to this very door, beggin' bread and a cup of cider—and mark this: whenever I turned her away empty, she mumbled.
ELIZABETH: Mumbled! She may mumble if she's hungry.
MARY WARREN: But what does she mumble? You must remember, Goody Proctor. Last month—a Monday, I think—she walked away, and I thought my guts would burst for two days after. Do you remember it?
ELIZABETH: Why—I do, I think, but—
MARY WARREN: And so I told that to Governor Danforth, and he asks her so. "Goody Osburn," says he, "what curse do you mumble that this girl must fall sick after turning you away?" And then she replies (mimicking an old crone) "Why, your excellence, no curse at all. I only say my commandments; I hope I may say my commandments," says she!
ELIZABETH: And that's an upright answer.
MARY WARREN: Aye, but then Governor Danforth say, "Recite for us your commandments!" (leaning avidly toward them) and of all the ten she could not say a single one. She never knew no commandments, and they had her in a flat lie!
PROCTOR: And so condemned her?
MARY WARREN, now a little strained, seeing his stubborn doubt: Why, they must when she condemned herself.
PROCTOR: But the proof, the proof!
MARY WARREN, with greater impatience with him: I told you the proof. It's hard proof, hard as rock, the judges said. (II.118-128)

The court’s decision is made without evidence or hard proof, which is hardly “justice” in Proctor’s judgment. Mary, on the other hand, is caught up in the excitement and prestige of the court. She is incapable of reflecting on the process itself—she just defers to what “the judges said.”

John Proctor

PROCTOR, moving menacingly toward her: You will tell the court how that poppet come here and who stuck the needle in.
MARY WARREN: She'll kill me for sayin' that! (Proctor continues toward her.) Abby'll charge lechery on you, Mr. Proctor!
PROCTOR, halting: She's told you!
MARY WARREN: I have known it, sir. She'll ruin you with it, I know she will.
PROCTOR, hesitating, and with deep hatred of himself: Good. Then her saintliness is done with. (Mary backs from him.) We will slide together into our pit; you will tell the court what you know.
MARY WARREN, in terror: I cannot, they'll turn on me—
Proctor strides and catches her, and she is repeating, "I cannot, I cannot!"
PROCTOR: My wife will never die for me! I will bring your guts into your mouth but that goodness will not die for me!
MARY WARREN, struggling to escape him: I cannot do it, I cannot!
PROCTOR, grasping her by the throat as though he would strangle her: Make your peace with it! Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs, and all our old pretense is ripped away—make your peace! (He throws her to the floor, where she sobs, "I cannot, I cannot." And now, half to himself, staring, and turning to the open door:) Peace. It is a providence, and no great change; we are only what we always were, but naked now. (He walks as though toward a great horror, facing the open sky.) Aye, naked! And the wind, God's icy wind, will blow! (II.427-436)

Proctor appears to be almost relieved that his adultery with Abigail has been revealed to Mary Warren. Now he has even less hesitation about insisting on justice in the court—and expects to lay bare his mistakes so that his wife and her good name may be cleared. The thought of his wife dying is unthinkable for Proctor, especially now that he is beginning to appreciate the value of her honesty.

PROCTOR, with difficulty: I—I have no witness and cannot prove it except my word be taken. But I know the children's sickness had naught to do with witchcraft.
Hale, stopped, struck: Naught to do—?
PROCTOR: Mr. Parris discovered them sportin' in the woods. They were startled and took sick.
HALE: Who told you this?
PROCTOR, hesitates, then: Abigail Williams.
HALE: Abigail!
HALE, his eyes wide: Abigail Williams told you it had naught to do with witchcraft!
PROCTOR: She told me the day you came, sir.
HALE, suspiciously: Why—why did you keep this?
PROCTOR: I never knew until tonight that the world is gone daft with this nonsense.
HALE: Nonsense! Mister, I have myself examined Tituba, Sarah Good, and numerous others that have confessed to dealing with the Devil. They have confessed it.
PROCTOR: And why not, if they must hang for denyin' it? There are them that will swear to anything before they'll hang; have you never thought of that?
HALE: I have. I—I have indeed. (It is his own suspicion, but he resists it. He glances at Elizabeth, then at John.) And you—would you testify to this in court?
PROCTOR: I—had not reckoned with goin' into court. But if I must I will.
HALE: Do you falter here?
PROCTOR: I falter nothing, but I may wonder if my story will be credited in such a court. I do wonder on it, when such a steady-minded minister as you will suspicion such a woman that never lied, and cannot, and the world knows she cannot! I may falter somewhat, Mister; I am no fool. (II.258-276)

The Reverend Hale and John Proctor connect on this level, at least—their recognition that the justice of the court is not “just” if an accusation is equal proof of guilt and if the only way you can avoid punishment is by confessing. But Hale has a hard time believing that someone would confess to something they did not do. He’s either a complete fool or he’s lying to himself.

Reverend John Hale

HALE: Proctor, if she is innocent, the court—
PROCTOR If she is innocent! Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God's fingers? I'll tell you what's walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant's vengeance! I'll not give my wife to vengeance! (II.389-390)

Proctor points out the fundamental problem with the witchcraft trial scheme: the assumption that the accusers—a minister and a child—are innocent. And more importantly, he points out that the accusations have  personal objectives—they are not unbiased.

Reverend John Hale

HALE: Excellency, I have signed seventy-two death warrants; I am a minister of the Lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it.
DANFORTH: Mr. Hale, you surely do not doubt my justice.
HALE: I have this morning signed away the soul of Rebecca Nurse, Your Honor. I'll not conceal it, my hand shakes yet as with a wound! I pray you, sir, this argument let lawyers present to you.
DANFORTH: Mr. Hale, believe me; for a man of such terrible learning you are most bewildered—I hope you will forgive me. I have been many years at the bar, sir, and I should be confounded were I called upon to defend these people. Let you consider, now. (To Proctor and the others:) And I bid you all do likewise. In an ordinary crime, how does one defend the accused? One calls up witnesses to prove his innocence. But witchcraft is ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not? Therefore, who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims—and they do testify, the children certainly do testify. As for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for all their confessions. Therefore, what is left for a lawyer to bring out? I think I have made my point. Have I not?
HALE: But this child claims the girls are not truthful, and if they are not— (III.239-243)

Reverend Hale begins to fear the justice of God as he realizes his own position—he may have signed the death warrants of seventy-two innocent people. But Danforth remains assured of the justice of his position. The problem with Danforth’s position is that in supposing that there are “victims” at all, he has already posited the existence of a crime. But the point of the trial is to decide if a crime has been committed!

John Proctor

PROCTOR, laughs insanely, then: A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together! (III.596-601)

Proctor’s guilt complex comes out strongly in this quote. It’s obvious to the reader the Proctor is a more honest and virtuous guy than Danforth, but he insists on lumping himself in with his enemies. It’s a kind of self-inflicted punishment for his sin of adultery. At the same time, there is truth to his claim that the Devil, if he exists at all, exists within people, and not through ghosts or spirits.

PROCTOR, sensing her weakening: Mary, God damns all liars!
DANFORTH, pounding it into her: You have seen the Devil, you have made compact with Lucifer, have you not?
PROCTOR: God damns liars, Mary!
Mary utters something unintelligible, staring at Abigail, who keeps watching the "bird" above.

DANFORTH: I cannot hear you. What do you say? (Mary utters again unintelligibly.) You will confess yourself or you will hang! (He turns her roughly to face him.) Do you know who I am? I say you will hang if you do not open with me! (III.483-487)

Under these sorts of conditions, who wouldn’t “confess”? We already know that Mary pretty much goes along with what the group does, so it’s not a surprise that she would find this situation unbearable. She is usually a meek follower, but here the court makes her into the center of attention.

Act IV
John Proctor

PROCTOR: You will not use me! I am no Sarah Good or Tituba, I am John Proctor! You will not use me! It is no part of salvation that you should use me!
DANFORTH: I do not wish to—
PROCTOR: I have three children—how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?
DANFORTH: You have not sold your friends—
PROCTOR: Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence!
DANFORTH: Mr. Proctor, I must have good and legal proof that you—
PROCTOR: You are the high court, your word is good enough! Tell them I confessed myself; say Proctor broke his knees and wept like a woman; say what you will, but my name cannot—
DANFORTH, with suspicion: It is the same, is it not? If I report it or you sign to it?
PROCTOR, he knows it is insane: No, it is not the same! What others say and what I sign to is not the same!
DANFORTH: Why? Do you mean to deny this confession when you are free?
PROCTOR: I mean to deny nothing!
DANFORTH: Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let—
PROCTOR, with a cry of his whole soul: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
DANFORTH, pointing at the confession in Proctor's hand: Is that document a lie? If it is a lie I will not accept it! What say you? I will not deal in lies, Mister! (Proctor is motionless.) You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope. Proctor does not reply. Which way do you go, Mister?
His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it. (IV.281-294)

Danforth’s notion of justice is patently absurd. He realizes that Proctor’s confession is a lie—but without the confession, he cannot spare Proctor’s life. Justice is hung by its own faulty legal reasoning.


HALE: Why can she not wake? Are you silencing this child?
TITUBA: I love me Betty!
HALE: You have sent your spirit out upon this child, have you not? Are you gathering souls for the Devil?
ABIGAIL: She sends her spirit on me in church; she makes me laugh at prayer!
PARRIS: She have often laughed at prayer!
ABIGAIL: She comes to me every night to go and drink blood!
TITUBA: You beg me to conjure! She beg me make charm—
ABIGAIL: Don't lie! (To Hale:) She comes to me while I sleep; she's always making me dream corruptions!
TITUBA: Why you say that, Abby?
ABIGAIL: Sometimes I wake and find myself standing in the open doorway and not a stitch on my body! I always hear her laughing in my sleep. I hear her singing her Barbados songs and tempting me with—
TITUBA: Mister Reverend, I never—
HALE, resolved now: Tituba, I want you to wake this child.
TITUBA: I have no power on this child, sir.
HALE: You most certainly do, and you will free her from it now! When did you compact with the Devil?
TITUBA: I don't compact with no Devil!

The early scene in which Abigail falsely accuses Tituba of witchcraft lays the foundation for the twisting of justice in Salem, in which good and innocent people are accused and convicted by those without integrity. From this point on, it is apparent to us that something is deeply amiss in Salem—that the beliefs and paradigms of that society allow, or even promote, such unjust outcomes.