Study Guide

The Crucible The Supernatural

By Arthur Miller


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The Supernatural

Act I
Mrs. Ann Putnam

MRS. PUTNAM, glancing at Betty: How high did she fly, how high?
PARRIS: No, no, she never flew—
MRS. PUTNAM, very pleased with it: Why, it’s sure she did. Mr. Collins saw her goin’ over Ingersoll’s barn, and come down light as a bird, he says! (I.75-77)

The rumors are already “flying” (boo, bad puns!) about the supernatural powers the girls might have.

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.

Reverend John Hale

HALE: Aye, we’ll discuss it. (To all.) Now mark me, if the Devil is in her you will witness some frightful wonders in this room, so please to keep your wits about you. (Mr. Putnam, stand close in case she flies.) Now, Betty, dear, will you sit up? (Putnam comes in closer, ready-handed. Hale sits Betty up, but she hangs limp in his hands.) Hmmm. (He observes her carefully. The others watch breathlessly.) Can you hear me? I am John Hale, minister of Beverly. I have come to help you, dear. Do you remember my two little girls in Beverly? (She does not stir in his hands.)
PARRIS, in fright: How can it be the Devil? Why would he choose my house to strike? We have all manner of licentious people in the village!
HALE: What victory would the Devil have to win a soul already bad? It is the best the Devil wants, and who is better than the minister? (I.374-376)

Hale prepares to confront evil, but nothing happens. He seems to think that the appearance of witchcraft will be obvious to everyone. Then they discuss how the Devil aims to corrupt the innocent and frame the good.

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!
PARRIS: You will confess yourself or I will take you out and whip you to your death, Tituba!
MRS. PUTNAM: This woman must be hanged!, She must be taken and hanged!
TITUBA, terrified, falls to her knees: No, no, don't hang Tituba! I tell him I don't desire to work for him, sir.
PARRIS: The Devil?
HALE: Then you saw him! (Tituba weeps.) Now Tituba, I know that when we bind ourselves to Hell it is very hard to break with it. We are going to help you tear yourself free—
TITUBA, frightened by the coming process: Mister Reverend, I do believe somebody else be witchin' these children.
HALE: Does he! (This is a clue.) Tituba, look into my eyes. Come, look into me. (She raises her eyes to his fearfully.) You would be a good Christian woman, would you not, Tituba?
TITUBA: Aye, sir, a good Christian woman.
HALE: And you love these little children?
TITUBA: Oh, yes, sir, I don't desire to hurt little children.
HALE: And you love God, Tituba?
TITUBA: I love God with all my bein'.
HALE: Now, in God's holy name—
TITUBA: Bless Him. Bless Him. (She is rocking on her knees; sobbing in terror.)
HALE: And to His glory—
TITUBA: Eternal glory. Bless Him—bless God...
HALE: Open yourself, Tituba—open yourself and let God's holy light shine on you.
TITUBA: Oh, bless the Lord. (I.428-451)

The Reverend Hale, the Reverend Parris, and the Putnams have already decided Tituba is guilty of witchcraft before she even arrives. They are able to twist her words around until she confesses to supernatural dealings.

HALE, with a tasty love of intellectual pursuit: Here is all the invisible world, caught, defined, and calculated. In these books the Devil stands stripped of all his brute disguises. Here are all your familiar spirits—your incubi and succubi; your witches that go by land, by air, and by sea; your wizards of the night and of the day. Have no fear now—we shall find him out and I mean to crush him utterly if he has shown his face! (I.355)

The Reverend Hale intellectualizes evil and the supernatural—suggesting he won’t be properly prepared to face it in real life, as opposed to books.

HALE, (kindly): Who came to you with the Devil? Two? Three? Four? How many?
Tituba pants, and begins rocking back and forth again, staring ahead.

TITUBA: There was four. There was four.
PARRIS, pressing in on her: Who? Who? Their names, their names!
TITUBA, suddenly bursting out: Oh, how many times he bid me kill you, Mr. Parris!
PARRIS: Kill me!
TITUBA, in a fury: He say Mr. Parris must be kill! Mr. Parris no goodly man, Mr. Parris mean man and no gentle man, and he bid me rise out of my bed and cut your throat! (They gasp.) But I tell him "No! I don't hate that man. I don't want kill that man." But he say, "You work for me, Tituba, and I make you free! I give you pretty dress to wear, and put you way high up in the air, and you gone fly back to Barbados!" And I say, "You lie, Devil, you lie!" And then he come one stormy night to me, and he say, "Look! I have white people belong to me." And I look—and there was Goody Good.
PARRIS: Sarah Good!
TITUBA, rocking and weeping: Aye, sir, and Goody Osburn.
MRS. PUTNAM: I knew it! Goody Osburn were midwife to me three times. I begged my husband, I begged him not to call Osburn because I feared her. My babies always shriveled in her hands!
HALE: Take courage, you must give us all their names. Tituba; the Devil is out and preying on children like a beast upon the flesh of the pure lamb. God will bless you for your help.
Abigail rises, staring as though inspired, and cries out.
ABIGAIL: I want to open myself! (They turn to her, startled. She is enraptured, as though in a pearly light.) I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
As she is speaking, Betty is rising from the bed, a fever in her eyes, and picks up the chant—the chant is echoed in the distant music of the dance in the forest—there is wind in the trees.
BETTY, staring too: I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!
PARRIS: She speaks! (He rushes to embrace Betty.) She speaks!
HALE: Glory to God! It is broken, they are free! (I.470-486)

The battle between good and evil has left the spiritual realm and entered the realm of society. When Tituba tells Parris that the Devil bade her kill him, she is playing on his classic hubris, as he thinks he’s so important as minister that the forces of darkness would want to hurt him. By quoting the words of the Devil in saying that Parris is bad and mean, she also reveals the truth about what he’s like as a master. She’s no sap, that Tituba.

Susanna Walcott

SUSANNA, craning around Parris to get a look at Betty: He [the doctor] bid me come and tell you, reverend sir, that he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books.
PARRIS: Then he must search on.
SUSANNA: Aye, sir, he have been searchin’ his books since he left you, sir. But he bid me tell you, that you might look to unnatural things for the cause of it.
PARRIS, his eyes going wide: No—no. There be no unnatural case here. Tell him I have sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly, and Mr. Hale will surely confirm that. let him look to medicine and put out all thought of unnatural causes here. There be none. (I.31-34)

The doctor is the first to indicate that Betty’s illness might be supernatural (that is, demonic) in origin. Too bad he didn’t think to stick Betty with a pin. She probably would have woken up instantly! Reverend Parris reacts with understandable panic to the idea of supernatural powers unleashing themselves, but later he is one of the greatest proponents of this view. What causes this turnabout?

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 the Putnams are bent on finding justice and they see the supernatural as perhaps the only source of those answers. Nonetheless, it is likely that Mrs. Putnam’s motives are more pure than those of her husband, who seems mostly interested in acquiring land.

Deputy Governor Danforth

DANFORTH, with a gleam of victory: And yet, when people accused of witchery confronted you in court, you would faint, saying their spirits came out of their bodies and choked you—
MARY WARREN: That were pretense, sir.
DANFORTH: I cannot hear you.
MARY WARREN: Pretense, sir.
PARRIS: But you did turn cold, did you not? I myself picked you up many times, and your skin were icy. Mr. Danforth, you—
DANFORTH: I saw that many times.
PROCTOR: She only pretended to faint, Your Excellency. They're all marvelous pretenders.
HATHORNE: Then can she pretend to faint now?
PARRIS: Why not? Now there are no spirits attacking her, for none in this room is accused of witchcraft. So let her turn herself cold now, let her pretend she is attacked now, let her faint. He turns to Mary Warren. Faint!
PARRIS: Aye, faint. Prove to us how you pretended in the court so many times.
MARY WARREN, looking to Proctor: I—cannot faint now, sir,
PROCTOR, alarmed, quietly: Can you not pretend it?
MARY WARREN: I—She looks about as though searching for the passion to faint. I—have no sense of it now, I—
DANFORTH: Why? What is lacking now?
MARY WARREN: I—cannot tell, sir, I—
DANFORTH: Might it be that here we have no afflicting spirit loose, but in the court there were some?
MARY WARREN: I never saw no spirits.
PARRIS: Then see no spirits now, and prove to us that you can faint by your own will, as you claim.
MARY WARREN, stares, searching for the emotion of it, and then shakes her head: I—cannot do it. (III.317-337)

Mary Warren tries to explain that the supernatural things she and the other girls claimed to see were just part of a game, a pretense, but she is unable to reproduce the experience without the entire group doing it together. Mary may seem like a sweet and innocent girl who just got mixed up with the wrong crowd, but she is actually incredibly weak. It’s almost as if she has no personality independent of the people around her.

DANFORTH: These will be sufficient. Sit you down, children. (Silently they sit.) Your friend, Mary Warren, has given us a deposition. In which she swears that she never saw familiar spirits, apparitions, nor any manifest of the Devil. She claims as well that none of you have not seen these things either. (Slight pause.) Now, children, this is a court of law. The law, based upon the Bible, and the Bible, writ by Almighty God, forbid the practice of witchcraft, and describe death as the penalty thereof. But likewise, children, the law and Bible damn all bearers of false witness. (Slight pause.) Now then. It does not escape me that this deposition may be devised to blind us; it may well be that Mary Warren has been conquered by Satan, who sends her here to distract our sacred purpose. If so, her neck will break for it. But if she speak true, I bid you now drop your guile and confess your pretense, for a quick confession will go easier with you. (Pause.) Abigail Williams, rise. (Abigail slowly rises.) Is there any truth in this?
ABIGAIL: No, sir.
DANFORTH, thinks, glances at Mary, then back to Abigail: Children, a very augur bit will now be turned into your souls until your honesty is proved. Will either of you change your positions now, or do you force me to hard questioning?
ABIGAIL: I have naught to change, sir. She lies. (III.266-269)

In the matters of whether or not the supernatural world exists, and whether or not witchcraft is occurring, the court depends on the words of these children. The play suggests that children are weaker and have a more difficult time sorting good from bad. Moral sense may be innate, but it must also be cultivated by years of experience.