Abigail Williams and John Proctor become ensnared in a tale of guilt, false accusations and condemnations in Arthur Miller's 1952 play, "The Crucible." The play depicts Abigail's accusation against Proctor's wife after Abigail's affair with the farmer, and it is believed that Miller penned the play in response to the anti-Communist "witch hunt" of the 1950s.
Developing a thesis based on themes of "The Crucible" presents an opportunity to support or refute common themes associated with Miller's play. Puritan culture and its conflict with individualism may be developed into theses about the ability of individuality to exist in Puritan culture or how religious beliefs influence day-to-day life and affect individuals. The town-wide hysteria of the play also presents a theme for discussion, as Miller himself acknowledged the dangers of hysteria. The idea of hysteria may be developed into a thesis about human nature and the need to follow along with the masses or how standing up against the larger group presents problems for the individual.
Historical Relevance and Setting
"The Crucible" takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 during a historical period known for witch hunts, which Miller researched extensively, according to commentary by Harold Bloom. Theses that compare the play to the historical city may consider how Miller chooses to represent the early Puritan society or the commentary Miller seems to be making about the society. Additionally, you may research the witch trials of this era and develop a comparison between the historical facts and images presented in Miller's work.
Another area for discussion is Miller's use of the protagonist and antagonist, John Proctor and Abigail Williams. Theses focusing on the characterization of each can look at the perceived gender roles of the Puritan era. Additionally, Proctor and Williams can be compared in terms of their acceptance of responsibility for their actions and how that ultimately manifests into the conclusion of the play. Analyst Karen Bovard looks at the more general scale -- the varying representations of the male and female characters. The two main characters can be compared in terms of what they might signify about the gender roles in Puritan society. Comparisons between those who hold varying social statuses, including ministers and servants, may be developed into theses about social stratification and truth.
Miller and McCarthyism
While "The Crucible" depicts Puritan society during the witch trials, Miller's experience with the Communist red scare of the 1950s, including the House Committee on Un-American Activities, is often said to be the basis for the hysteria portrayed in the play. Theses comparing the play to the McCarthy era may focus on the governmental condemnation that results when rumors are started about a fellow citizen. An argument may also be developed that Miller was, in fact, talking about himself in the writing of this play. A thesis might also focus on the power of one person to create false accusations in a community.
- Bloom Guides; Arthur Miller's The Crucible; edited by Harold Bloom
- Women in Literature: Reading Through the Lens of Gender; edited by Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S. Silber
- Critical Companion to Arthur Miller: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work; Susan C. W. Abbotson
- The Crucible: Penguin Edition; Arthur Miller
- NA/AbleStock.com/Getty Images