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Act 2 The Crucible Superstitions Essay

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was first presented at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York on January 22, 1953, when Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities was casting a pall over the arts in America. Writers, especially those associated with the theater and the film industry, came under the particular scrutiny of the committee. Those who were blacklisted as Communists were banned from employment. Guilt was a matter of accusation, of being named. The parallels between these two periods of social and political persecution in American history were obvious to playgoers in the 1950’s. In both the witch trials and the committee hearings, people were summoned before an unchallengeable authority, interrogated, intimidated, and frequently coerced into the betrayal of others in order to escape being persecuted themselves. Miller’s work may also be examined for its intrinsic merit rather than for its status as a political tract. With the passage of time, it becomes clear that The Crucible is more than a polemic. It transcends its topical boundaries and speaks of universals common to the human condition. In The Crucible, Miller balances the social tragedy of the Salem community against the personal tragedy of John Proctor, whose triumph over self restores a sense of moral order in a community torn apart by ignorance, hysteria, and malice. The superstitious ignorance of the Salem villagers transforms a youthful escapade into a diabolic act. Despite Ann Putnam’s staunch religious beliefs, she admits to sending her daughter Ruth to Tituba to conjure up the souls of her dead babies so that Ruth, her one remaining daughter, may discover the cause of their seemingly unnatural deaths. Abigail Williams’s motives are darker yet. She seeks Tituba’s aid to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor’s life so that she can replace her in John Proctor’s affections. The villagers’ religious beliefs are so suffused with superstition that the villagers readily accept the notion that the girls are bewitched. No one questions the assumption that the girls are under the spell of supernatural forces except Proctor, whose challenge takes the form of oblique dissent, and Rebecca Nurse, who asserts that teenage girls often go through “silly seasons.”

When the Reverend Parris discovers the girls cavorting in the forest, it is not surprising that they feign illness as a means of hiding from the accusations of their superstitious elders, for they break terrible taboos. When Abigail seizes upon the device of accusing others to deflect blame away from herself, she sets in motion the forces of envy, greed, and malice. As the hysteria spreads, the townspeople turn on one another, profiting from their neighbors’ misfortunes, wreaking vengeance for real or imagined grievances, substituting spite and fear for love and trust.

The court, an extension of the governing theocracy, is meant to ensure stability and social order. It is tragically ironic that as the court grows in power, the community disintegrates. Crops rot in the fields, cows bellow for want of milking, and abandoned children beg in the streets. Having fled England to escape intolerance and persecution, the Puritans establish a community so narrow and closed that deviation from the norm is regarded as sinful and dissent as diabolic. As The Crucible so forcefully dramatizes, such a community must implode. Narrow minds cannot be allowed to prevail over the Proctors and Nurses of this world, who are condemned for their generosity of spirit.

Proctor is a reluctant hero. He knows that the court is deceived by Abigail’s seeming virtue. He hesitates to expose the fraudulent proceedings, however; to do so means he must reveal his adulterous affair. When he finally bares his heart to the court, his confession is in vain. Unable to believe that he was deceived, Deputy Governor Danforth sends for Elizabeth to discover if she supports Proctor’s charge. She knows that her husband is a proud man who values his good name, so she denies her knowledge of the affair, unaware that in telling her first lie she condemns Proctor as a perjurer. It is at this point that Proctor breaks with the community, damning the court’s proceedings and all the hypocrites associated with it, not unaware that he includes himself within the compass of his curse.

Faced with hanging, Proctor protests to Elizabeth that for him to “mount the gibbet like a saint” is a pretense. Sainthood is for the likes of Rebecca, not Proctor. Yet Proctor refuses to let the court keep his signed confession, for it is hard evidence of a lie. Like his predecessors, Oedipus and Hamlet, Proctor insists on the truth even if it means his destruction. Rather than sanctify his name on the altar of duplicity, he becomes a martyr for truth, and in doing so he preserves the sanctity of individual freedom.

In All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949), Miller explored the erosion of family structure in the wake of materialism, and audiences were moved to compassion. In The Crucible, his exploration of the destruction of freedom by an ignorant and despotic society moved many viewers to anger. The themes were too close to home and, for Miller, ironically prophetic. In 1956, summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Miller was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to name names.

The Crucible is four acts and 134 pages of tight dialogue, economical action. It can be hard to pick out particular moments or quotes as being key, since everything moves along so quickly. Never fear! I have your back with this complete guide to The Crucible quotes.

I’ll go over the most important quotes from The Crucible by theme, explaining both their literal meaning and why they’re important. I’ll also list some additional quotes that fall under the same general theme for you to practice analyzing them.

 

Irony

Many of the Crucible quotes fall into the category of “dramatic irony”, which is the irony that’s created when there’s a mismatch between what a character thinks or says and what the audience knows to be true. It’s hardly surprising there is so much irony in The Crucible – after all, one of the central causes of conflict in the play is hypocrisy.

With that in mind, here are some key quotes from The Crucible that demonstrate irony of some kind.

 

“We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone, and I must tell you all that I shall not proceed unless you are prepared to believe me if I should find no bruise of Hell upon her.” (Hale, Act 1, p. 35)

The irony, of course, is that the “marks” of the Devil are nowhere near “definite as stone” – the only evidence to support accusations of witchcraft are the subjective experiences of the "afflicted." Even in cases when the girls display symptoms (going cold and clammy or having needles stuck in them), there’s never any physical evidence directly linking the accused witches to their supposed crimes.

 

“ABIGAIL: Don’t lie! To Hale: She comes to me while I sleep; she’s always making me dream corruptions!” (Act 1, p. 41)

Abigail yelling “don’t lie” at another person is highly ironic, not only because Miller introduced her as a liar (she has “an endless capacity for dissembling”), but because Abigail had just told Proctor Betty’s illness was nothing to do with witchcraft not 20 page previously.

 

"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!" (Proctor, Act 2 p. 52)

"PROCTOR: Because it speaks deceit, and I am honest! But I’ll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!" (Act 2, p. 59)

This pair of quotes both demonstrate the ironic concept: as far as the audience understands it, the only person who seems to be judging Proctor is not Elizabeth, but Proctor himself. There's also a bit of foreshadowing with “as though I come into a court”, since in Act 3 Proctor will do that very thing.

 

"No man may longer doubt the powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack up on this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it” (Hale, Act 2, p. 61).

The village is certainly under attack, but not necessarily in the way Hale thinks it is. The real “powers of dark” affecting Salem are suspicion and fear, not anything demonic.

 

“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” (Hale, Act 3, p. 92).

Again, the “proof so immaculate” that Hale speaks of is the word of one person against the word of another. As we’ll see in a quote by Danforth later on in this article, the proof only remains beyond reproach if you believe in witchcraft more than you believe that people are fallible.

There's also a bit of foreshadowing in this quote because by the end of this act, Hale is full of qualms, and by the end of the play, Hale feels he has “blood on [his] head” (p. 121).

 

“But God made my face; you cannot want to tear my face. Envy is a deadly sin, Mary” (Abigail, Act 3, p. 106)

Abigail's words here are ironic because in The Crucible, it is Abigail who is envious of the position Elizabeth Proctor has as John Proctor’s wife.

 

“DANFORTH, conciliatory: You misunderstand, sir; I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime. It is not just.” (Act 4, p. 119).

The irony in Danforth's statement is that it wasn’t "just" to hang any of the accused witches in the first place, and so continuing to hang people just because it's already been done before is a terrible idea.

 

Salem Massachusetts - Burying Point Cemetery/Used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

 

Now that you’ve seen a few ironic quotes analyzed and explained, it’s your turn! Below you'll find several quotes that demonstrate irony (dramatic or otherwise). Try your hand at explaining why each one is ironic and analyzing the difference between what the character mean when she said the quote and the hidden meaning.

  1. "ABIGAIL: I never sold myself! I’m a good girl! I’m a proper girl!" (Act 1, p. 40)
  2. "MARY WARREN, with greater impatience with him: I told you the proof. It’s hard proof, hard as rock, the judges said." (Act 2, p. 54)
  3. “Proctor, I cannot think God be provoked so grandly by such a petty cause…think on your village and what may have drawn from heaven such thundering wrath upon you all ” (Hale, Act 2, p. 75)
  4. "PROCTOR: 'Do that which is good, and no harm shall come to you.'" (Act 3, p. 88)
  5. “Oh, Mary, this is a black art to change your shape. No, I cannot, I cannot stop my mouth; it’s God’s work I do.” (Abigail, Act 3, p.107)

 

Fear/Hysteria

The second major theme in The Crucible (and one that teachers often ask about) is fear and hysteria. The fear caused by the thought of supernatural evil in Salem causes the characters in the play to turn a blind eye to logic and instead believe in claims not backed by actual “hard as rock” proof. Below are some of the Crucible quotes that relate to this theme.

 

“There is a misty plot afoot so subtle we should be criminal to cling to old respects and ancient friendships. I have seen too many frightful proofs in court - the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!” (Hale, Act 2, p. 68)

Hale demonstrates perfectly the mindset of the characters affected by the hysteria and fear. In his case, it’s more hysteria than fear – he doesn’t particularly fear that he may be accused as a witch, but he has been persuaded by the “frightful proofs” he’s seen and this has blinded him to any other possible reasons that the witchcraft accusations might be being made.

 

“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!” (Proctor, Act 2, p. 73)

Proctor is the voice of common sense here, as a counterpoint to Hale’s “don’t question the process” stance. Unlike Hale, Proctor realizes that you can only trust in accusations as much as you can trust the accuser, and Proctor has cause to suspect that at least one of the accusations is being driven by a thirst for vengeance.

This quote also fits a little bit under the “Power/Authority” theme – the witchcraft trials have turned the world upside down, so that those who used to be powerless (“the little crazy children”) are the ones in power (“are jangling the keys of the kingdom”).

 

"I never had no wife that be so taken with books, and I thought to find the cause of it, d’y’see, but it were no witch I blamed her for. He is openly weeping. I have broke charity with the woman, I have broke charity with her. He covers his face, ashamed. (Giles, Act 3, p. 79)

This quote shows how even Giles Corey, one of the more level-headed characters in The Crucible, got caught up in the hysteria of the witch trials and got his wife accused of being a witch.

One could make the argument that Giles didn’t intentionally accuse his wife of witchcraft and that he just wanted to ask the witchcraft expert about his wife’s strange behavior, that’s all. If that was the case, though, this quote shows how even those not taken in by the hysterical claims or fear can still be affected by it.

 

"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?" (Danforth, Act 3, p. 93)

In this quote, Danforth shows the terrible effect of the logical extension of belief in witchcraft. Of course, the part he leaves out in his discussion is whether or not the victims are trustworthy – just because “they do testify” doesn’t mean that they’re testifying truthfully – but this is a blind spot for Danforth. It's possible that Danforth cannot fathom that women or children would lie to him (a judge!) because of societal preconceptions; but his stance is also influenced, at least to some extent, by the fear of witchcraft that pervades Puritan society.

 

217013/Used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original

I think I have made my point. Have I not?

 

Here are a couple of other quotes that demonstrate fear/hysteria. Try your hand at explaining how each of them does so!

  1. "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." (Act 2, p. 65)
  2. “It were only sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirits, spirits” (Mary Warren, Act 3, p. 100)

 

Reputation and Pride

Concern for reputation and pride is a thread that is woven throughout The Crucible, driving the action and motivations of various characters as well as the central conflict surrounding John Proctor (will he confess to adultery to save his wife? Will he confess to witchcraft to save his life?).

 

“ABIGAIL, in a temper: My name is good in the village! I will not have it said my name is soiled! Goody Proctor is a gossiping liar!” (Act 1, p. 12)

Abigail is concerned about her reputation and her “name;” this is no doubt what motivates her, at least initially, to put the blame for the dancing in the woods on Tituba. If her name is “soiled,” Abigail could face harsh consequences in the Salem theocracy where women are already low on the totem pole – if it’s discovered that she, an unmarried orphan woman, slept with a married man, she would face huge consequences (although what these consequences would be aren’t specified in the play).

 

"Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs, and all our old pretense is ripped away—make your peace!…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!" (Proctor, Act 2, p. 76).

Here, Proctor is anticipating the loss of his reputation once it comes to light that he has had an affair with Abigail. It’ll mean the loss of his good name, but on the other hand, it’ll be a way for him to atone for his sins – maybe he’ll at last feel “God’s icy wind” and be able to put this behind him

 

"I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up. Beware, Goody Proctor—cleave to no faith when faith brings blood. It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God’s judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride." (Hale, Act 4, p. 122)

Hale is describing how he came in full of pride in himself and abilities, only to have that pride result in the deaths of others. He warns Elizabeth that nothing, not even one’s pride or reputation, is worth throwing one’s life away on.

 

"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!" (Proctor, Act 4, p. 133).

Proctor’s self-worth is entirely tied up in “his name” and how others perceive him. He manages to make himself confess and signs the confession, but when the court officials try to take the confession away to show to the whole town, that is the sticking point. Proctor cannot bear to have his reputation be smeared with this confession of witchcraft, because if his reputation is damaged then he no longer can think well of himself.

 

On Balance/Used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

Here are few more quotes that show the concern of Salem residents with reputation and the pride they have in their names. As an exercise to deepen your understanding of the book, try to explain how each one demonstrates concern about name, reputation, or pride.

  1. “There be no blush about my name.” (Abigail, Act 1 p. 11)
  2. “A man will not cast away his good name. You surely know that” (Proctor, Act 3, p. 102)
  3. "Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this—I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statute." (Danforth, Act 4, p. 119-120)
  4. "He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him! (Elizabeth, Act 4, p. 134)

 

Power and Authority

The final major theme is that of the power of society and authority in Puritan Salem. Some of the most important Crucible quotes relate to these ideas.

 

“And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!” (Abigail Williams, Act 1, p. 19)

At the beginning of the play, the power that Abigail holds is relatively minimal. She is able to use threats of physical violence to cow other girls into doing her bidding, but that’s about as far as her influence extends. She would never be able to say what she says in this quote to, for instance, her uncle Parris, and get away with it.

 

“You are God’s instrument put in our hands to discover the Devil’s agents among us. You are selected, Tituba, you are chosen to help us cleanse our village.” (Hale, Act 1, p. 44)

Tituba, the lowest of the low (slave and a woman) has her status temporarily elevated because of the witch trials. Normally, she is the one told what to do and told to obey; now, however, she has the power of life and death over others

 

"I only hope you’ll not be so sarcastical no more. Four judges and the King’s deputy sat to dinner with us but an hour ago. I —I would have you speak civilly to me, from this out." (Mary Warren, Act 2, p. 57)

By the second act, the repercussions of the trials are starting to reverberate out of the courtroom. Mary Warren feels entitled to, asks for, and (to some extent) receives respect because she is now in a greater position of power. And Mary is not the only one to benefit from the added respect accorded to the afflicted girls, as the next quote demonstrates.

 

“ABIGAIL, in an open threat: Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it!” (Act 3, p. 100)

By this point in the play, Abigail has gotten powerful enough that she can threaten the Deputy Governor of the entire province without negative consequences.

 

Here’s another quote that shows the flip-flop of power and authority that happens during the witch trials:

“ABIGAIL, stepping up to Danforth: What look do you give me? Danforth cannot speak. I’ll not have such looks! She turns and starts for the door.” (Act 3, p. 103)

See if you can answer these questions for yourself about this quote: what are the implications of this quote? How has the power dynamic in the town shifted from the beginning of the play to this point?

 

Non-Thematic Quotes

This final section is devoted to The Crucible quotes that don't relate to one of the themes listed above, but still mark an important moment in the play.

 

“There are wheels within wheels in the village, and fires within fires!” (Mrs. Putnam, Act 1, p. 26)

Mrs. Putnam intends her exclamation to refer to the fact that there are witchy plots afoot, but it holds true even outside of that context – things are not what they seem in Salem, and there are complex cause-and-effect chains.

A good example of just how multi-layered events in The Crucible are can be found by breaking down why John Proctor is hanged for witchcraft. Proctor slept with Abigail, which led to her being fired by his wife, which led to her accusing his wife of witchcraft, which led to Proctor being accused of witchcraft and ultimately hanged for it.

 

“We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment.” (Danforth, Act 3, p. 83)

This line is a reference to the name of the play, The Crucible. A crucible is used to melt down metals and separate out the base metals - or in the case of those questioned about witchcraft, it separates out lies and hypocrisy. There's more true to this statement than Danforth knows, however; not only do the trials melt down the fronts people have put up, but they also expose people's core selves.

One example of this is when Mary Warren accuses John Proctor of being the Devil's man: when push comes to shove, she is not strong enough to tell the truth (Act 3, p. 110). With John Proctor, on the other hand, we find that his true inner self is strong enough stand up for truth. First, his upstanding reputation is melted away (when he confesses to adultery) and Procto is revealed as a hypocrite; at the end of The Crucible, though, a second, stronger core is exposed when Proctor chooses to be hanged as a witch rather than falsely (and publicly) confess to witchcraft.

 

"No, old man, you have not hurt these people if they are of good conscience. But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it. I hope you will be one of those." (Danforth, Act 3, p. 87)

Danforth’s belief in black-and-white morality exacerbates the situation in Salem. After all, if you can’t be proven to NOT be a witch, then the only other option is that you must be one

 

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! (Proctor, Act 3, p. 111)

Proctor explicitly states the subtext of the play – the real devil of The Crucible is not Satan, but instead is people who don’t step up to tell the truth (like Proctor) or who refuse to see the truth (like Danforth).

 

Lie/Used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What’s Next?

Interested in getting even deeper into the themes of The Crucible? Our blog has complete analyses and discussion of all The Crucible themesThe Crucible themes, as well as of McCarthyism in particular.

Need some context to make these quotations make sense? Try our summaries ofall fouracts ofThe Crucible, as well as our comprehensive plot summary.

Want to find out more about the characters who say these things? Read our overview of the characters in The Crucible here.

 

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