Figurative Language in The Crucible

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  • 0:01 What Is Figurative Language?
  • 1:00 Personification
  • 2:15 Symbolism
  • 3:30 Simile and Metaphor
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Figurative language is used throughout literature for various reasons. It's used in Arthur Miller's drama 'The Crucible' to great effect, and, in this lesson, you'll learn why and how.

What Is Figurative Language?

Sometimes, in order to make a sentence or story stand out, authors of creative writing use phrases that aren't straightforward. If they didn't, everyone's writing would sound like a newspaper article or a science paper! Creative writing, whether in a novel, play, or other creative work, would be much less vivid and interesting without figurative language.

Figurative language is using language to communicate a meaning beyond the literal text on the page. It's an important technique used by writers all over the globe, for different reasons. Figurative language can enhance a reader's experience by making the text easier to understand or making an image easier to visualize. It can also create a mood or tone.

As shown by Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible, figurative language can also be used beautifully in the theater. For this lesson, you'll learn about four types of figurative language that can be found in this work: personification, symbolism, simile, and metaphor.


Let's start with personification. Personification means giving an inhuman object human characteristics, thoughts, or feelings. This can be done for different reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is to create a more relatable, more interesting image for the reader, you, to grasp onto or visualize. For an example of personification, let's look at this quote from Act I of The Crucible:

The edge of the wilderness was close by. The American continent stretched endlessly west, and it was full of mystery for them. It stood, dark and threatening, over their shoulders night and day…

What's being personified here? That's right, the American wilderness is given a form here. Miller is telling you, the reader, that the wilderness stands like a scary dude behind the founders of this colony. Creepy, and definitely vivid.

Why would Miller talk about the wilderness this way? Well, The Crucible is set in one of the early colonies in North America, and it's all about a really dark period of this country's history: the witch hunts of the 1600s. Dark subject matter, right? So not only are these colonists in an unfamiliar land that they haven't explored yet, but this gives a great feel of foreboding to the beginning of this play. It gives you a sense that something terrible is lurking, waiting to strike. Just like a threatening stranger, standing right beyond you...


Now we're ready to tackle symbolism. Symbolism is using a specific person, place, or thing to represent a larger, more abstract idea. It's just like using the peace sign or an olive branch, which are two very recognizable, very real things, to represent the larger, more abstract idea of peace.

The Crucible is a striking allegory of McCarthyism. This was a period in American history where McCarthy overzealously tried to root out communism. Miller in his play used many symbols in the work that correspond directly to events or things from the 1950s, things the original audience of this play would understand and recognize immediately. For example, the actual witch hunt of this work represents and directly correlates to Senator Joseph McCarthy's 'witch hunts' of the 1950s.

During the witch hunts in the play, women are forced to confess to crimes they never committed in the first place, due to the excessive disregard for individual rights and narrow-mindedness of the court and participants in the novel's trials. In McCarthy's witch hunts, much of the same thing happened to those McCarthy accused of being Communists, in that they were forced to confess to things they never did and were often forced to name names of other 'dangerous' Communists. With this symbolism, Miller wanted to draw a direct parallel between what happened in Salem to what was happening in the 1950s.

Simile and Metaphor

This brings us to our last two examples of figurative language: simile and metaphor. Simile is a comparison of two unlike things using either 'like' or 'as.' A simile creates an interesting, vivid description, and can also communicate a lot about a character or situation in a very small space. Similes are a lot of fun for both readers and writers. Take this example from Act I of The Crucible:

She were swaying like a dumb beast over that fire!

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