Hypocrisy in The Crucible

Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

Arthur Miller's, ''The Crucible'', is a play that has many themes, one of them being that society can be affected negatively by hypocrites. Miller shows this theme by highlighting the behaviors of the Puritans and how they do not follow the teachings that they supposedly believe in.

Hypocrisy and Society

We've all seen hypocrisy in our daily lives. A professor tells us that he has a strict rule about cell phones in the classroom, then he answers it midway through his own lecture. These hypocritical actions take away from the authority of the person or people committing them.

Arthur Miller used this notion of hypocrisy when he wrote The Crucible to show us the theme, or underlying message, that a hypocritical a society can be dangerous. To illustrate this, he simultaneously shows the Puritan belief system while describing characters that do not obey that system, yet pretend to in their daily lives.

The Town

The Crucible is set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Though the play is fictional, the characters are named after real people who lived in Salem during that time. The play loosely follows the tale of Salem and how the trials came to pass. Miller fills us in on much of the history in breaks in the play where he offers commentary in his own voice.

Land Disputes

A map of Salem village.
map of salem

One theory of the cause of the trials is that people used the trials as a way to gain land. People could not take another's land unless it was left to them in a will; however, if someone were to be executed for a crime, that land belonged to the state and could be re-distributed.

Miller explains this further: 'long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible's charitable injunctions.' It is here that we see the hypocrisy of the situation. The Bible that the Puritans swore to live by is not being honored when they used the trials to condemn their neighbors to death.


In another section, Miller explains the teachings of the Puritans and how it related to the mess that the trials became: 'These people had no ritual for the washing away of sins. It is another trait we inherited from them, and it has helped to discipline us as well as to breed hypocrisy among us.' This quotation shows the overall theme that hypocrisy is bred from the fear and condemnation of a society.

People were put to death because their neighbors suspected them of committing a crime, but murder is a sin in the Puritan religion. For example, Bridget Bishop dressed in red, a color that was abhorrent in the Puritan eyes. She also ran the local tavern. Interestingly, she was the first woman put to death in the trials. The town suspected her of lewd dealings, so she was put to death for it.

Rebecca Nurse

Rebecca Nurse's accusation further demonstrates the hypocrisy in the play. Rebecca Nurse is a pure soul, who always took care of other people's children. She was seen as a grandmother to the village. She attended church regularly and was the embodiment of how a Puritan woman should behave.

Later in the play, she is accused. Miller writes: 'As for Rebecca herself, the general opinion of her character was so high that to explain how anyone dared cry her out for a witch...we must look to the fields and boundaries of that time.' Here again, he is driving the point home that the villagers were greedy and seeking land, so they put some of the pillars of the community to death for their own gain. Greed is a sin in the Puritan religion, so the people who supported the accusations were indeed hypocrites.

The Evidence

The evidence used in the Salem Witch Trials further demonstrates the hypocrisy in the Puritan times. Arthur Miller pokes fun at this in his commentary in the play and explains his intentions to the audience.

The Children

salem trial caption=

The Puritans believed that children were to be seen and not heard. Arthur Miller speaks of Reverend Parris, stating: 'until this strange crisis he, like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at the sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak.'

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