Mary Warren in The Crucible

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  • 0:04 Mary Warren Panics
  • 1:33 A Taste of Power
  • 3:04 Weakness Again
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Mary Warren doesn't play as large a part as some of the other characters, but her role is important nonetheless. This lesson provides an overview of her character and her role in the play.

Mary Warren Panics

It would be difficult to care so much about what other people think that your own personality is virtually erased. That is the situation with Mary Warren in Arthur Miller's ''The Crucible.'' Mary Warren is introduced in Act 1 as ''a subservient, naive, lonely girl.'' We meet her for the first time when she comes to see Abigail Williams while Betty Parris is pretending to be ill. The town is starting to suspect witchcraft and Mary is in a panic. She wants to confess to dancing in the woods instead of being suspected of witchcraft: ''Witchery's a hangin' error. . . We must tell the truth, Abby! You'll only be whipped for dancin', and the other things.'' Dancing is also a crime in Puritanical, 17th-Century New England, but it is a lesser crime than witchcraft. Mary wants to tell the truth to save them from a weightier punishment.

Instead of speaking out on her own according to her conscience, Mary visits Abigail to seek approval first. It's as though she's too weak to act alone and must have a consensus. Far from consensus, Abigail gives Mary only disdain and a warning. ''I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.'' Clearly, Abigail is familiar with bending Mary to her will. This is evident in other instances, such as later in ''The Crucible'' when Abigail chides her, ''I say shut it, Mary Warren!'' Mary, of course, backs down.

A Taste of Power

We don't see Mary again until part way through Act 2. By this time, the trials are well underway and Mary has become quite embroiled. Safely ensconced in a group of girls and surrounded by judges and court officials, Mary becomes quite fond of her newfound importance. When John Proctor, her employer, tells her she is not allowed to go to court any more but is to stay home and do the job she is paid to do, she replies, ''I must tell you, sir, I will be gone every day now.'' She later adds, ''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 is a paid subordinate; a servant in a farmer's home. Speaking this way to her master and employer would ordinarily earn her a whipping. She is taking full advantage of her position in the court.

The first time we meet Mary in Act 1, she is clearly admitting that no witchcraft was ever involved in Betty's illness; that she and the other girls were only dancing in the woods. And so, it's amazing to see how completely she has been taken in by the narrative of witchcraft in Act 2. She calls the witch trials ''weighty work'' and exclaims that ''the Devil's loose in Salem,'' saying that it is their job to ''discover where he's hiding!'' This complete shift is further evidence of Mary's weakness. Only someone with no will of her own could be so easily turned into a crier of witchcraft and a supporter of the court's work in flushing the Devil out of town.

Weakness Again

After her brief display of power, Mary is again seen to be rather spineless and pliable. Mr. Cheever comes with a warrant for the arrest of Elizabeth Proctor (John Proctor's wife), claiming that Elizabeth ''sent her spirit out'' to stab Abigail in the stomach. He finds as 'evidence' the doll Mary Warren had given her that night.

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