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Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

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

Rebecca Nurse remains a stalwart pillar of sense and reason amid the hysteria that consumes Salem, Massachusetts, in Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible. This lesson provides an overview of her character throughout the play.

Rebecca Nurse: A Pillar of Society

Have you ever met someone who emanates a sense of pure goodness--who can never do wrong? That's the sort of person Rebecca Nurse is in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. She is revered and holds a place of honor in the community of Salem. Even the visiting reverend, Mr. Hale, knows of her goodness, saying 'we have all heard of your great charities in Beverly.' For a reputation to be known outside its own community in 1692--without the aid of social media or even telephones--is a pretty big deal! Rebecca Nurse is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill good citizen. She is practically a celebrity along the lines of Mother Teresa!

Decidedly Sensible

Rebecca Nurse's strong reputation is not baseless. Throughout the play, she consistently displays her good sense and reason. In the very beginning when the two girls, Betty and Ruth, have fallen 'ill' and the town is beginning to cry witchcraft, Rebecca is a voice of reason. Instead of believing Betty to be cursed by an unnatural power, she sees the situation for what it is: a young girl playing a farce. 'I think she'll wake when she tires of it,' Rebecca wisely states. Of Ruth, who refuses to eat, Rebecca says 'perhaps she is not hungered yet.' Children, she asserts, have 'their silly seasons,' and she counsels the adults, 'Pray calm yourselves' so that this is not blown out of proportion.

Rebecca is equally sensible when it comes to the calling of Mr. Hale the witchcraft 'expert'--She asserts, 'I think you'd best send Reverend Hale back as soon as he come. This will set us all to arguin' again in the society, and we thought to have peace this year.' When Mr. Hale arrives and proposes to 'rip and tear' to free Betty of the Devil's supposed grip, Rebecca gets up to leave the room, saying 'I am too old for this.' If only they had listened! If only more of them had thought themselves 'too old' for such silliness!

Resentment, Envy, Malice

Sadly, as is often the case with truly admirable people, those around Rebecca eventually succumb to resentment and envy, which then ferments into malice. The play's narration provides us with some town history that may have played a part in this resentment. It seems the Putnam family was often at odds with the Nurse family over property boundaries. (The Putnam family, it so happens, was also at odds with most of the other characters over property.) The Putnams also disagreed with the Nurses over who should be elected minister, and the Putnams' candidate lost. The Nurses, who held such a prestigious position in the town, must have been difficult people to begrudge. This annoyed the Putnams.

Mrs. Putnam also has a personal beef with Rebecca--Mrs. Putnam lost seven children as infants, while Rebecca has 11 living children and 26 grandchildren. Clearly, this is not actually Rebecca's fault, but Mrs. Putnam points to witchcraft as the reason: 'You think it God's work you should never lose a child, nor grandchild either, and I bury all but one?' The infant mortality rate at this point in history was extraordinarily high. Mrs. Putnam's experience would not have been atypical, but it was very likely painful. Sadly, she leta that pain turn into anger, which she directs at Rebecca Nurse.

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