Symbols in The Crucible

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  • 0:03 What Is Symbolism?
  • 0:32 The Crucible
  • 1:35 Witch Hunt
  • 2:40 The Poppet
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Symbols are used in 'The Crucible' to bring meaning to elements of the theme and plot in a non-linguistic way. Let's look at Arthur Miller's use of symbols in this play.

What Is Symbolism?

Why did Arthur Miller choose to name his play The Crucible? The name, like much of the content of the play, is a symbol with a much larger meaning. Symbols are used in literature as a metaphor to make a point. In this lesson, we will talk about some of the symbols that Arthur Miller uses in The Crucible, including the play's title, the child's toy, and the allegory to the McCarthy hearings that were taking place in Congress around the time the play was written.

The Crucible

The word 'crucible' is selected as the title of the story for a reason. 'Crucible' has a few possible definitions. Let's go over them now:

  • A crucible is a container that is used to change the state of a substance through the application of heat. In the play, the heat that is applied to the citizens through these witch trials forces them to bypass their integrity and the teachings of their faith in order to save themselves. John Proctor believes the verse he quotes to Mary Warren: 'Do that which is good, and no harm shall come to thee,' but when telling the truth backfires on both Mary and him, his words come back to mock him.

  • A crucible is also a difficult challenge. Most definitely the mass hysteria that turned liars into saints and saints into demon-possessed witches tried the integrity of the town.

  • Finally, a crucible is the setting that instigates reform. The Salem witch trials are at the pinnacle of an unfair justice system, where religion, mysticism, and fear play a major role in determining guilt and punishment.

Witch Hunt

The witch hunt in The Crucible is a metaphor for the witch hunt that occurred in Congress in the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy was on a mission to expose communists in the United States. Careers suffered as leaders and famous people in Hollywood who had liberal views were kept under government surveillance and blacklisted so that they were unable to work. In his play, Arthur Miller compares the Congressional Committee Hearings, in which people falsely confessed or named friends, acquaintances, and enemies as communists out of fear of reprisal during McCarthyism, to the Salem trials where false confessions could save alleged witches from the hangman's noose.

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