The Crucible Act 1 Summary

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson summarizes Act 1 of Arthur Miller's ''The Crucible''. It includes a brief overview of important characters and touches on the historical significance of the setting in regards to the Act itself.

Historical Background for The Crucible

What would you do if you were caught up in the hysteria of the masses and treated without due process? You could write a play about it as Arthur Miller did.

The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller that is a mostly fictional dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials in which women were hanged for the suspicion of witchcraft in the late 1600s.

Historically, the trials did take place and 20 people were killed to satisfy the hysteria of the people. Miller used the names of several people in those events but added some fictional elements as well. The whole work is an allegory for McCarthyism, which describes the Congressional 'witch hunts' for unAmerican activities (mostly Communism) in the 1950s and largely spurred by senator Joseph McCarthy. The author himself was held in contempt of court for failing to name names of people who might be involved in Communism.

Let's begin to follow the events of the play he wrote in response.

Rumors of Witchcraft

Reverend Parris, a paranoid, untrusting middle-aged man, is praying over his unconscious daughter, Betty. He discusses with his niece Abigail the widespread rumors the villagers have been sharing. A crowd has already gathered downstairs, sure that Betty has been involved in witchcraft and that it has caused her illness.

Parris reminds Abigail that he found her and her friends dancing in the woods and her doing so put him in a very bad position. People talk, and the other girls who were with her may not have remained quiet.

Abigail insists they were not practicing witchcraft or dancing naked. Parris claims he saw Tituba, his slave, chanting over a cauldron, but Abigail swears Tituba was singing songs from her homeland of Barbados. Parris says he saw a naked body running through the trees, but Abigail insists no one was naked.

The Putnams

Ann Putnam, a villager and parishioner of Parris', bursts into the room and demands to know how high Betty flew, saying everyone is talking about it. Her husband is with her and declares it good that the 'thing' is out now and wonders why Betty's eyes are closed when his daughter's are open.

Both girls, it seems, were involved in the dancing in the woods incident. Mrs Putnam says the girls are not sick but bedeviled. She admits, upon urging from her husband, that she had sent their daughter to ask Tituba to conjure up their seven deceased babies. Mrs Putnam is sure now that her babies were murdered and someone in Salem is a witch.

Abigail admits that Tituba and Betty did summon spirits, but none of the other girls were involved. Parris is worried he will lose his ministry (in fact, he seems more concerned about that than his ill daughter).

The Girls

When Parris goes down to calm the crowd, Abigail tries to wake Betty while a few other girls are in the room. When Betty awakens, Abigail is revealed as the ringleader as she demands the girls get their story cohesive and straight. She tells Betty not to panic, because she told Parris everything.

Betty says no, she left out the part about how Abigail drank blood to kill the wife of John Proctor, Abigail's former employer. Abigail smacks her and informs the girls she herself will kill them if they utter anything out of line with the story they've presented. Betty falls back into her coma and the other girls leave.

Proctor and Abigail

John Proctor enters Betty's room and finds himself alone with Abigail. She assures him the rumors are false and she and the girls were just being mischievous. They stand close and she asks him for a 'soft word'. Evidently Abigail and John had had an affair while she had been in his employ.

She asks him to swear he still loves her. He says he cares for her, but their relationship is over, showing some guilt. Abigail is enraged and insults his wife. As a psalm is heard from downstairs, Betty begins to wail and the people downstairs think it is a sign that she cannot bear to hear the Lord's name as they sing.

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