The Crucible: Act Notes – Act 1
· The scene opens with Reverend Parris “kneeling beside the bed” p. 13 on which “his daughter, BETTY PARRIS, aged ten, is lying inert” p. 13
· Tituba, Parris’ “Negro salve” p. 17 enters, worried about Betty but Parris yells at her and she leaves
· Parris begins to cry, praying to God and begging Betty to wake up
· Abigail, Parris’ niece, walks into the room, soon followed by Susanna Walcott who says that Doctor Griggs has been unable to find any “medicine for it[Betty’s sickness] in his books” p. 18 and is suggesting that they “look to unnatural things for the cause of it” p. 18
· Parris’ sends Susanna back to the doctor, telling her to “speak nothing of unnatural causes” p. 18 in the village
· Parris asks Abigail what the girls had been doing the night before when he caught them dancing in the woods
· Mrs. Putnam enters, excited about the fact that Betty is sick and assuming that witchcraft is the cause of it
· Mr. Putnam enters and it is revealed that even the Putnam’s daughter (Ruth) is sick
· Mrs. Putnam reveals that she had sent her daughter to Tituba to conjure the spirits of her seven dead babies to find out the cause of their death (which she believes is witchcraft)
· Mercy Lewis (Mr. and Mrs. Putnam’s maid) enters with news that Ruth has “improved a little” p. 24
the elders leave, Abigail tells Mercy that her uncle knows that they were
dancing in the forest but if asked, she should say nothing more at which point
· Betty wakes up, crying for her mother; she tries to leave through the window to “fly to [her] Mama” p. 26 and when Abigail stops her, she accuses Abigail of drinking “a charm to kill Goody Proctor” p. 26 and then goes back to “sleep”
· John Proctor enters and sends Mary Warren (his maid) back home and Mercy leaves
· John Proctor and Abigail talk about what has happened and it is revealed that Abigail still has feelings for Proctor; Proctor tells her that there will never be anything between them again
· Betty wakes up and starts whining and covering her ears when psalms are heard outside the window
· Parris, Mr. and Mrs. Putnam and Mercy Lewis enter followed by Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse
· Goody Nurse provides more plausible reasons for Betty’s sickness and suggests that they send Reverend Hale back when he arrives in order to maintain the peace in the town
· Conflict is seen between Proctor and Parris and Putnam and then Hale arrives
· Goody Nurse leaves and Giles reveals his fears about his wife reading “strange books” p. 43
· Abigail shifts everyone’s attention to Tituba and Tituba is then called to the room to find out what they were doing last night
· Tituba says that she saw the Devil and with Hale’s help, turns her back on the Devil after which Abigail reveals that she too saw the Devil and wishes to “open” p. 49 herself to God
· The scene ends with Abigail, Tituba and Betty (who has woken up at this point) calling out the names of all the women they say they saw with the Devil
Individual vs. Society and Tragic Heroism
When Proctor is seen interacting with Parris and the Putnams he seems to be isolated from the others because of the fact that he does not give importance to society, and does not try to create the appearance that he does. He is seen to be blunt about his beliefs, openly stating “I like not the smell of this ‘authority’” (Act 1, p. 35) when referring to the church, not caring about the consequences of his action. He is also set apart from the others, specifically the Putnams and Parris in that he has “his own vision of decent conduct” p. 27 which these other characters seem to lack. The theme of the individual vs. society is evident throughout this act and the remainder of the play through Proctor’s character and his interactions with the other characters. Miller believed in “Tragic Heroism”: “an everyday man struggling against the forces he cannot overcome, fighting for “dignity”” and thus, he uses Proctor’s character to embody this theme.
Religion and Politics (Devil and Communism)
“In the countries of
the Communist ideology, all resistance of any import is linked to the totally
malign capitalist succubi, and in
This quote demonstrates Miller’s view that the devil is used as a means by which to threaten those in society who refuse to surrender to the willpower of those in society and live life like the rest of society. Religion is used to make people abide by the law. It seems as though he is ridiculing the fact that society viewed communism (equality) as a trait of the devil. This is further emphasised by the role of religion which runs throughout all of the acts as all of the characters who put importance on conforming to social rules, including Parris and the Putnams are constantly reinforcing the importance of the church and religious ideals.
“Political opposition, thereby, is given an inhumane overlay which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilised intercourse.” (Act 1, p. 38). Religion is seen as the polar opposite of Politics, he thinks this is completely ridiculous because society is deeming everything that goes against social rules and regulations as the result of religious beliefs. This quotation foreshadows what will be seen in the play as the trials begin and issues such as Proctor not having gone to church every Sabbath day makes others believe that he may be under the control of the Devil.
Motifs and Connotations:
Open vs. Closed Spaces
This motif is
explored in this act through the contrast between the forest and the
Light vs. Dark
This motif is seen at the start of the play in the description of the room in which Betty is lying: “There is a narrow window at the left. Through its leaded panes the morning sunlight streams. A candle still burns near the bed” p. 13.This description reveals the similarity between the contrasts of light and dark to open and closed spaces: outside the house, where there is sunlight, there is complete freedom, nothing is hidden. However, inside the house, where there is little light and a candle is being used to create what little light there is, there are many secrets, emphasised by the fact that no one knows the reason for Betty’s sickness or what happened the night before in the forest.
Truth vs. Lies
This motif is mainly seen associated with Abigail’s character within this act: we see Abigail lying to Parris about what they were doing in the forest the night before, telling Parris that they “We did dance...And there’s the whole of it” p. 19, but not revealing that else took place the night before. She threatens Mercy Lewis and Mary Warren, saying that if either of the girls talk “about the other things” p. 26, she will “bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder” p. 26 them. We also see Proctor trying to persuade Abigail to forget about the relationship they shared, telling her to “Wipe it out of mind” p. 29. This motif reveals the importance of putting on an appearance in society as, when it is revealed that the girls had made some “brew” p. 45 last night and that Tituba made it, she is immediately charged of witchery, showing the dangerous nature of truth in this society.
Parris is aggressive and places a high degree of importance on the way in which society perceives him. As such, he is afraid to have his image tarnished
“He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side” (Act 1, p. 13) This quotation reveals Parris’ lack of confidence and makes him seem paranoid about the way in which others perceive him. It also shows that Parris is constantly trying to gain the favour of others. This reveals his need to be accepted as part of a society and the fact that he is unable to stand alone and isolated from the other members of society.
“He mumbles, then seems about to weep; then he weeps, then prays again” (Act 1, p. 17) The image of Reverend Parris weeping at the bed because his daughter is sick seems to create the impression that he truly cares about his daughter, however, it is possible that he is more afraid about what will happen if she does not wake up as rumours of witchcraft being involved in her sickness have been circulating in the village.
“PARRIS [his eyes
going wide]: No—no. There be no unnatural cause here. Tell him [Doctor Griggs]
I have sent for Reverend Hale of
Proctor seems to be independent and is not easily influenced by others. He is honest and blunt about his opinions. He has flaws but recognizes them and is not hypocritical
“…not easily led” (Act 1, p. 27) This quotation makes Proctor seem independent as he isn’t influenced easily by the others around him. It is possible that Proctor is seen as the ideal hero by Miller as he is the character seen who is not trying to follow all of society’s rules. He is open about his feelings towards Parris’ sermons and doesn’t try to pretend that he believes in what Parris says (“the last meeting I were at you spoke so long on deeds and mortgages I thought it were an auction” Act 1, p. 35). He is blunt about his opinions.
“He is a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own vision of decent conduct… [he] has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud” (Act 1, p. 27) This quotation shows that Proctor recognizes the faults he has; he has his own beliefs about what is morally “right” and there is no hypocrisy in his beliefs – he judges himself against these rules as well. Proctor has his own moral values, a trait not seen in any other character.
“Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again.” (Act 1, p. 29) Once again this shows how he recognizes his own flaws as he seems to be taking control of the situation to ensure that he doesn’t make the same mistake again. He confesses that he does make the mistake of thinking about her “from time to time” but that he will never make the same mistake again. His guilt is also seen in the stage direction: “angered. – at himself as well” (Act 1, p. 29).
“We vote by name in this society, not by acreage” (Act 1, p. 33) This quotation shows how he is different to the other characters that we have been introduced to: he doesn’t put importance on material wealth which is what the character of Putnam does. Proctor again seems more morally sound and fair that the other characters seen in this act.
At the beginning of
the play, Hale is portrayed as Naïve and slightly absurd. He reflects McCarthy
who catalysed fear of communism (Hale catalyses the feat of witches in
“This is a beloved errand for him; on being called here to ascertain witchcraft he felt the pride of the specialist whose unique knowledge gas at last been publicly called for.” (Act 1, p. 37) Makes Hale seem quite insecure – he needs to be recognised in society. Almost seems quite arrogant and proud about his skills and knowledge on this area. Suggests that he is yet another character that Miller is ridiculing because he is proud about his knowledge in an area and doesn’t even doubt his beliefs after the experience he has with a woman who was said to be a witch but in actuality wasn’t. This shows that he refuses to consider the possibility of any other truth.
“He feels himself
allied with the best minds in
Abigail is manipulative and malicious and is also seen as a seductress / temptress.
“a strikingly beautiful girl…with an endless capacity for dissembling” (Act 1, p. 18) The first description of Abigail when she enters the play sets her up as a duplicitous character, foreshadowing the fact that she plays a key role in the trials that are seen later in the play.
“My name is good in the village! I will not have it said my name is soiled!” (Act 1, p. 21) This quotation reveals that Abigail is much like Parris in that she does put importance on the way that others in society perceive her. It also emphasises her duplicitous nature as, later in this act, we learn that she has had relations with a married man, Proctor.
“Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.” (Act 1, p. 26) This quotation works to set Abigail up as the villain as, despite her beautiful outer appearance, she has the capacity to threaten the others around her to ensure that her image is maintained in society. It also creates the impression of her being a malicious character which works to vilify her character.
“I’d almost forgot how strong you are, John Proctor!” (Act 1, p. 28) This quotation reveals her flirtatious nature, seen when she is left in Betty’s room alone with Proctor and the “inert” p. 13 Betty. The way in which she interacts with Proctor in this part of the first act shows that she still has feelings for Proctor. Though in a dominant reading, Abigail is portrayed as the temptress, in a feminist reading, it could be said that where Proctor is able to escape from their past relationship, Abigail is left suffering with the memories of their past relationship. This is sympathetic reading is further proven when she says: “I cannot sleep for dreamin’; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you comin’ through some door” p. 29.
Mr. and Mrs. Putnam
The Putnam’s are seen as conniving and striving for control over others around them. They are proud and take pleasure in others suffering.
“MRS. PUTNAM [full of breath, shiny-eyed]: How high did she fly, how high?” (Act 1, p. 21) This quotation is the first line heard from any of the Putnam’s thus, automatically revealing Mrs. Putnam’s immense happiness about the fact that Parris’ daughter is sick and they have the chance to embarrass him. She enters the room prepared to revel in Parris’ distress about his sick daughter and attempts to make the situation more difficult for Parris by saying that even other members of society are associating what has happened to Betty with witchcraft, saying “Mr. Collins saw her goin’ over Ingersoll’s barn, and come down light as bird” p. 21.
“it is not surprising to find that so many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam” (Act 1, p. 23) This quotation reveals Mr. Putnam’s vindictive nature in that we see that he is constantly accusing others in court, most probably in order to raise his status in society as after accusing others, he purchases the land that they leave behind.
Rebecca Nurse is portrayed as wise, gentle and calm.
“REBECCA NURSE, seventy-two enters. She is white-haired, leaning upon her walking stick.” (Act 1, p. 30) This description of Goody Nurse immediately sets her up as one of the wiser characters as she is the oldest, thus showing that she has had many experiences in her life. The name “nurse” also makes her seem as the caring, motherly figure as a nurse provides comfort in hospitals, further emphasizes through the description “Gentleness exudes from her” (Act 1, p. 31).
“…the general opinion of her character was so high…” (Act 1, p. 31) The quotation once again makes Goody Nurse’s character seem very wise as most of society had regarded her as someone wise and intelligent which is why the fact that even she was involved in a land war seemed strange.
“I think…come back” (Act 1, p. 32) This speech by Rebecca reflects on her calm and wise nature. She isn’t seen jumping to the conclusion of Betty being a witch or taken over by the devil as the characters of Parris’ and Mr. and Mrs. Putnam are seen doing. This also suggests that she is different to the other characters, just like Proctor as she doesn’t seem to have the same beliefs as them.
“I hope you are not decided to go in search of loose spirits…” (Act 1, p. 32) This line echoes the scene that Miller is trying to create to show how ridiculous the beliefs are in this society. The line, combined with the above quotations, suggest that it is possibly Goody Nurse who is the hero in the play as she is not flawed the way Proctor is, but still is different to the other characters and doesn’t believe in the existence of spirits.
“Let us rather blame ourselves…” (Act 1, p. 33) Reinforces what the audience has already knows about Goody Nurse’s character: that she is calm, and reveals her humility and willingness to consider personal faults, similar to Proctor who identifies his own flaws.
“No, you cannot break charity from your minister. You are another king, John. Clasp his hand, make your peace.” (Act 1, p. 35)
Though this line does show how calm and motherly Goody Nurse is as she is trying to stop the situation from becoming violent/stop an argument from taking place, this line presents a flaw in her character. It seems as though she is urging Proctor to stay silent and to hide his feelings which is similar to what the other characters, e.g. Abigail, are doing.
Betty is young, innocent and naïve.
“darts off the bed, frightened of ABIGAIL and flattens herself against the wall” (Act 1, p. 26) The image of Betty cowering away from Abigail, emphasises her innocence and naivety and emphasises the fact that she is young.
“BETTY is rising from the bed, a fever in her eyes, and picks up the chant” (Act 1, p. 49) This image again emphasises the fact that she is young and naïve as she seems to be following exactly what Abigail is doing, thus suggesting that she is unsure of what to do herself. It also works to further emphasise the fact that Abigail is in control of the girls.
Giles is forgetful on account of his age. He is also cantankerous and on account of this at times he is comical.
“He didn’t give a hoot for public opinion, and only in his last year – after he had married Martha – did he bother much with the church” (Act 1, p. 43) This quotation reveals that, like Proctor, Corey also is isolated from the rest of Salem’s society in that he does not put importance on creating appearances or succumbing to social pressures. It also foreshadows his future heroic death as we see that he is innocent and is not set up as a conniving, malicious character such as the characters of Abigail or the Putnams.
Like the Putnams, Mercy is conniving and also takes pleasure in others’ distress
“a fat, sly, merciless girl…” (Act 1, p. 24) This quotation describing Mercy’s character creates the impression that she is much the Putnams, whom she works for, as she is also seen to be a character who revels in the distress that Parris is suffering through. This is emphasised by the fact that she “though to see how Betty is” p. 24, making it seem as though she has specifically come to witness what is happening first hand so that she can gossip about it later with her friends.
Mary is portrayed as innocent, powerless and weak, tending to do as others tell her.
“a subservient, naïve, lonely girl” (Act 1, p. 25) This quotation, describing her character foreshadows her future actions as it provides a basis for why she acts the way she does throughout the play. She seems to do exactly what the others around her are telling her to do: when Abigail makes her join them in the court for the trials, she succumbs, when Proctor tells her to speak the truth, she once again does as he says and goes to face the court, and then when Abigail puts her in a situation where she becomes powerless, she succumbs to pressure once again.
As a servant, Tituba is powerless and is used as a “scapegoat” by others
“ABIGAIL: She made me do it! She made Betty do it! TITUBA [shocked and angry]: Abby!” (Act 1, p. 45) These quotations show how Tituba was forced to pretend that she had been approached by the Devil purely because Abigail turned the attention of the others onto Tituba purely because she is powerless in society and has no importance because she is a “Negro slave” p. 17 This is emphasised by the description of Tituba the first time the audience sees her at the start of the act “she is also very frightened because her slave sense has warned her that, as always, trouble in this house eventually lands on her back” p. 17 revealing that Tituba has had to take responsibility for many other wrongdoings which she did not have part in many times before.
“REVEREND PARRIS is discovered kneeling beside the bed, evidently in prayer” (Act 1, p. 13) – this image of Parris kneeling at the bed shows his complete lack of power in the situation, while emphasizing the importance of religious in the town of Salem as this is the first stage instruction of the entire play
“…a two-man patrol whose duty was to ‘walk forth in the time of God’s worship to take notice of such as either…may be accordingly proceeded against.” (Act 1, p.14) – the image created by this quotation creates the impression that there is no escape from the pressure of society as there is always someone watching what the members of society are doing, ensuring that they are conforming to social and religious rules
“my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest” (Act 1, p. 19) – this image of the girls dancing in the forest shows that the only time when the girls are free is when they are outside, away from the watchful eyes of society and emphasises the fact that there is complete restriction in this village
This act is set in “A small upper bedroom in the home” p. 13, creating a feeling of claustrophobia as it is in one enclosed space, further emphasised by the “narrow window” p. 13 and lack of light. The lack of homely objects occupying a room echoes the Puritanical beliefs of this society where indulgence is forbidden and only bare necessities are used, e.g. “a bed.. a chest, a chair and a small table” p. 13. The settings described at the beginning of the play foreshadows the beliefs of this society that will be revealed in that they put importance solely on religion and work and following social rules and that “their creed forbade anything resembling a theatre or ‘vain enjoyment’” (Act 1, p. 14). The fact that the “house stood in ‘town’…The meeting house was near by… there were a few small-windowed, dark houses” p. 13 reveals that this is a small town and creates the basis for the remainder of the play where everyone in the town seems to be scrutinising others and being scrutinised themselves.
Unity of part to whole:
This act establishes the main themes and motifs of lack of freedom, importance of social rules, succumbing to social pressures, heroism, deceit and manipulation which run throughout the play and thus is important in creating the basis for the outcome of the play. It also successfully introduces the main characters who play important roles in the future of the village in the trials that take place. It also sets up the next act of the play in which we see the disconnected relationship between Proctor and his wife Elizabeth as it provides a reason for the lack of love between the two characters.