The Crucible: Act Notes – Act 4
“A cell in
· Hopkins the guard enters and announces the arrival of the Deputy Governor. Herrick grabs Tituba and both him and Hopkins leads her out the door whilst she protests, “no, [the Devil is] comin’ for me”. Sarah Good calls after them, telling Tituba to “tell [the Devil] Sarah Good is goin’ too!”
· Herrick returns before Danforth, Judge Hathorne and Cheever enter. Through Danforth and Herrick’s conversation we learn that Hale “goes among them that will hang…and he prays with them…Mr Parris with him”.
· Herrick is sent to fetch Parris who enters the cell “gaunt, frightened, and sweating”, and proceeds to tell Danforth, Hathorne and Cheever about how Hale “pleads with [Martha Corey and others], confess their crimes and save their lives”. He also reveals how his niece Abigail and her friend Mercy Lewis have vanished and are possibly now aboard a ship because he has discovered his daughter Betty “heard them speaking of ships” and that night he discovered that his “strongbox is broke into”.
· Apparently feeling guilty about accusing the wrong people, Parris suggests to Danforth and Hathorne that Rebecca Nurse and Proctor’s hangings should be postponed because “these people have great weight yet in the town”. Danforth states that “there will be no postponement”.
· Subsequently, Parris confesses that someone placed a dagger on his door which “clattered to the ground” as he opened it. It is this fear that “there is danger for [him]” that Parris does not want Rebecca Nurse, Proctor or others of “this sort” to be hanged.
· Hale enters and is immediately congratulated by Danforth for his “good work”, but he remains “steeped in sorrow, exhausted, and more direct than he ever was” as he tells of how “[the prisoners] will not budge” and because “the sun will rise in a few minutes” he needs more time to convince them to save themselves by confessing.
Danforth insists that he “will
not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement” because it “speaks a
floundering on [his] part”. He then proceeds to question the others about
Proctor who “sits like some great bird” in the dungeon and about
Herrick and Elizabeth enter. Hale informs
Herrick fetches John Proctor and they enter the cell.
· Conversation between Proctor and Elizabeth is strained and “it is as though they stood in a spinning world…beyond sorrow, above it”. They ask about each other, about their friends, and about their child. Through their conversation we find out that hundreds have confessed but not Rebecca, and that Giles had been tortured to death because he would not confess.
Proctor states that he “cannot mount the gibbet like a
saint” because he is “no good man”, but
Hathorne enters and demands to
know Proctor’s final decision.
Danforth and Cheever enter and
present Proctor with pen and paper for Proctor to write down and sign his
confession for all of
· Danforth begins questioning Proctor about who he has seen with the Devil, to which he replies no one at all, and Danforth soon figures out that Proctor is lying about his confession. Proctor refuses to sign his confession and finally reaches breaking point, furiously exclaiming that “God does not need my name nailed upon the church…God knows how black my sins are!” and subsequently tearing the confession paper.
Danforth immediately orders “hang
[the remaining prisoners] high over the town!” whilst Parris and Hale both
desperately plead to
Motifs & Connotations:
Miller uses paper to symbolise authority, therefore Proctor’s evasion of writing down his confession, signing it, and then his final act where he “tears the paper and crumples it” (p125) further establishes his rebellious and heroic character. He challenges authority and only does what he truly believes is the morally correct thing to do, which in his case was to not confess to being involved with the Devil, thus helping to relay Miller’s message that society should stand up against McCarthyism. However, in committing this deed Proctor has also proved that the authoritative figures in society are not as powerful as they make themselves appear to be because as soon as the paper was torn and crumpled it lost all its significance in an instance, and hence the audience will be able to see that there is hope in rallying against the government for the normal people (as opposed to tragic heroes) like them as well. Furthermore, paper is usually associated with the truth, but due to the fact that Proctor’s confession was a lie and that the written statement was “for the good instruction of the village” (p120) and was supposed to be “post[ed] upon the church door” (p121) clearly conveys how blind these figures of authority are. They cannot see that Proctor is going against his better intentions and deceitfully confessing because he feels that he “cannot mount the gibbet like a saint” (p118), showing how misplaced their values are also.
Inside and outside
Most scenes of “The Crucible” take
place indoors, usually inside small rooms with sealed windows or none at all,
to reflect how oppressive this Puritanical society is. Miller is showing how
the people in Salem feel very restricted because they think they do not have
the freedom to be individuals and believe in what they think is morally
correct, and are forced into this frame of mind by authoritative figures in the
church and in the government. Likewise, McCarthy and his followers also metaphorically
put people inside small claustrophobic rooms in order to pressurise
them into believing that communists are a threat to society, and because there
is a “barred window” and “a great, heavy door” (p108) it is
difficult for people to escape this place and see the real truth which is
outside. Therefore it is significant that Miller shows us the prisoners wanting
to escape the oppression of
Violence has been used throughout the play as a form of punishment to those who refuse to obey orders from authoritative figures – such as Mary Warren who gets beaten by Proctor or the people of Salem who are hanged because they do not confess to working with the Devil – and as a form of manipulation – for instance Abigail who tries to shift the blame onto Mary Warren by exclaiming “this is a black art to change your shape…please, Mary! Don’t come down” (p101). Likewise, in Act 4 we learn that violence was used to brutally manipulate Giles Corey into confessing something he did not do by having “great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay” (p118), and that violence was used as a threat in order to show Proctor that he would be punished unless he “will give [Danforth] your honest confession in [his] hand, or [he] cannot keep you from the rope” (p124). Furthermore, Miller includes so much violence in each act of the play to emphasise how much pressure has built up in this tyrannical society where people are forced into believing things they do not want to believe, and hence conveys to the audience that if no one takes a stand against McCarthyism then a lot more violence would erupt making society very unstable and dangerous.
Miller most probably intended
Proctor to be the sole tragic hero of “The Crucible”, but the change in
character which Hale has experienced and his attitude towards
The other character who could possibly be viewed as a hero is Hale. In the beginning he showed no signs of heroism because he “came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved” (p115) in a very naïve manner, but from act 1 to act 4 he has changed considerably. Now, in act 4, Hale has realised that “where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up” (p115) because of the corrupt nature of the Puritanical Salem society, and so is fighting back against the authorities who have infested so much fear and violence into the village. Miller portrays Hale as an everyday-hero whom the audience can relate to and hence uses him as a mouthpiece to warn the 1950s American society to “cleave to no faith when faith brings blood”; what this message conveys is how people should not succumb to McCarthyism because it is morally unjustified and will undoubtedly breed fear and violence in their country as well.
Individual VS society
Due to the oppressive nature of
Religion and the Devil
Miller wants his audience to realise the gravity of the situation
Themes & Connotations:
Roles and duties in society
Each character seems to have their
own part to play in
In any dramatic play there would be a main point of conflict which comes after the development of the plot and before the issue is resolved, but Miller chooses not to use this standard play format in “The Crucible”. Instead, he has many conflicts arise between different groups of people and includes a tense climatic moment in each act; this may be his method of portraying how this society is already under high pressure due to it being so oppressed and so violent outbursts can occur at any given moment. The conflicts displayed are between individuals and society, between good and evil ideals, and within Proctor which is portrayed by his internal struggle between “giving them this lie that were not rotten long before” (p118) and “mount[ing] the gibbet like a saint” (p118).
None of the characters in this play seem to be exempt from the church and the government’s rule of oppression, not even the tragic hero John Proctor. People such as Parris, Hathorne and Danforth control every little aspect of people’s lives, including what religion they must have, how they must behave in society, what they must believe, and so forth, and this very restrictive and highly pressurised society is conveyed through the setting of the play which is always indoors in a small room often with “a high barred window…heavy door…in darkness but for the moonlight” (p107). Miller seems to want to emphasise the extent of this inhumane oppression in order to demonstrate to his 1950s audience what they must not allow to happen by creating such extreme and absurd circumstances, for example, if one lies and confesses to working with the Devil one would live, but if one is honest and does not confess then one is hanged. Severe punishments such as this, violence and religion are all the tools of oppression in this play.
A consequence of extreme oppression is rebellion, and it seems very ironic that this would inevitably occur despite it being the very occurrence which the authorities have tried to prevent in the first place. Miller depicts rebellion in two ways in act 4; firstly, there is Proctor’s personal triumph over Salem’s justice system which happens when he goes against what everyone advises him to do and instead trusts his morals by not confessing and getting hanged for it, and secondly there is an entire town’s uprising as “Andover have thrown out the court…and will have no part of witchcraft” (p111). The fact that Hathorne and Danforth are oblivious to the fact that Salem is beginning to riot hypocritically shows how they are not even aware of the situation they were trying to prevent, for instance when Danforth asks “you have heard rebellion spoken in the town?”, to which Hale replies “there are orphans wandering…better you should marvel how they do not burn your province!”It appears that Miller is trying to tell his audience that some form of rebellion must occur, possibly by first rebelling against society as an individual before working together with others to overthrow the corrupt government, so the country can be saved from destruction.
Although power seems to lie in the
hands of the authorities – in
Symbols & Connotations:
This links to the theme of religion and also to the way in which the ideals of Salemites have been completely distorted. The Devil is usually associated with evilness and sins but here the Devil is portrayed as the “pleasure-man” (p108) in the much warmer, livelier and freer Barbados because even the most morally incorrect figure in Christianity cannot stand to be in Salem where it is “too cold” and would even “freeze his soul” (p108). This extreme image is Miller trying to prove his point that one should not be forced to live in a repressive society when there is a better quality of life to be had, one which allows for individuals to express themselves through “singin’ and dancin’” (p108) for instance. Moreover, the Devil symbolises individualism because he is free to choose how he wants to live, and since Miller portrays individuals as heroes in “The Crucible” it makes the Devil seem like one too. This appears to be completely absurd, which is exactly Miller’s point; this society has forced its people into such a limited range of ridiculous actions that everyone’s minds and beliefs have been distorted so that good is seen as evil and vice versa.
The cold surrounds everyone in
These animals are never seen because
they are outside, but their presence is felt and they are talked about because
they represent chaos and the deterioration of the village. At first, “a bellowing cow is heard, and Tituba leaps up” (p108) thinking that it was the Devil
speaking to her, which evidently portrays how she is bordering on insanity
because the domineering Puritanical society has distorted her views of reality.
Following this comes the discussion about how there are “so many cows wanderin’ the highroads, now their masters are in the
jails” (p109), which shows the declining economy of Salem where there is no one
to tend to the livestock and carry on their daily routines because the corrupt
figures of authority have greatly interfered with people’s individual lives.
Furthermore, Miller probably chose to use cows as a symbol of chaos because the
image of them wandering around the town just seems highly ridiculous and this
would reinforce the playwright’s message that this whole situation is ridiculous,
therefore the people of 1950s must start taking action against McCarthyism now
before it results in the deterioration of
Paper is usually associated with the truth and with authority but its value is undermined when it appears in the form of a list with the so-called ‘condemned’ people’s names on it and then later as proof that Proctor has confessed to a crime he did not even commit. The way that Danforth, Hathorne and Cheever take these documents so seriously further makes them appear ridiculous and therefore untrustworthy because these people are meant to know the truth and hence be trusted to manage the village, but they are actually the complete opposite. Paper is also used as a tool to symbolise heroism and individualism, as exemplified by Proctor refusing to sign the testimony and have his confession “post[ed] upon the church door!”
Names help to represent one’s character, for instance the women are called “Goody…” most likely because they are expected to behave like respectable wives and mothers, and this is most obvious with Proctor and his assertion that “God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are!” (p124). He desperately tries to show the oblivious Danforth, Hathorne and Cheever “with a cry of his soul” (p124) that his name is important to him because it forms part of his identity and makes him an individual. Moreover, he has already “given you [his] soul” (p124) which stood for everything he ever believed in and so the least that the authorities can do is “leave [him his] name!” (p124) so he can live with the shred of dignity which is remains with his identifiable name. If it was posted on the church door then the entire village would know him no longer as the hero John Proctor, but as the lying and cowardly John Proctor.
Throughout “The Crucible” the audience has seen the two elements which make up Proctor’s unique character; on one hand he is a sinner because he had an affair with Abigail, but on the other hand he is an admirable hero because he realised this mistake and is willing to reveal this affair to the world in order to save Elizabeth from being hanged. In act 4, we see the heroic element of his character prevail due to his final decision to not confess and to give up his life to defend the moral values that he passionately believes in. This brave decision to not confess did not come easily to him, however, and it is in this act that his internal struggles are most evident. Having been an assertive and determined character all along, at the height of his moral battle the audience suddenly see him begin to question himself and others, “then who will judge me? God in Heaven, what is John Proctor...I think it is honest…” (p120). Goodness prevails in him though, and finally he realises that “I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor…” (p125), so he stands by his individualism and beliefs by refusing to succumb to social pressures, which in this case were forced on him by Danforth who commands him to “give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope” (p124). At the very end of the act Proctor is seen to finally be at peace with himself because he knows “he have his goodness now” (p126), and is therefore the ultimate tragic hero of the play.
When the audience first observe Danforth in his role as the Deputy Governor, we perceive
him as a man of justice who is willing to listen to everyone’s account of the
situation and who will use his power appropriately because he “burn[s] a hot
fire here; it melts down all concealment” (p81). However, later on we see his
authoritative position being undermined as he applies some form of irrational
logic to the case, “witchcraft is ipso
facto…as for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for all
their confessions” (p90), and seeks for wrongdoers rather than accept that no
one was working with the Devil. In act 4 we see his position of power further
undermined because it seems like he is only asserting that “them that will not
confess will hang” because “postponement now speaks a floundering on my part;
reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now”
(p113), meaning he would rather have the remaining seven prisoners hanged
rather than admit to making the mistake of sentencing the previous twelve to
(Hathorne and Cheever could also be described in this manner because they all represent corrupt authoritative figures.)
In this act Parris appears to be
highly restless and frightened because he finally realised
that he mistakenly accused people of witchcraft after wrongfully trusting
Abigail and Betty’s antics. The fact that he believed the girls in the first
place portrays just how easily manipulated he is, and this weakness in his
character is further emphasised when he reveals that
“they be aboard a ship…my strongbox is broke into” (p111). On one hand we agree
with Danforth when he calls Parris “a brainless man”
(p111) because he was too concerned with carrying out his duties against the
Devil as a Puritanical Reverend, but on the other hand we feel some sympathy
for him because he has realised his mistake, as
opposed to Danforth who is still blind to the truth.
Therefore, even though the audience perceives his fear that “there is danger
for me” (p112) and his attempts to make up for what he has done to Proctor by
saying “if you desire a cup of cider…” (p116) as rather pathetic, we still
appreciate his willingness to save the innocent people by telling
Similarly to Parris, Hale has also
experienced a change in character, but this change makes him more of a hero in
comparison to the change in Parris which makes him more pathetic. Miller most
likely wanted to portray Hale as the every-day hero whom his audience could
relate to and follow the example of, because this character’s actions reflect
those of his American audience. Hale was initially a person who “came into this
village like a bridegroom to his beloved…with my bright confidence” (p115),
thinking that he knew everything about witchcraft and Christianity, but this
naïve man later transformed into someone who could see the truth that there are
no witches or Devils running wild in Salem, but rather that the corrupt figures
of authority’s power was spiraling out of control. Miller possibly uses Hale as
a mouthpiece, particularly in his long speech where he warns
One interpretation of Elizabeth’s
character in this act is that she is merely a tool of Miller’s used to enhance
Proctor’s heroism by allowing him to decide his own fate because she “cannot
judge [him]” (p118). Furthermore, she seems to be so intent on putting the
blame on herself and letting Proctor “have his goodness” (p126) by refusing to
answer his questions directly, “Proctor: I’d have you see some honesty in
it…what say you?”, “Elizabeth: it come to naught that I should forgive you, if
you’ll not forgive yourself…whatever you will do, it is a good man does it”
(p119). However, another interpretation of
Imagery & Setting:
Indoors, inside a jail cell
The entire play has taken place indoors and this is still the case in this act, but the connotations of being inside a small room – oppression, restriction of freedom, being prevented from seeing the truth – are more accentuated here because the setting is “in Salem jail” where the only escape routes are through “a high barred window” and “a great, heavy door” (p107). Having the final act inside a depressing and claustrophobic jail cell adds tension to the atmosphere and helps build up to arguably the most significant climax where Proctor “tears the paper and crumples it” and declares “now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor” (p125). Moreover, it provides a dramatic contrast to the outside world where Proctor can finally have his freedom and lay his troubled soul to rest.
Dark to light/night to day
This act begins “in darkness but for the moonlight seeping through the bars” (p107) but ends with “the new sun [is] pouring in” (p126). This shows the climatic progression from the frightening, Puritanical, tyrannical world of Salem where the society is metaphorically kept in darkness so they do not see the truth that the authorities are corrupt, to the enlightenment of the tragic hero who finally bursts through the highly pressurised ‘crucible’ which was restricting him and others in the village. Through this progression – which is also represented by the stifling coldness which permeates the beginning of the act making Danforth “blow[s] on his hands” (p109), but is no longer present at the end – Miller is probably trying to show his audience that they too can go through this change and achieve a much better quality of life at the end of it.
This links to the way the inside symbolises oppression whilst the outside symbolises freedom, but to further add to this, the outside
world also represents Miller’s prediction of the future. Firstly, we hear “a bellowing cow” which startles Tituba and initiates the discussion about rebellion between
Hale and Danforth, and this could suggest how
Relation of Part to Whole:
This act is structured in the same format as the rest of the acts with an informative beginning where the characters discuss issues, followed by a conflict, a swift progression of events to build up tension, and then ends on a climax, but it could be argued that act 4 has the most significant climax in “The Crucible”. This is because the audience finally sees Proctor overcome his internal moral struggles and reach the realisation that “he have his goodness now” (p126) and heroically sacrifice his life in order to defend his moral values. Furthermore, it is in this act that we see the true elements of each character shine through – Danforth, Hathorne and Cheever are all corrupt, cowardly and domineering authorities who abuse their powers over Salem; Parris is the broken Reverend who is weak and pitiable; Hale is the every-day hero who rebels against Salem’s distorted justice system; Elizabeth is the passive but morally just wife who allows her husband to continue in his fight to a purity of his soul; and Proctor is the tragic hero who finally achieves peace of mind. Essentially, act 4 concludes Miller’s message to his 1950s American audience that they must cooperate as a group of strong individuals and fight for the right to hold their own morals and beliefs by preventing McCarthyism from destroying innocent lives and their society.