Motif Tracking: The Crucible – Animal Imagery




This motif has been used throughout Miller’s play, The Crucible, for several reasons. Behaving like an animal is considered to be a form of breaking social convention and rebellion against society as animals are crude and primitive. Miller often associates animalism with Proctor’s sin and Abigail referred to herself as being ‘wild’ possibly suggesting that she does not follow the rules that everyone else does. This may in turn suggest the possible reading of how women like Abigail who are free, are dangerous and wild that must be tamed and owned by a man in order for them to become civilized and valued in society.     


However, as the play progresses, animalism becomes increasingly used as a symbol of freedom and passion. The only times when animals are civilized and controlled are when they are trapped by humans and forced to conform to the Puritan ideals of Salem society.


Miller also uses animal imagery to represent the Devil making use of the sinister connotations of animals as aggressive and cruel to represent the Salemites fears of what the devil is like. However, the fact that animals are free also further suggests that the Devil himself is freer than God because the Devil has no rules, while God must stick to his moral principles of what is right and wrong.



Quotations & Analysis:





ABIGAIL: It were sport, uncle!


PARRIS [pointing at BETTY]: You call this sport? [She lowers her eyes. He pleads.] Abigail, if you know something that may help the doctor, for God’s sake tell it to me. [She is silent.] I saw Tituba waving her arms over the fire when I came on you. Why was she doing that? And I heard a screeching and gibberish coming from her mouth. She were swaying like a dumb beast over that fire!


ABIGAIL: She always sings her Barbados songs, and we dance.

Tituba is described like a “dumb beast”, demonstrating how slaves were treated during this time period. Tituba’s rituals are foreign to the rest of Salem so they associate such alien customs to be animal-like, almost uncivilised. “Dumb” heavily emphasises the tone of superiority over the slaves.


Additionally, “dumb” signifies her inability to speak freely as she is repressed, being a mere slave. Equally the word ‘gibberish’ is used to describe her native language because the people in town do not recognize it, and believe it is inferior to their own superior race and culture. 


Finally, witchcraft was thought to be a primitive behaviour, something close to nature and this fear of beasts and nature reflects the settlers’ fears of the unknown wilds of America.




ABIGAIL [with alarm, as she cautiously approaches BETTY]: What ails you, Betty? Your mama’s dead and buried.


BETTY: I’ll fly to Mama. Let me fly! [She raises her arms as though to fly, and streaks for the window, get one leg out.]


Betty’s desire to fly is a symbol of the girls’ desire for freedom. Betty takes advantage of the hysteria to become a bird because animals in general are allowed to do uncivilized things, things that would normally be unacceptable for her to do in Salem society. This in turn implies how oppressive Salem society is as it doesn’t allow even children to act freely.


BETTY: You drank blood, Abby! You didn’t tell him that!

ABIGAIL: Betty, you never say that again! You will never –

BETTY: You did, you did! You drank a charm to kill John Proctor’s wife! You drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor!

ABIGAIL [smashes her across the face]: Shut it! Now shut it!


This image of Abigail drinking blood illustrates her desperation to be with Proctor. But it also suggests a sense of animal aggression she is , quite literally “blood thirsty” which foreshadows the later attempts she makes on Elizabeth’s life. Miller has established Abigail as the main antagonist, attempting to gain what she wants through manipulation and violence.



ABIGAIL: I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near! Or did I dream that? It’s she put me out, you cannot pretend it were you. I saw your face when she put me out, and you loved me then and you do now!

The image of Proctor sweating “like a stallion” indicates the lust and passionate relationship between them, but also suggests its short term nature, insinuating that it was purely physical as animals, unlike humans, are not associated with monogamous, loving relationships.


The stallion’s main purpose is to mate and reproduce. This activity emphasizes the lack of love in this ‘job’ which reinforces the ideas that the relationship with Abigail was purely physical. 


Additionally, the sexual behaviour of animals is viewed as a crude and primitive interaction which contrasts with humans, where romance is supposed to exist within the relationship. This heavily emphasises the degrading nature of Proctor’s sin, he is disgusted with himself that he could have succumbed to so base a desire.



PROCTOR: Abby, that’s a wild thing to say


ABIGAIL: A wild thing may say wild things. But not so wild, I think. I have seen you since she put me out; I have seen you nights.

Abigail is given an animalistic characteristic to exemplify her rebellious character and her freedom, as animals are not bound by the laws of society, to do and feel more than most Salemites would.


It also suggests that women who are not controlled by men are considered to be ‘wild’ and thus need to be tamed in order to become acceptable. This further suggests that women are inferior and helpless against men as they are the ones who can control women like a wild animal.


The term wild also portrays Abigail as a villainous character, as she is willing to kill to gain what she wants, something that she accepts herself as she calls herself a wild thing.



ABIGAIL: I have a sense for heat, John, and yours has drawn me to my window, and I have seen you looking up, burning in your loneliness. Do you tell me you’ve never looked up at my window?

This “sense of heat” which Abigail uses suggests not only passionate desire by also echoes a phrase normally used for animals; to be “in heat”. This reemphasises the true nature of the relationship between Proctor and Abigail: Proctor succumbed to a purely physical temptation, demonstrating that he is human, and has inherent flaws and weaknesses. It is this ‘flaw’ that he struggles with throughout the play.



It is as impossible for most men to conceive of a morality without sin as of an earth without ‘sky’. Since 1692 a great but superficial change was wiped out God’s beard and the Devil’s horns, but the world is still gripped between two diametrically opposed absolutes.

Miller uses a narrative interjection as an opportunity to state what he truly believes – outside of the actual plot of the text. During this section of the text, Miller introduces Hale and describes how “good” and “evil” are inextricable linked.


The use of animal imagery here is to make the clear distinction between God and the Devil. Animalising the Devil with “horns” in contrast to “God’s beard” demonstrates that evil conduct is associated with animals and their lack of restraint. God, being portrayed with human qualities, is a symbol of moral perfection – he has the qualities which mankind should posses (self-control and not succumbing to temptation).


The Devil in contrast is represented as being uncivilized, wild and chaotic however, this also suggests that the Devil is freer than God, since he can do whatever he wants to without worrying about the rules, unlike God, which reinforces the idea that the life of a human being, especially in the eyes of the residents of Salem, is one lived according to a restrictive set of rules.



HALE: Does someone afflict you, child? It need not be a woman, mind you or a man. Perhaps some bird invisible to other comes to you – perhaps a pig, a mouse, or any beast at all. Is there some figure bids you fly? [The child remains limp in his hands. In silence he lays her back on the pillow Now, holding out his hand toward her, he intones.]…

As the Devil has been stereotyped as being closely associated with animals, Hale is using his alleged expertise to investigate. However, the use of asyndeton (listing of the animals) is actually a sort of manipulation or (inspiration!). By suggesting these possible signs of the Devil, he is leading on those who are being investigated. This is similar when Abigail is being questioned about the soup (pg. 45) where Hale again makes suggestions which later find their way into her confession.


The fact that Hale is so convinced that animals ‘or any beast at all’ are associated with the Devil suggests his conservative belief that animals lower in hierarchy than humans.



HALE: Take courage, you must give us all their names. How can you bear to see this child suffering? Look at her, Tituba. [He is indicating BETTY on the bed.] Look at her God-given innocence; her soul is so tender; we must protect her, Tituba; the Devil is out and preying on her like a beast upon the flesh of the pure lamb. God will bless you for your help.

The religious imagery here is evidence to show how the characters hid behind the religion to justify their irrational acts, just as they did during the Communist witch-hunts, where they hid behind the fear of Communism. The image of a beast “preying… upon the flesh of the pure lamb” helps to create an image of the girls as victims. However, it becomes obvious that the girls who make the accusations are not as innocent as their lamb-like outer appearance. The irony is emphasised by the lambs delicacy and fragility in contrast to the aggressive beast.




MARY WARREN [backing from him, but keeping her erect posture, striving, striving for her way]: The Devil’s loose in Salem, Mr. Proctor; we must discover where he’s hiding!

To say, something is “loose” usually indicates that some sort of non-human being is roaming freely amongst us. To animalise the Devil in such a way illustrates the reality of the fear in Salem. The hysteria is so deeply embedded in their minds that the Devil is now actually among them like a wild dog.



ELIZABETH: I never called you base.

PROCTOR: Then how do you charge me with such a promise? The promise that a stallion gives a mare I gave that girl!

ELIZABETH: Then why do you anger with me when I bid you break it?

PROCTOR: Because it speaks deceit, and I am honest! But I’ll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!


The promise that Proctor made to Abigail was of their short-term relationship, there was nothing more than the physical aspect to it. To say that it is “the promise that a stallion gives a mare” relates to the crudeness of their sexual relationship. Animals are supposed to lack the self control that humans have in order for monogamy to exist in our society. However, this “promise” that was made obviously had an impact on Abigail as she believes that Proctor still yearns for her. The promise however, is a judgement Proctor holds against himself, never forgiving himself for his past sins which is shown later in the play.



GILES: That bloody mongrel Walcott charge her. Y’see, he buy a pig of my wife four or five year ago, and the pig died soon after. So he come dancin’ in for his money back. SO my Martha, she says to him, ‘Walcott, if you haven’t the wit to feed a pig properly, you’ll not live to own many,’ she says. Now he goes to court and claims that from that day to this he cannot keep a pig alive for more than four weeks because my Martha bewitch them with her books!



Miller may possibly be criticising the modern society of America during the Communist witch hunts. This play was supposed to be a parallel of these events and so this particular quotation demonstrates the ridiculousness of the whole situation. The buying of the pig illustrates that the whole society revolved around these domesticated activities such as farming, etc. Giles’ wife is accused of witch craft for a petty feud between neighbours.


The pig conflict shows that the pig must be owned, that they are not allowed to run freely emphasizing the idea of inferiority to humans



PARRIS: Why could there not have been poppets hid where no one ever saw them?

PROCTOR [furious]: There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it.

PARRIS: We are here, Your Honour, precisely to discover what no one has ever seen.

Again, Miller uses this sarcasm to ridicule the situation. The allegations and the evidence to prove them are baseless, just as Proctor points out with his five legged dragon. It is evident that both the Salem and Communist witch hunts were completely based on the claims of witnesses without empirical evidence.


The mystical animal is used to emphasize the absurdity of the point Hale is attempting to make.



PROCTOR [his voice about to break, and his shame great]: In the proper place – where my beasts are bedded. On the last night of my joy, some eight months past. She used to serve me in my house, sir. [He has to clamp his jaw to keep from weeping.] A man may think God sleeps, but God sees everything, I know it now. I beg you, sir, I beg you – see her what she is…

Proctor is describing where his lechery was committed, “in the proper place – where my beasts are bedded”. Having this moment of weakness in a stable, (outside of the house) is “proper” only because Proctor understands the nature of his sin, such an act is not worthy of a true human being and so should be in this setting which is unclean and “raw”.  The house is a representation of society and its morals, as well as a symbol of family which should be kept away from sins and immorality and a symbol of how Proctor thinks he should act. Animals are strongly associated with the Devil, which further emphasises the severity of his sin and how he so harshly judges himself.



ABIGAIL: Why – ? [She gulps.] Why do you come, yellow bird?

PROCTOR: Where’s a bird? I see no bird!

ABIGAIL [to ceiling]: My face? My face?

ABIGAIL [to the ceiling, in a genuine conversation with the ‘bird’, as though trying to talk it out of attacking her]: But God made my face; you cannot want to tear my face. Envy is a deadly sin, Mary.

MARY WARREN [on her feet with a spring, and horrified, pleading]: Abby!

ABIGAIL [unperturbed, continuing to the ‘bird’]: Oh, Mary, this is a black art to change your shape. No, I cannot, I cannot stop my mouth; it’s God’s work I do.

SUSANNA WALCOTT: Her claws, she’s stretching her claws!


PROCTOR: Lies, lies.


This particular section of the novel is one of the leading moments to the climax. Abigail’s scheme of pretending to see Mary Warren’s spirit being sent upon her manages to convince a whole court of the reality of witch craft. However, this relates back to an earlier act in the play where Hale actually suggests “an invisible bird” demonstrating that this is just a manipulative tactic. This idea of changing shape is believed to be “black magic”.


The animal imagery may also suggest that appearances are deceiving; a yellow bird does not normally have menacing connotations as described here, but rather, it reflects the deception within society. Abigail, being a “strikingly beautiful” young girl is supposedly innocent and does not lie. However, she is one of the children “jangling the keys to the kingdom”. Similarly, the American government in the 1950s was supposed to be a trusted administration but they used intimidation in order to gain confessions of Communism.



MARY WARREN [pointing at PROCTOR]: You’re the Devil’s man!

[He is stopped in his tracks.]

MARY WARREN [her sobs beginning]: He wake me every night, his eyes were like coals and his fingers claw my neck, and I sign, I sign…

HALE: Excellency, this child’s gone wild!

As the plot “thickens”, Proctor suddenly finds himself in a situation where he is in the vulnerable position, being accused of working for the Devil. Mary Warren describes him with “eyes… like coals” portraying a fiery, devilish image of Proctor, also saying “claw my neck” which animalises him. This places Proctor in the position of the aggressor, having the same non-human characteristics of a beast. In a way, this is the intimidation which Mary Warren suffered. However, this dehumanisation of Proctor is significant as it exemplifies the fear she feels.



HERRICK [handing her the flask]: And where are you off to, Sarah?

TITUBA [as SARAH drinks]: We goin’ to Barbados, soon the Devil gits here with the feathers and the wings.

HERRICK: Oh? A happy voyage to you.

SARAH GOOD: A pair of bluebirds wingin’ southerly, the two of us! Oh, it be a grand transformation, Marshal! [She raises her flask to drink again.]

[A bellowing cow is heard, and TITUBA leaps us and calls to the window]


Aye, sir! That’s him, Sarah!

HERRICK [puling her to the door]: That’s not Satan, just a poor old cow with a hatful of milk.

Herrick, Tituba, and Sarah all appear to be drunk at the beginning of this act. Tituba hopes for the Devil to bring her home to Barbados with “the feathers and the wings”. The casual speech about the Devil demonstrates that Lucifer is something that is no longer feared in Salem, instead the treachery and petty jealousy which surrounds them is a more powerful source of terror. Indeed the fact that the Devil is spoken of openly and is no longer to be feared suggests how distorted the values of Salem have become … as Proctor says the court has torn down God and raised up a whore.


The image of wings is a representation once more of their desire to be free. From a feminist reading, all of the young girls who made the accusations are desperate to be free from this patriarchal society where there is an expected behaviour of women. As such the Devil, in the sense that he is the antithesis of the ‘Godly’ society of Salem is represented as being a sort of freedom in the same way that anything which opposed the restrictions of Salem society would be viewed as a sort of freedom.


Tituba would be one of the most victimised as she is a slave forced to work in a foreign country. Additionally, the use of humour in this quotation where the girls mistake a cow to be the Devil himself reinforces the “looseness” of the subject. There is a lack of seriousness to the matter of the Devil which suggests it never existed in the first place.



DANFORTH: Perhaps he have some sorrow.

CHEEVER [stamping his feet against the cold]: I think it be the cows, sir.


CHEEVER: There be so many cows wanderin’ the highroads, now their masters are in the jails, and much disagreement who they will belong to now. I know Mr. Parris be arguin’ with farmers all yesterday – there is great contention, sir, about the cows. Contention make him weep, sir; it were always a man that weep for contention.



This quotation again takes away from the previous seriousness of the witch hunt. Now that so many are in jail, their farms have been left abandoned. This image is almost comical, it would appear that the “great contention” is over a matter which is insignificant. It is also quite revealing of the character, Parris, who has imprisoned people for material gain. This, in every aspect, mirrors the political situation in which Miller wrote this play.


The two men also use the animal as a way to avoid thinking about the real issue and thus, their own guilt. Since they are unwilling to admit that they have been wrong themselves, they choose to blame the cows.


There is an additional irony here in that even the cows are freer than the humans.



HALE: All but Proctor. He is in the dungeon.

DANFORTH [to HERRICK]: What’s Proctor’s ways now?

HERRICK: He sits like some great bird; you’d not know he lived except he will take food from time to time.

The simile of “some great bird” indicates the point in Proctor’s “purifying” process. He is in jail at this point in the play and has so far refused to make any confession. He is a fallen man who has confessed his sins; his name has been ruined however, he still maintains his morals. He has, however, not yet proved to himself that he is good enough to die a hero. “Great bird” suggests wisdom and strength. It also denotes the impression of silent resistance. An alternate interpretation of this is that Proctor has an aura of defeat around him now, being passive and silent. He does not seem to be alive anymore, as if he has nothing more to life for.


This animal imagery gives Proctor a very powerful presence and aura that is conveyed strongly even though he is silently sitting. This also shows that he has evolved  almost beyond this absurd situation.



DANFORTH: … Are you stone? I tell you true, woman, had I no other proof of your unnatural life, your dry eyes now would be sufficient evidence that you delivered up your soul to Hell! A very ape would weep at such a calamity! Have the devil dried up any tear of pity in you? [She is silent.] Take her out. It profit nothing she should speak to him!


Animals are thought to be emotionless therefore, the use of “ape” in this quotation further emphasizes how tragic the situation is and how far Danforth misunderstands both Proctor and Elizabeth. Their silence bespeaks a great respect and understanding of one another and also a forgiveness that we do not see before. Goody Proctor’s final statement ‘He have his goodness now.’ shows she appreciates the struggle that John has gone through and is aware of how important his sense of honour is to him.


This in addition demonstrates Danforth’s desperation to wring Proctor’s confession from him in order to justify the hangings that have occurred so far. However, he indirectly proves to Proctor that he is a good enough man to die a hero, thus undermining the standing of the court in Salem.



ELIZABETH: And yet you’ve not confessed till now. That speak goodness in you.

PROCTOR: Spite only keeps me silent. It is hard to give a lie to dogs. [Pause, for the first time he turns directly to her.] I would have your forgiveness, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH: It is not for me to give, John, I am –

PROCTOR: I’d have you see some honest in it. Let them that never lied die now to keep their souls. It is pretence for me, a vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the wind. [Pause.] What say you?


“It is hard to give a lie to dogs.” Throughout the play, Proctor has been an upright man, always refusing to deceive. But in this particular quotation, he admits that he only remains silent and does not confess to spite them (being Danforth and other characters of authority, and possibly Abigail as well) out of anger and rage. But at this stage, he still does not truly feel that he is worthy enough to die an honorable death because he has already committed sin. Proctor, being the heroic protagonist, feels that the figures of authority are “dogs” which is blatantly derogatory.




ELIZABETH [in terror, weeping]: I cannot judge you, John, I cannot!

PROCTOR: Then who will judge me? [Suddenly clasping his hands] God in Heaven, what is John Proctor, what is John Proctor? [He moves as an animal, and a fury is riding in him, a tantalized search.] I think it is honest, I think so; I am no saint. [As though she had denied this he calls angrily at her] Let Rebecca go like a saint; for me it is fraud!


Although the initial dehumanisation of Proctor had negative associations with the Devil, the animal-like characteristics that appear in Proctor now, closing in on the “purifying” climax, demonstrate a careless freedom and lack of restraint. Now, having confessed his sins, he is “naked” and is exposed just like an animal with a lack of inhibition. However, this stage direction may also signify the heightening emotion as the metaphorical crucible reaches its boiling point. There is passion not only in his speech, but also in his body movement, contrasting from the “great bird” image.



HALE: Man, you will hang! You cannot!

PROCTOR [his eyes full of tears]: I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. [ELIZABETH, in a burst of terror, rushes to him and weeps against his hand.] Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honour now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!

The reader is given the impression of the figures of authority being carnivorous “dogs” wanting to take away whatever morality is left in Proctor. The irony lies here, Hale believes he is saving Proctor from a meaningless death, but is actually driving Proctor to the final point of the purifying process, where Proctor realises that he is an honourable man.


The bestial imagery is used to convey the eagerness of the authorities that want to snatch away any ‘good’ left in Proctor in order to save themselves. The contrast between dog and the authorities is supposed to let the audience see through the pretence and finally see the authorities as animals that are ‘out of control’.



HALE: Woman, plead with him! [He starts to rush out the door, and then goes back to her.] Woman! It is pride, it is vanity. [She avoids his eyes, and move to the window. He drops to his knees.] Be his helper! – What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms declare his truth? Go to him, take his shame away!


Hale strongly believes that Proctor is dying in vain; this description of death using words such as “dust” and “worms” create a morbid image. Although Hale has some heroic qualities, as he is able to change his mind set and speak truth, he does not fully conceive morality in the same way in which Proctor finally dies protecting his morals. The play ultimately ends with symbols such as the “new sun” representing the hope of social reform; thus illustrating Proctor’s death was not in vain.




Key Moments:

It is as impossible for most men to conceive of a morality without sin as of an earth without ‘sky’. Since 1692 a great but superficial change was wiped out God’s beard and the Devil’s horns, but the world is still gripped between two diametrically opposed absolutes.” (pg. 37)


This quotation encompasses many of the themes within this play. These sections of the play which are in the form of narration are particularly significant as it is an opportunity for Miller to clearly state his true message. Miller describes the actions of men being those of God or of the Devil. But he also acknowledges that “until the Christian era the underworld was never regarded as a hostile area” as both good and evil were inextricable forces brought together by the same phenomenon. The Salem witch hunts are an example of how these “two diametrically opposed absolutes” became clearly segregated. The side of Lucifer was feared and it was this fear which justified the actions of baseless accusations. Similarly, the fear of Communism was used as tool of manipulation to control the ordinary members of society and gain petty revenge. The animalistic description of the Devil demonstrates the two general connotations that come with animalism; one being the derogatory and negative associations which describe sin and immorality, but conversely, emotive freedom, passion and carelessness which motivate characters like Proctor to rebel against the overwhelming force that is society. Like the two extreme sides of a spectrum, both Proctor and Abigail possess these qualities of animalism. Both individuals are rebels taking on two very different roles which are strangely similar.



PROCTOR [his eyes full of tears]: I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. [ELIZABETH, in a burst of terror, rushes to him and weeps against his hand.] Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honour now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!’ pg. 125


This quotation is an important part of the play because it is the critical decision in Proctor’s life since he realizes that he has some shred of goodness left in him, e.g. his high moral values indicated by the fact that he punishes himself so harshly for his affair with Abigail. Proctor is finally able to accept his sins and forgive himself, allowing him to rebel against the authorities at the last minute by ripping the confession and deciding to die like a martyr (like Giles and Rebecca Nurse). The irony of the repeated animal image of the dog used, describes the authorities who are supposed to be on a ‘higher level of righteousness’ is significant because this emphasizes how scheming and selfish the authorities are. Miller is trying to make the audience relate these ridiculous authorities to men of their own time (e.g. McCarthy) running the American government. It is also apparent that while Proctor’s ‘goodness’ is not much it is still enough more than that of the dogs of the Puritanical society, which shows how corrupt, sinister and selfish they are.



Another key moment for the motif of animals is when Abigail describes her past affair with Proctor in the following lines: “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near”


This illustrates Abigail’s erotic and wild nature which in turn marks her out as a rebel against the norms of her society. The fact that Abigail sees no shame in this animalistic action but Proctor does serves to highlight the crucial difference between these two characters: Abigail is passionate to an almost frenzied and dangerous degree and embraces the animalistic while Proctor is a moral man who cannot forgive himself for succumbing to temptation and lowering himself to the level of an animal. From this point on these two characters diverge, Abigail with her powerfully passionate nature destroying the society which attempts to restrain her while Proctor, plagued with self-disgust and doubt, embarks on a journey which will ultimately end in self-forgiveness.