Motif Tracking: The Crucible – Books & Paper



Throughout ‘The Crucible’, Miller utilises the motif of ‘Books & Paper’ in order to indicate the manner by which individuals within Salem (such as Abigail), as well as individuals within America during the 1950s (such as Senator Jo McCarthy), were able to manipulate society and thus embark upon a personal crusade in order to eliminate their enemies.


Within ‘The Crucible’, ‘Books & Paper’ can be divided into two explicit categories – those which are holy and symbolise truth and those which are perceived to be evil, blasphemous and sacrilegious. Evidently, the Bible is categorized as a holy book and throughout the play is utilised as a weapon with which to test individuals, such as John and Elizabeth Proctor, in order to ascertain whether they essentially worshiped God or the Devil. Similarly, Hale’s books are effectively recognised as ‘holy’ in that they are regarded as symbolising truth and thus, in turn, give individuals such as Hale power and authority within society. Moreover, the arrest warrants are seen to be regarded as infallible and are seen to symbolise the truth and the law.


In contrast, the ‘Devil’s Book’, as well as the books which Martha Corey is condemned for reading, are regarded as evil, blasphemous and sacrilegious. These books are seen to provide the judges with evidence of ‘witchcraft’.

However, the line between fact and fiction is seen to blur throughout the play in that many of the ‘Papers’ that the judges deem to be truth are in fact lies and those which are considered false are in fact true. Thus the audience observes the manner in which the motif of ‘Books & Paper’ is manipulated throughout the play in order to obtain power and to suit the needs of the individuals. For example, the confessions which those condemned as witches were advised to sign represent truth in the eyes of the judges; however in reality simply indicate desperate lies. Moreover, only those pieces of evidence which are seen to support the claim of witches are taken into consideration, thereby undermining the presence of witchcraft and reducing the hunt for witches and Communists to a scheme through which to exercise vengeance.

In addition, Miller ultilises Proctor’s condemnation and disregard for the ‘Books & Paper’ which are highly regarded by society in order to strengthen him as a hero, in that he is forced to openly defy society in order to introduce justice.







“They had no novelists,- and would not have permitted anyone to read a novel if one were handy”

This quotation accentuates the fact that during the Salem Witch Hunts, the theocracy which ruled was very strict. At the time there was much fear and uncertainty about the undiscovered west. However, in order to band together and be united in safety, people had to sacrifice some of their personal freedoms, for example, reading. The fact that reading is a relatively minor enjoyment reinforces just how strict this society was.



“Aye, sir, he have been searching his books since he left you, sir. But he bid me tell you, that you might look to unnatural things for the cause of it”

This quotation from Susanna shows how books are viewed as the sources of knowledge. However, when no cure is found, it is immediately assumed that the cause is unnatural. Arthur Miller does this to mock the Salem Witch Hunt, and also the Communist Witch Hunt, as he believes that people blamed the witches and communists for problems that have a more mundane cause.



“[Delighted]: Mr. Hale! Oh! It’s good to see you again! [Taking some books]: My, they’re heavy”

The entrance of Reverend Hale weighed down with books indicates that he is meant to be very knowledgeable. However, the fact that witches do not exist and Parris is more impressed by the weight of the books than the content serves to undermine any credibility that he has thus making his belief in witches seem dangerously / sadly misguided. The fact that Hale mentions the ‘authority’ that the books hold further emphasizes this absurdity. of the society at the time, as does the irthe books represented the law, and these laws were flawed and irrational.



[…He goes to his books, opens one, turns pages, then reads. All wait, avidly.]

PARRIS [hushed]: What book is that?

MRS PUTNAM: What’s there,sir?

HALE [with a tasty love of intellectual pursuit]: Here is all the invisible world, caught, defined, and calculated. In these books the Devil stands stripped of all his brute disguises…’


Society’s trust in and high regard for books is evident within this quotation. Their eagerness to determine the nature of Hale’s books further indicates that those such as Hale who studied such books gained a higher status as well as a greater degree of power and authority within society.


GILES: Martha, my wife. I have waked at night many a time and found her in a corner, readin’ of a book…Last night – mark this – I tried and tried and could not say my prayers. And then she close her book and walks out of the house, and suddenly – mark this – I could pray again!

This indicates the manner in which the tension and fervor within Salem was heightened by false accusations. Moreover, Miller undermines the Salem witch hunt, as well as the Communist witch hunt, by emphasising the absurd nature of the accusations. This absurdity is further underlined by the irony that Corey suspects his wife of witchcraft but in the she dies one of the martyrs of the play remaining true to her faith until the end.



ABIGAIL: ‘…I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book…’

Through this quotation, Abigail is able to cleanse herself in the eyes of Salem society and eradicate any taint of sin that may have lingered over her following Parris’ discovery of her dancing in the woods. Therefore, the audience perceives the use of the ‘Devil’s Book’ as an imaginary object by which individuals can fool people into believing they are pure while at the same time using it to convict others. Abigail is able to utilise this in order to redeem herself and embark on her witch hunt. Miller emphasises the symbolic power of books and paper by making it apparent that as soon as Abigail’s lie is linked to the use of a book she is instantly believed by the court. Thus books and paper are also equated with lies and abused justice and the misguided nature of the court.



“That she- [in horror at the memory]- she sometimes made a compact with Lucifer, and wrote her name in his black book- with her blood- and bound herself to torment Christians till God’s thrown down- and we all must worship Hell forevermore”

Mary Warren’s description of Sarah Good’s confession once again depicts the use of the Devil’s book in order to indicate the presence of witches. This in conjunction with the fact that she wrote her name ‘with her blood’, evokes sinister images, thus effectively convicting Sarah Good in the eyes of the court However, as the audience, we are meant to see past all of the hysteria and lies and realize that Sarah Good has confessed out of the same desire to save herself that motivated Tituba. Any value in her confession is thus undermined and Mary’s belief, representing the courts firm belief, in this confession is undermined too.



HALE: ‘In the book of record that Mr. Parris keeps, I note that you are rarely in church on Sabbath Day.’

Here, a religious book is utilised in order to convict Proctor thus indicating the power and influence of books within Salem and, once more, Proctor’s rebellion against the established rules and regulations of the Church.



“[Mockingly quoting the warrant] ‘For the marvelous and supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies.’ What do I do, Mr. Hale?”

Through the mocking tone as well as the ludicrous content of the warrant, the credibility of the court as well as the motif of ‘Books & Paper’, is undermined. Nonetheless the warrant still symbolizes power as it has the ability to control people and the juxtaposition between this power and the absurdity of its contents reveals the true use of the warrants, which are ultimately tools that can be manipulated, for personal gain or revenge.


This quotation further demonstrates that Francis, just like Proctor, is a rational character as he is not carried away by the accusations of witchcraft.



CHEEVER: Proctor, you dare not touch the warrant.

PROCTOR [Ripping the warrant]: Out with you!

CHEEVER: You’ve ripped the Deputy Governor’s warrant, man!


Proctor’s actions of ‘ripping the warrant’ highlight his role as a hero within the play, due to the fact that through this he is seen to challenge the absurd behaviour of his society. Cheever’s reaction of outrage (highlighted by the exclamation mark), as well as the phrase ‘the Deputy Governor’s warrant’ indicate the extent to which Proctor has acted unacceptably. Additionally, the warrants are seen to be the epitome of society’s expectations and Proctor’s actions foreshadow his coming conflict with the court.



PROCTOR: ‘…This warrant’s vengeance! I’ll not give my wife to vengeance!’

Miller effectively undermines both the Salem and the Communist witch hunt through the use of the word ‘vengeance’. Through this word, the entire witch hunt as well as the paper documents themselves, lose authority and are reduced to simply petty jealousies.



DANFORTH [instantly]: No, no, I accept no depositions.

Danforth’s instantaneous rejection of Proctor’s deposition indicates the way in which paper documents were only regarded as truthful and valid when it suited the court.



PROCTOR: [handing Danforth a paper] Will you read this first, sir? It’s a sort of testament. The people signing it declare their good opinion of Rebecca, and my wife, and Martha Corey.

This quotation illustrates the use of papers as a form of evidence and because this time it is presented by the heroes of the play and ignored here paper represents how distorted and misguided the values of the court are.



PARRIS [sweating]: These people should be summoned. For questioning.


FRANCIS [trembling with anger]: Mr. Danforth, I gave them all my word no harm would come to them for signing this.


The use of papers in order to convict additional members of society is evident within this quotation. Furthermore, the sheer madness of society and the corrupting influence of Abigail can be noted due to the fact that the majority of society is condemned.


GILES: My proof is there! [Pointing to the paper.]

Once again, paper is proclaimed to indicate the truth; however, the truth is seen to alter and be manipulated in order to comply with individual needs. Here, nonetheless, the paper Giles talks of really does contain the truth and the fact that the court dismisses his claims echoes how the voice of reason cannot be heard in neither Salem during the Witch Hunt nor 1950s America during the Communist Witch Hunt. Once again the court’s dismissive attitude to this piece of paper reinforces how only certain types of documents represent authority; a fact that is most evident in the opposition between the Devil’s Book and the Bible.



HALE: Excellency, I have signed seventy-two death warrants; I am a minister of the Lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it.

The power and authority of the death warrants is emphasised within this quotation but more importantly it represents Hale’s increasing doubt about the righteousness of the court’s actions and his realization that, as Proctor said, it is vengeance that is stalking the town and not justice.



PROCTOR [with a cold, cold horror at their efficiency]: Why must it be written?

DANFORTH: Why, for the good instruction of the village, Mister; this we shall post upon the church door!

The fact that Danforth enforces a written confession indicates the fact that paper documents were seen to represent and insinuate truth. Moreover, Proctor’s ‘cold, cold horror’ indicates the internal horror he feels at compromising his values merely in order to live. Furthermore, the posting of the confession upon the church door and the claim that this is for ‘the good instruction of the village’ indicates the misguided arrogance of the court and how far awry their values are.



[CHEEVER goes to PROCTOR, the confession and a pen in hand...]

This quotation indicates the desperation of the court to obtain Proctor’s signature because they know that if he confesses this will justify the hangings that have occurred so far. This sense of selfish, self-protection at the expense of a man’s life is the final way in which Miller undermines the authority of the court in Salem and, by comparison, McCarthy’s HUAC in contemporary America.



PARRIS: …It is a weighty name; it will strike the village that Proctor confess. I beg you, let him sign it. The sun is up, Excellency!

Parris’s lines indicate his sense of personal desperation and further reinforces the power and influence of paper documents as they have the ability and influence to eradicate the factions within Salem.



[Proctor has just finished signing when Danforth reaches for the paper. But Proctor snatches it up, and now a wild terror is rising in him, and a boundless anger].

Proctor’s snatching of the confession possibly indicates the fact that he wants to retain his dignity and pride and it is the making permanent of his confession through the act of signing that makes Proctor realize that he cannot lie in order to save himself and that he is, after all, an honourable man.



[His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect.]

The tearing of the paper shows how Proctor undermines authority. Paper is a symbol of the rules and laws of Salem and Proctor’s destruction of this symbol indicates his decision to live according to his own set of rules and codes of moral behaviour instead of those imposed upon him by the court, even if doing so means his death. Here, Proctor is seen to regain his pride and dignity and fulfill his role as a hero as he effectively sacrifices himself in staying true to his beliefs and, as Miller points out in the epilogue, through the destruction of this piece of paper, Proctor effectively begins the process that will destroy the power of the court and make the people of Salem realize that Witch Hunt, rather like the Witch Hunt in 1950s America, is little more than mass hysteria being manipulated for personal gain and vengeance by a powerful few.




Key Moment:

The motif of ‘Books & Paper’ is ubiquitous throughout the play however, the key moment for this motif is during the last act when Proctor destroys his signed confession. This is foreshadowed earlier in the play when he rips the warrant for his wife’s arrest and it is a key moment because through this act of destruction, Miller is able establish Proctor as a hero and a martyr in that he is hanged as a result of failing to comply with society’s expectations. Danforth’s belief that the confession has a value while Proctor is aware that it is nothing more than a lie given to dogs further undermines Danforth, his whole value system and in particular his misguided belief that the witch hunts in Salem were a holy battle between the forces of good and evil when in reality they were little more than a tool for personal gain. This in turn undermines the Communist witch hunt of the 1950s, which is ultimately Miller’s goal in the play. It is also interesting to note that in the final act, Hale has been transformed after his realization that the court in Salem is not really doing God’s work and, as such, he does not carry any books or paper with him.