Motif Tracking: The Crucible –Dancing




The motif of dancing within The Crucible represents an act that the Puritanical society in the play sees as irreligious and without purpose or meaning. Consequently, they continuously link the act of dancing and the like to evil and specifically “witchcraft”. In doing so the degree to which such an overbearingly religious society limits the individual is depicted. Beyond this however, keeping in mind the context in which this piece was written, the repressive society in the play mimics that of communist paranoid America in the 1950’s. At this time acts of self expression were not accepted by common thought were looked down upon. Therefore, the lack of freedom of expression such as dancing in the play is Arthur Miller’s comment on 1950’s America.








Parris: And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest?


This is Parris’s response to Abigail’s suggestion to go talk to the people. Parris’s use of the word heathen directly places the act of dancing in a negative light. Further the fact that they ‘danced’ in the forest and Parris ‘discovered’ them shows that such actions are looked down upon by Puritans. They attempted to hide what they were doing from the rest of the village, showing that the girls knew what they were doing was evil in the eyes of the rest of the village. Beyond this Abigail’s response that she is willing to be whipped for dancing depicts the degree of severity within this society and their steadfast belief in the supernatural; witchcraft.



Parris: You call this sport?....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!


Parris’s insistence on questioning Abigail as to what they were doing goes further to show how this society views the act of ‘swaying like a dumb beast’ or dancing. Tituba a slave from Barbados, would have been performing some kind of ritual. The fact that Parris refers to her ritualistic dancing in such a demeaning way as to call her a dumb beast makes clear the fact that this group of conservative religious fanatics views other religious and their rituals as false and evil. Beyond this, Tituba is an outsider to the community and this can be seen as Miller’s comment on 1950’s America were outsiders and their ideas, communism, were feared.



Abigail:…Listen, now; if they be questioning us, tell them we danced-I told him as much already.

Abigail: He knows Tituba conjured Ruth’s sisters to come out of the grave.

Abigail’s linking of the dancing and Tituba’s ritual to the rising of the dead represents the link in puritan society between dancing and supernatural phenomenon. Although, bringing someone back to life out of the grave is physically impossible those in this religious sect believe in such happenings and from this dancing is linked with evil.



Mary Warren: Abby we’ve got to tell. Witchery’s a hangin’ error, a hangin’ like they done in Boston two year ago! We must tell the truth, Abby! You’ll only be whipped for dancin’.


The obvious vernacular form of speech shows possibly that this individual and indeed those around her may not be well educated. Beyond this, the fact that ‘witchery’ is punishable by death such practices seem to be widespread, having occurred in Boston, shows that society at the time was not accepting of things they did not understand or disliked such as dancing and rituals. Again, that the simple act of dancing is a punishable offense emphasises the extremely repressive nature of this society.



Abigail: We were dancin’ in the woods last night…

Proctor Ah, you’re wicked yet, aren’t y’!


At this point these two characters are in a room alone and the audience becomes aware of an illicit relationship between the two. The almost secretive way Abigail says that they were dancing and Proctor’s response represents how acts of free self expression are not welcomed. Further, the word wicked has connotations of evil doing reinforcing the link between dancing and immorality and yet Proctor’s use of the word suggests that he finds this trait of Abigail’s attractive and is titillated by her breaking of the rules.



Parris: I – do believe there were some movement – in the soup.

Abigail: That jumped in, we never put it in !

Hale: What jumped in ?

Abigail: Why, a very little frog jumped –

Hale: Abigail, it may be your cousin is dying. Did you call the Devil last night?


Although the act of dancing is not directly referred to here, jumping is mentioned. The immediate movement of the conversation from a jumping frog to death and the devil emphasises the speed with which members of this society will jump to conclusions, presumably believing that the girls were conjuring the Devil through the use of some kind of magic potion. Clearly, this society fears what it does not understand and attempts to use the supernatural to come to solutions. The idea that something like jumping is immediately linked to the devil can be seen as an example of the absurd strength of Salem’s faith in the existence of the Devil, which is meant to reflect in turn on the absurd ‘faith’ which many Americans of the 1950s had in the Communist threat.



Abigail: I want to open myself! I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus ; I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah Good with the devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the devil!


This represents a critical comment by Miller on America in the 1950’s and the Communist witch hunts. Abigail attempts to mitigate her ‘dancing with the devil’ by proclaiming her sins and asking for absolution. In doing so, however, she attains a degree of holy power – the power to condemn those who have likewise sinned – hence she begins to name those she apparently saw with the devil. Obviously these statements are false, however Abigail is attempting to take pressure off of her by blaming others and beyond this people whose downfall would benefit her in some way. During the 1950s Communist witch hunts of McCarthy, many accused others of following communism for some personal gain or to take the blame off of themselves and it was precisely Miller’s own refusal to do this when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee that he is partly celebrating through Proctor’s eventual refusal to confess.



Proctor:…But I know the children’s sickness had naught to do with witchcraft.

Hale: Naught to do-?

Proctor: Mr. Parris discovered them sportin’ in the woods.


With this, there is a contrast between rational thinking and the irrational supernatural ideals of society. Hale does not seem to be able to understand that these children’s illnesses cannot come from something like witchcraft. Proctor therefore represents the rational minds of society, thinking for themselves rather than falling in line with the false conclusions of the rest of the village.



Proctor: Abigail leads the girls to the woods, Your Honor, and they have danced there naked-


The illicit behavior of the girls dancing in the woods is confirmed by Parris who discovered them however he denies that they were naked. Nonetheless, the judges continue to ask Parris if they were dancing. This repetition tied into the possibility that the girls were nude creates a link between dancing and immoral behavior in this society. Again, something as simple as dance and being seen has lead to the condemnation of dozens of people and, in the same way the audience is meant to note the parallel with their own time and realize that the hysterical Communist witch hunts are as absurdly out of proportion as these almost medieval witch hunts as we all know that all these accusations of witchcraft are impossible and the girls and others stand to benefit at the cost of the condemned.




Key moment:

Abigail: I want to open myself! I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus ; I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah Good with the devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the devil!


This can be seen as a critical moment in terms of the motif of dancing. Abigail has admitted to dancing and in doing so she has been absolved of wrong doing. This is line with the absurdly distorted logic of the community whereby the confessed sinners are the most holy while the unconfessed, presumably because they have nothing to confess, are the most damned. However, beyond this, Abigail begins to name individuals she apparently saw with the devil. Obviously her accusations are false. Nonetheless, by charging these people and eventually Elizabeth, she stands to gain as do others in the community from the fall of these individuals. Thus, Miller comments on the communist trials of the 1950’s. A sense of hysteria is created in the play which reflects the current hysterical fear of Communists that is dominating America. From simple accusation of communism and dancing in the Crucible, an opportunity to gain in political power position and land presents itself: Miller uses this ulterior motive to denounce both the witch hunt of Salem and of his own time.