The Crucible: Motif Tracking – Hiding & Secrecy




The motif of hidden things is significant because it represents the repression in Puritan Salem society which forces people to keep things hidden. Within the play the motif surfaces in the form of hidden conflict, desires and secret agendas. Secret rebellion against the order which is hidden beneath the surface; the actual act of keeping things hidden is a separate motif of lies and secrecy; although they are ultimately part of the motif of hidden things in the context of The Crucible the subject matter of the secrets themselves are one motif whilst the need to keep things hidden is another.


The motif of hidden things forces us to examine the reasons behind not only the repression of the characters in The Crucible but also the audience’s need for privacy. Miller views our need to keep certain things hidden cowardly and a result of a defective, oppressive society and his mockery of the court reveals this but it also serves to warn us against trusting false prophets and to be wary of the way in which our beliefs can be manipulated by others, in particular the way that the American belief in the threat of Communism in the 1950s allowed McCarthy’s HUAC to breach a number of individual and civil liberties.








“If they be questioning us, tell them we danced- I told him as much already”


This is Abigail’s instructions to the girls, the act of dancing is used as a lesser evil to cover for their greater sins. The fact that the act of dancing is already a hidden desire hints at the darker things that the girls seek to hide and the fact that a thing as harmless as dancing is still deemed a sin reveals how paranoiacaly intolerant the society in Salem is.



“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.”


Warning of vengeance from Abigail not only foreshadows the forthcoming events in the play, it also shows the audience how the village remains oppressed, how it is forced to keep things hidden.




“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.”

Represents the hidden passion in John, the fact that this hidden desire exists serves to make both John and Abigail more human however, the need to hide this sign of humanity again speaks of the oppression within society and is part of Miller’s critique on the Puritans, and hence 1950s and 60s USA.



“We never touched, Abby.”

“Aye, but we did”

“Aye, but we did not”


This denial of reality is another symbol of repression; Proctor is ridiculed by Miller for his poor attempts at concealment whilst, Abigail in her childlike arguments is also slightly mocked. However, it is effective as a symbol of oppression, the audience is able to see that Proctor is so repressed that he is actively trying to deny reality to keep his pretence of morality.




“I never knew what pretence Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men!”


Indoctrination of society so that things may remain concealed; in this case Abigail is referring to the hidden desires like the affair with Proctor.




“There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party.”

Parris speaks of the hidden conflicts in the village; for Miller’s audience this would perhaps not be shocking, but its setting of political conflicts within churches and therefore of the church as a political tool reflects how the witch hunt in Salem and by extension in America in the 1950s, is ultimately politically motivated.




“The necessity of the Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-state.”


Religion is the hidden tool of those in power. Salem is a strict theocracy which has led to the concealment of desire and thus conflict both between people and internally within characters. The ‘political’ weapon of the threat of the Devil and eternity in Hell is a tool used to control people and it later becomes Putnam’s tool to increase his own personal wealth and status as he claims the lands of those he had hanged for witch craft.



“Normally the actions and deeds of a man were all that society felt comfortable in judging. The secret intent of an action was left to the ministers, priests, and rabbis to deal with.”


It is as if society condones the concealment of some things, leaving the hidden desires untouched if the external appearance of an act is acceptable. This suggest the hypocrisy that is rife in Salem, as it is only interested in superficial conformity to the rules.




“We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment”

Here Danforth refers to the title of the play, the crucible, the trial is acting as a catalyst “burning a hot fire” melting down the pretence which has always hidden things. However there is considerable irony as the truths revealed are not the ones that Danforth suspects. Instead of revealing the hidden sins of those who are condemned, what is instead revealed is the hypocrisy of the court and the egotistical and materialistic desires of people like the Putnams and Parris.


In the case of Proctor this sense of heat suggests the purification process that he experiences as the play progresses, moving from a state of self-condemnation and disgust at his own sins to an acceptance of himself, nonetheless, as a basically moral man.




“I may shut my conscience to it no more- private vengeance is working through this testimony!”

This quotation reflects the point at which Hale’s  suspicions about the hidden agendas of those in the courtroom become confirmed. His realization of the politically motivated, selfish and absurd nature of the allegations made by Abigail and the other members of Salem echoes the realization that Miller wants the average American to make with regard to the Communist Witch Hunt of his own time.




Key Moment:

The key moment for this motif is the trial on page 79 when the quotation ‘We burn a hot fire here, it melts down all concealment’ is said. It represents the motif in its entirety all the hidden desires, agendas and conflict is brought together in the trial and if not believed, at least recognized by the people in the village. Danforth’s use of the metaphor of a ‘hot fire’ suggests his belief in the purity and irresistible power of the court but the irony is that in their attempt to “melt down all concealment” they are deceived and put into more confusion, thus reflecting Miller’s mockery of McCarthyism.