The Crucible: Motif Tracking - Inside & Outside





Throughout the play, the motif of inside vs outside is used to create the distinction between freedom and oppression: while the outside suggests disorder and chaos (accusations and infidelity) inside suggests secrecy. Miller also uses this to emphasize the weakness of humans such that they easily succumb to temptation: lust, greed, and jealousy. Inside vs outside is present not just in physical locations but also appearances: we as an audience learn of Abigail’s true character (on the inside) as opposed to her ‘act’ when she pretends to be bewitched.


The fact that nearly the whole play takes place indoors further emphasizes the increasingly oppressive society that existed when the fear of the existence of witches grew in Salem in the 1600’s. In the same way, as the anti-communist fever grew in America in the 1950’s, the McCarthy era would have grown increasingly oppressive as well. That the girls needed to go outside into the woods in order to dance freely and enjoy themselves represents how, within Salem, no one can really be free. As such, the motif Inside conveys the idea of captivity and this applies not only to those who were accused of being witches and put into prison but to all members of Salem society.


The theme of secrecy and lies may also be suggested by the motif, in the sense that, people try not to expose themselves too much; they try to blend in with the society and not attract attention, for fear of being accused. The motif Outside, on the other hand, reflect those who are willing to boldly stand out from the other members of Salem and celebrate their differences, hence Proctor is the only character we see actually talking about his farm and the outside world.








The edge of the wilderness was close by. The American continent stretch endlessly west., and it was full of mystery for them.


It stood, dark and threatening, over their shoulders night and day,  for out of it Indian Tribes marauded from time to time


The virgin forest was the Devil's last preserve.

The unexplored wilderness of America that lies to the West of Salem is the ultimate symbol of the outside and, potentially, freedom and opportunity. However, the Salemites view the forest as threatening and indeed the home of the Devil, which suggests their opposition to this kind of freedom. The ever-present threat of this forest is also used to explain the town’s rigid behavioural codes and almost hysterical belief in the Devil which parallels the way in which the America of the 1950s felt threatened by Communism (the modern red threat) and this in turn leads to the absurd and hysterical denunciations of the McCarthy witch hunt.



‘Speak nothin’ of it in the village, Susanna’

Everyone who comes into Parris’s home and see’s Betty and hears the rumor of the source of her unconsciousness is told not to speak of what they have heard outside the house. This reflects the hypocrisy that runs through Salem and the need for ‘keeping up appearances’ in Salem society.



“That my daughter and niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest?

The forest represents a wild and free environment, untainted by the corruption of man and civilisation. However, precisely because it has not been ‘civilised’ by them it is viewed by the Salemites as a place for devil worship, which holds the incipient insanity up to ridicule as the audience would perceive the connection between dancing in the forest to witchcraft as mere superstition and, as such, untenable.



‘Now then, in the midst of such disruption, my own household is discovered to be the very centre of some obscene practice. Abominations are done in the forest -

Parris feels the need to announce that his house should not be viewed as a place where ‘obscene practices’ are carried out but instead that should be associated with the forest, outside. His house should be seen as a safe, pure place. Once again this reflects his need to maintain the ‘outside’ appearance of respectability regardless of the inner truth. The hypocrisy here undermines the validity of the religious witch hunt and hence too the Communist witch hunt as we see both outcries as little more than a political tool to protect reputations or increase personal power.



‘Why Goody Putnam, come in’

When Parris invited her in, she immediately began her accusations and false testimonies regarding Betty flying. This serves to exemplify the gossiping and untruths that lurk on the outside, in contrast to the secrecy and Parris’ attempt to keep the incident private on the inside.



‘I know how you clutched my back behind your house…’

This describes John’s infidelity that took place outside his house. This is symbolic because outside symbolizes a wilder and more ‘free’ environment while Elizabeth lay sick inside the house. Outside the house, John is seen to allow his desires and lust to control his actions. Although this portrays John as a villain (by cheating on his wife) it allows to readers to connect with him as he is only human (with shortcomings) and it is once again clear that free actions that rebel against the controls of Salemite society are associated with the outside



‘I hope you are not decided to go in search of loose spirits, Mr. Parris. I’ve heard promise of that outside’.  (Rebecca)

Here the outside is viewed as a place where gossip and hysterical rumour easily take root, thus it is a metaphor for the America of Miller’s time where rumour, gossip and false accusations of Communism abounded.



At the right is a door opening on the fields outside. A fireplace is at the left, and behind it a stairway leading upstairs. It is the low, dark and rather long living- room of the time. As the curtain rises, the room is empty.


‘Presently the door opens and John Proctor enters...’


Proctor: I were planting far out to the forest edge.

The house itself, as all other inside settings, represents the restrictive Puritanical mores of Salem society. Even though this is Proctor’s house it is not enlivened by anything which serves to accentuate the tension between him and Elizabeth.


The association of Proctor with the natural outside world and the earth which is ‘as warm as blood’ imbues him with a sense of life, vitality and individuality that the majority of the other characters in the play lack.





‘I must go to Salem, Goody Proctor; I am an official…’

Here the outside is once again presented as offering a form of freedom, although this time in a slightly different way. Mary is seen to be exercising her right to serve and thus, freeing herself from house duties and asserting her will over Elizabeth’s who is unable to stop her despite her threats.



She told it to me in a room alone - I have no proof for it.’ (Proctor)

The sense of secrecy created her reflects who Salem was riddled with secrets and private intrigues as people, aware of the strict punishments for breaking rules, had to pen up their desires and release them only in secret.



‘In God’s name, John, I cannot help myself. I must chain them all. Now let you keep inside this house until I am gone!’ (Herrick)

Herrick’s attempt to keep Proctor inside represents how inside is a place associated with control while the outside is associated with a wild freedom. Herrick as an agent of the court represents the oppressive forces operating throughout Salem and the Proctor’s dash to the door foreshadows Proctor’s later rebellion against the values of Salem and the court.



The place is in darkness but for the moonlight seeping through the bars. It appears empty

This quotation shows the coldness of the buildings in Salem and the lack of life as the buildings are empty and this is emphasised by the moonlight. The bars obviously also represents the restrictive nature of Salem society.



Oh, it be no Hell in Barbados. Devil, him be pleasure- man in Barbados, him be singin' and dancing' in Barbados.

Once again we see the Devil associated with the outside and with fun, in contrast to the cold of Salem. The fact that a picture of the Devil is painted in positive colours here shows how misguided the court and how distorted he judgment of town has become, as God has become associated with cold sterility and repression.



‘Is there no good penitence but it be public?’

Despite Proctor’s private ‘confession’, the judges are determined to make a public example of him. This reveals how the court and the citizens of Salem are hypocritically concerned with only the appearance of conformity (as everyone is really aware that the confession is a lie) which is clearly used by Miller to undermine the credibility of both the Salem and McCarthy Witch Hunts.




Key moments:

One key moment is when Proctor is forced to make a public confession. Miller uses this scene to undermine the credibility of the witch hunt, which parallels the Communist witch hunt of 1950s America because both were concerned with only superficial conformity (or non-conformity). 


A second key moment is when Elizabeth is being taken away from Proctors home. This moment displays the motif more obviously. Elizabeth is taken outside in order to be locked up again. Proctor, after much resistance, finally agrees and comes to terms with Elizabeth being arrested. He simply ‘watches from the doorway’ (p. 72), but after he hears the clanking of chains he erupts in anger and runs outside and screams ‘Off with them! I’ll not have it! I will not have her chained’. Proctor’s rush outside represents his rebellious nature, his free character and it foreshadows his challenge to the court. Importantly it also represents Proctor’s honour as he, like the audience, knows that his wife is innocent and so he will not let her be punished for a crime she did not commit. Thus it is clear that Proctor has his own sets of morals and beliefs and he is not afraid of expressing them to the outside world.


A final key quotation is ‘At the right is a door opening on the fields outside. A fireplace is at the left, and behind it a stairway leading upstairs. It is the low, dark and rather long living- room of the time. As the curtain rises, the room is empty.’ Here we see both inside and outside. Beyond the door, the ideals of ‘outside’ bases around the word ‘fields’, which has connotations of broad open spaces and freedom while the inside is long, low and oppressive. This is in contrast to the other connotation of ‘outside’ as ‘exterior’ which is elsewhere used to reflect the idea of deceptiveness and hypocrisy and the thoughts of those who are lying and only selfishly saving themselves.