Study Questions relating to Literary elements of:
The most obvious of these we will not cover in class; we will discuss questions that deal with setting and its importance, irony, theme, human nature, and dramatic license. The final will cover those topics, perhaps more.
1. Where and when is the opening scene of the play set?
2. In his stage directions, what are some of the good and bad points that Miller observes about the Puritans?
3. Why is the Rev. Samuel Parris so distraught at the beginning of Act One? What unnerves him about the report Susanna Walcott brings from Doctor Griggs? What negative aspect of his own character does this reveal?
4. Why has Parris sent for Rev. Hale of Beverly?
5. What do we learn in the exposition of the play about the events in the forest?
6. When Abigail enters, she is described as “a strikingly beautiful girl . . . with an endless capacity for dissembling.” What does the phrase “an endless capacity for dissembling” suggest? What has been Abigail’s past connection with the Proctor family?
6. What innuendo does Rev. Parris make about Abigail’s character?
7. How does Abigail respond?
8. What do we learn from the conversation that Mercy, Abigail, and Mary Warren have while alone?
9. How do we see Abigail as the acknowledged leader of this group?
10. In his stage directions, Miller tells us that despite, or perhaps because of, his upright appearance, John Proctor feels he is a fraud because he knows he is a sinner. What does his conversation with Abigail tell us about the nature of his sin?
11. As Abby flirts with John Proctor, what is her opinion of Betty’s illness?
12. What information about Thomas Putnam does Arthur Miller tell us in his expository aside? What does Ann Putnam claim in the play about her dead babies?
13. What seems to be attitude of Giles Corey and the others gathered in the house?
14. Rebecca Nurse, who walks to Betty’s bed and quiets her with her presence, is a voice of reason and rationality. To what does she attribute Betty’s condition?
15. Why do Putnam and Proctor get into an argument?
16. How does Proctor’s subsequent comment on hellfire and damnation cause an outburst from Rev. Parris?
17. In this argument, the theme of authority explicitly arises. What are the two points of view?
18. In what way do Putnam and Parris find themselves aligned on this question?
19. How is Putnam’s materialistic ambition further revealed in his argument with Proctor?
20. According to the stage the directions, how does John Hale enter for the first time?
21. Why does Rebecca Nurse tell Parris that Hale should be sent home rather than allowed to see Betty?
22. Who is Tituba and of what does Abigail accuse her? Why has Abigail turned on Tituba and accused her of these things?
23. What does Putnam say that terrifies Tituba and causes her to say that she told the devil that she did not want to work for him?
24. What happens when John Hale interrogates Tituba? How does the atmosphere of the scene become hysterical at the end of the act?
25. Why does Tituba come up with the name Goody Good and Goody Osburn as the two women she saw consorting with the devil?
26. What is the meaning of crucible in the title of the play? What kind of play does this title lead you to expect?
27. Consider the stage directions that describe the physical setting of the play as the curtain rises on Act One. Together with the opening lies of dialogue, what atmosphere of mood does this setting create?
28. Summarize your impressions of the Rev. Samuel Parris in this act. What are his principal flaws or moral weaknesses?
29. One of Miller’s major subjects in the play is the nature of authority. Comment on how Samuel Parris, Thomas Putnam, John Hale, and Rebecca Nurse are linked with the idea of authority in Act One. At this stage, what seems to be the playwright’s opinion about each of these character’s claims to possessing authority?
30. In two long segments of this act, Miller establishes a dominant form for many of the subsequent scenes in the play: the question and answer of interrogation. The playwright implies that both interrogations in this act are flawed in their methods and results. Who questions whom in the interrogation scenes in this act? Why does each interrogation fail?
1. What duty has Mary Warren been performing in Salem?
2. What does Elizabeth Proctor report to her husband about the trials in Salem, and what does she urge John to do?
3. What gift does Mary Warren present to Elizabeth?
4. What are some of the ways in which John Hale questions Proctor and his wife about their religious faith? How do the Proctors answer each of the questions and allegations?
5. Compare and contrast the setting of this act with that of Act 1. How are the two settings different? How are they similar in atmosphere or mood?
6. One of Miller’s most powerful devices in the play is his use of irony. Irony is the contrast or discrepancy between expectation and reality. In verbal irony, a writer or speaker says one thing but really means the opposite. In situational irony, what actually happens in the opposite of what is expected or appropriate. In dramatic irony, the audience or the reader is aware of something important that a character does not know. Explain how each of the following is an example of verbal, situation, or dramatic irony.
A. John’s words to Elizabeth at the beginning of the act, “Pray now for a fair summer.”
B. Mary’s gift of a poppet to Elizabeth
C. Proctor’s reliance, early in the act, on the good offices of Ezekiel Cheever
D. The one Commandment out of ten that John Proctor can’t remember
E. Proctor’s statement toward the end of the act about Abigail, “Good. Then her saintliness is done with.”
F. Hale’s statement about Parris, “The man’s ordained, therefore the light of God is in him.”
7. Explain John Proctor’s allusion as he tells Hale, “Pontius Pilate! God will not let you wash your hands of this!”
8. The scenes in this act are calculated to produce a rising surge of suspense or tension revolving around Elizabeth’s safety. How does the introductory conversation between John and Elizabeth establish suspense? How does the scene with Mary increase the tension? What further increase in suspense results from Hale’s visit and the reasons for it? Where does the tension peak in this act?
9. John Hale is one of the most important characters in the play. Do you find any hints in this act that suggest he will develop into a dynamic character (one who changes under pressure of events and conflicts)?
10. In what way has Mary Warren changed and what changed her?
11. How would you describe the relationship of John and Elizabeth Proctor at the beginning of the scene?
12. Why can’t John probe what Abigail told him? Why does Elizabeth pick up on this?
13. Of what does John accuse Elizabeth?
14. As he is about to whip Mary Warren, John stops short. What was it she told him?
15. Who does Elizabeth think called out her name and why?
16. What does Elizabeth want John to do now?
17. Why is he reluctant to do so?
18. Why has the Rev. Hale come to their house?
19. As proof of witchcraft, Rev. Hale pints out that a number of people have already confessed to being witches. What is Proctor’s response?
20. Who stuck the pin in Abigail’s belly and why?
21. To what does Hale attribute the calamity that has befallen Salem?
22. Why does this hit home with Proctor?
23. What does Mary say Abby will do if Proctor goes into court to denounce her?
24. What is Proctor’s response?
25. Why is Mary afraid to say anything in court?
1. What is Mary Warren now prepared to tell the court?
2. What two facts about John Proctor does Ezekiel Cheever feel compelled to reveal to Danforth?
3. What compromise, or deal, does Danforth offer to Proctor? What is Proctor’s response?
4. At what pint does John Hale begin to show that he is less than satisfied with the court’s procedures?
5. What device do Abigail and the other girls use to drive Mary Warren over the brink of hysteria?
6. What happens to John Proctor at the end of the act? How does John Hale show his disapproval?
7. This act contains much irony. Explain how the following are ironic:
A. John Proctor’s confession
B. Proctor’s passionate outburst at the end of the act, together with the court’s interpretation of his remarks
C. Miller’s comment in the stage directions that Abigail, “out of her infinite charity, reaches out and draws the sobbing Mary to her
8. Although this act centers on the subjects of hypocrisy and hysteria in the court proceedings, we are also presented with several examples of courage and the assertion of integrity. Howa re the following characters linked with the subject of courage in this act: Mary Warren, John Proctor, Giles Corey, John Hale?
9. Why does Giles say that he “broke charity” with his wife?
10. How has Rev. Hale changed since we last saw him?
11. Why is Mary Warren’s testimony critical for Hale, Proctor, Nurse and Corey?
12. What does Mary Warren tell Governor Danforth?
13. Why does Proctor say that his wife must be pregnant is she has said so?
14. What happens to the ninety-one people who signed the petition in support of the accused?
15. What is the charge that Giles Corey makes against Putnam?
16. What is Giles Corey’s proof for his charge, and why will he not supply the proof to the court?
17. Why does Danforth find it hard to believe that Abigail could be pretending and, and in effect, be a murderer?
18. How does the questioning of Mary Warren differ from the questioning of Abigail? Why?
19. Why can’t Mary give a show of pretense when asked by the court?
20. When Abigail is questioned by Danforth, how does she respond?
21. In calling Abigail a whore, what charge and punishment does Proctor open himself for? Why has he made this confession?
22. What test is Elizabeth given, and how does he fail it? Why?
23. What causes Mary Warren to crack?
1. What is the setting of this act? How much time has elapsed since the end of Act 3?
2. Immediately after his entrance Governor Danforth remarks on a “prodigious stench.” What is the apparent cause of the odor in the jail?
3. What does Samuel Parris report about Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis? Why is Parris afraid for his personal safety? What is Danforth’s reaction?
4. Why is Danforth especially nervous about rumors concerning events in Andover? What are his reasons for receiving no pleas or pardons or for postponement of the executions?
5. According to John Hale, what is the present condition of the countryside?
6. According Elizabeth, how did Giles Corey die?
7. For what does Elizabeth ask John to forgive her?
8. Why does Proctor refuse to sign his confession?
9. At the end of the play, when Hale urges Elizabeth to make a last-minute appeal to her husband, how does he respond?
10. Why do you think Danforth is said to be alarmed at the news that Abigail and Mercy Lewis have fled? What inner conflict may this news rouse in him? How does this conflict affect the course of his decisions in this act?
11. In the critical scene between Elizabeth and John Proctor, we gain insight into John’s actions at the climax of the play. How are Elizabeth and John both tortured by guilt? Why does Elizabeth refuse to influence John’s decision?
12. What structural parallel in Act 2 is recalled by John’s tearing up of his confession near the end of this act?
13. Why is Parris upset?
14. Why is Proctor calling himself a fraud?