The Crucible Essay Topics

 

1. Many characters in The Crucible have personal flaws that lead/contribute to tragedy. Argue whether John Proctor OR Reverend Hale is the tragic hero of the play. Discuss the character’s strength(s)/noble quality (or qualities) and tragic flaw(s), how his flaw(s) lead to his downfall and/or death, and the larger message that Miller conveys through this character. Also consider discussing how the character transforms (perhaps in applying Kohlberg’s moral stages), how this change is related to the title of the play. Furthermore, consider how forces beyond his control combine with his own inner flaw(s) to cause his downfall/death.

 

2. Discuss the established structure of Salem and its Puritan society – its binary oppositions/social divisions into rich and poor, powerful and powerless, town insiders and outsiders, male and female, educated and illiterate, old and young, religious conservatives and religious liberals, etc. Discuss how the events of the play constitute an attempt of some segments of society to overturn the traditional ways of society, while other segments fight to maintain /strengthen the old/traditional social order. Discuss Miller’s larger message as it relates to these struggles, considering the witch hunts as an allegory for the McCarthy trials, as well as social struggles in other times and places (such as modern day America). In other words, how is the play a battle among the groups or divisions mentioned above, and how might their motives and struggles mirror the motives and struggles of various societal segments in other societies besides that of Salem in the 1600s? Use specific characters to represent the social groups/divisions that you will discuss. Consider discussing how their (Kohlberg) moral stages reflect their motives and the title of the play.

 

3. Compare and contrast the three authority figures in the drama (Proctor, Danforth, and Parris). What motivates their responses and attitudes toward the witch trials? What are their views regarding law/order/authority? Discuss Miller’s message (regarding law and order) based on these characters. Consider including a discussion of Kohlberg’s moral stages and how the conflict between these three characters reflects the title of the play.

 

4. Discuss the role and treatment of women (female characters) in the play. Discuss the images of women and female archetypes that Abigail, Mary Warren, and Elizabeth portray, as well as the message that Miller conveys through these characters. Consider discussing the Kohlberg moral stages of these characters and what view of women each reflects, as well as how these characters reflect the title of the play.

 

5. Discuss how a theme – such as scapegoating, greed, integrity, hunger for power/authority/respect, protectiveness of reputation and self-image, cowardice/bravery, hysteria/paranoia, deception or falsehood/honesty, individual/society, the power of falsehood, self-preservation as a powerful motivator, absolutism, and hypocrisy – functions in the play. Choose a character and discuss how he/she embodies this theme. Discuss how the theme – in all of its manifestations and transformations – reveals Miller’s underlying message. Consider universalizing the issues and relating them to another time and place, as well as including a discussion of the character’s (Kohlberg) moral stages and how the character/theme relates to the title of the play.

 

6. Who is the most admirable OR despicable character in the play, and why? What is the larger message that Miller sends through this character? Consider discussing this character’s Kohlberg moral stages and how he/she exemplifies the thematic significance of the title.

 

7. Trace John Proctor’s development throughout the play. How and why does his involvement change, and what is the result of his efforts? What is the larger message that Miller sends through this character? What is Miller trying to represent with Proctor? What is Miller’s opinion of Proctor? Consider discussing this character’s Kohlberg moral stages and how he/she exemplifies the thematic significance of the title.

 

8. Discuss the thematic significance of the title of the play. Focus on specific characters or themes and discuss Miller’s message regarding the title.

 

9. Argue whether or not Abigail is a victim of her society. Can she be excused/pardoned because of the influence of outside forces upon her? Examine the events from her past and present, and make connections between these events and her behavior. What is the larger message that Miller sends through this character? Consider discussing this character’s Kohlberg moral stages and how she exemplifies the thematic significance of the title.

 

10. Carefully read the passage from Act 3 in which Danforth explains his purpose, power, and education to Francis Nurse (“No, old man… I hope you will be one of those”). Then write an essay in which you explain the dramatic and verbal irony used. What is Miller’s larger message about this passage?

 

11. Miller portrays Giles as a foolish character. However, this scene reveals a much different characteristic. Carefully read the passage from Act 3 beginning with, “Danforth: What proof do you submit…” and ending with, “Giles: I will not give you no name”). Write an essay in which you analyze these two contrasting personality traits, their repercussions, and their significance to the Salem hysteria. Discuss Miller’s larger message about them.

 

12. Choose Parris, Putnam, or Giles, and write an essay in which you show how he serves as a foil for Proctor. Remember, a foil is a literary character who highlights certain traits of the main character by contrasting them. Discuss Miller’s larger message about these characters.

 

13. The original version of the play, published in 1953, included a second scene for Act 2. Prior to 1971, Miller decided to excise this scene. In an essay, argue whether this first scene should be kept in the play or excluded. Discuss Miller’s possible reasons for writing the scene and/or choosing to leave it out; what is the larger message?

 

14. How do the witch trials empower individuals previously powerless (women or other groups)? Discuss Miller’s larger message regarding this idea.

 

15. You can alter/change any of the above topics or create your own topic, but clear it with Ms. G before you begin working on it!