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The Crucible - Extract 1

This GCSE English Literature quiz is the first of two extract questions for The Crucible by Arthur Miller. It takes place in Act III and presents the confusion and twisted logic which prevails in the court at Salem. The motivation of each character is entirely clear to the audience, without being clear to Danforth, Hathorne and Parris, who will ultimately decide the fates of the accused. Miller shows how individual weaknesses (even sins, as the characters would themselves describe them) create a momentum which will destroy the community.

How to answer an extract question in an exam:

Before beginning to write an answer to an extract question, it is important to read the passage through carefully more than once.

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Doing so will allow you to notice new details and aspects of the passage which you might not have seen the first time. On a first reading, aim to gather a general understanding of the extract, especially in consideration of how it relates to the question you will be answering. When you read the extract a second time, begin to make detailed notes and annotations. These will help you to plan your answer to the question.

Consider the reasons why the specific passage might have been chosen. How does it relate to the rest of the text? Which are the significant characters and themes included? What happens later in the text? Are any events foreshadowed? How does the passage follow earlier events? Perhaps the passage presents a turning point. Consider its ending: why has the extract been brought to a close where it has? What is the significance of the final line?

Pay careful attention to the wording of the question you have chosen to answer. Have you been asked to write about mood and atmosphere? A particular character? A theme? You might be expected to give a personal response to the passage or to a character. Or maybe the question focusses on dialogue, behaviour or feelings. A different answer is required for each of these different types of question. Remember to explain the passage’s immediate context: note the events which precede the extract, commenting upon their relevance. Your answer should refer to the detail of the passage. Ensure that you analyse and discuss the relationship between the passage and the wider themes of the text and structure your response by grouping related ideas together. Leave enough time to discuss the entire passage. An answer which only discusses one section of the passage is incomplete.

Read the extract below carefully before answering the questions.

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MARY WARREN: It’s not a trick! (She stands.) I used to faint because I - I thought I saw spirits.

DANFORTH: Thought you saw them!

MARY WARREN: But I did not, Your Honour.

HATHORNE: How could you think you saw them unless you saw them?

MARY WARREN: I - I cannot tell how, but I did. I - I heard the other girls screaming, and you, Your Honour, you seemed to believe them, and I -- It were only sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirits, spirits, and I - I promise you, Mr. Danforth, I only thought I saw them but I did not.

Danforth peers at her.

PARRIS (smiling, but nervous because Danforth seems to be struck by Mary Warren’s story): Surely Your Excellency is not taken by this simple lie.

DANFORTH (turning worriedly to Abigail): Abigail, I bid you now search your heart and tell me this - and beware of it, child, to God every soul is precious and His vengeance is terrible on them that take life without cause. Is it possible, child, that the spirits you have seen are illusion only, some deception that may cross your mind when --

ABIGAIL: Why, this - this is a base question, sir.

DANFORTH: Child, I would have you consider it --

ABIGAIL: I have been hurt, Mr. Danforth; I have seen my blood runnin’ out! I have been near to murdered every day because I done my duty pointing out the Devil’s people - and this is my reward! To be mistrusted, denied, questioned like a --

DANFORTH (weakening): Child, I do not mistrust you --

ABIGAIL (in an open threat): Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it! There is -- (Suddenly, from an accusatory attitude, her face turns, looking into the air above - it is truly frightened.)

DANFORTH (apprehensively): What is it, child?

ABIGAIL (looking about in the air, clasping her arms about her as though cold): I - I know not. A wind, a cold wind, has come. (Her eyes fall on Mary Warren.)

MARY WARREN (terrified, pleading): Abby!

MERCY LEWIS (shivering): Your Honour, I freeze!

PROCTOR: They’re pretending!

HATHORNE (touching Abigail’s hand): She is cold, Your Honour, touch her!

MERCY LEWIS (through chattering teeth): Mary, do you send this shadow on me?

MARY WARREN: Lord, save me!

SUSANNA WALCOTT: I freeze, I freeze!

ABIGAIL (shivering visibly): It is a wind, a wind!

MARY WARREN: Abby, don’t do that!

DANFORTH (himself engaged and entered by Abigail): Mary Warren, do you witch her? I say to you, do you send your spirit out?

With a hysterical cry, Mary Warren starts to run. Proctor catches her.

MARY WARREN (almost collapsing): Let me go, Mr. Proctor, I cannot, I cannot --

ABIGAIL (crying to Heaven): Oh, Heavenly Father, take away this shadow!

Without warning or hesitation, Proctor leaps at Abigail and, grabbing her by the hair, pulls her to her feet. She screams in pain. Danforth, astonished, cries, “What are you about?” and Hathorne and Parris call, “Take your hands off her!” and out of it all comes Proctor’s roaring voice.

PROCTOR: How do you call Heaven! Whore! Whore!

Arthur Miller, The Crucible (The Cresset Press, 1961)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    John hopes that Mary's confession will stop court proceedings and save his wife
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    Abigail's trustworthiness would be destroyed if the judges were to lose their impression of her as a pure and innocent girl. Having had sex with John makes her a sinner in their eyes and therefore also untrustworthy as a witness
  3. Mary tries to convey how she was persuaded that she saw spirits. Which of the following does NOT refer to a persuasive factor for her prior behaviour?
    Mary tries to explain how she could believe she saw something which was not real. Danforth cannot understand her attempts to explain the psychology behind her behaviour. Fainting is not a cause, but part of the behaviour which she tries to explain
  4. How can the audience see that Danforth is inclined to believe in Abigail's trustworthiness?
    Danforth questions Mary more sternly, calling her by her full name
  5. (Her eyes fall on Mary Warren.) What is the effect of this stage direction?
    Stage directions are very informative and the details in this passage are especially interesting
  6. Which of the following is true?
    Abigail has been given so much power by the investigation that a veiled threat is enough to persuade Danforth to drop his line of questioning
  7. Which of the following does NOT describe the atmosphere of this passage?
    Although some of Danforth's questioning sounds solemn, the atmosphere of the room is highly charged and descends quickly into chaos
  8. What is demonstrated by Proctor's cry of "Whore! Whore!"
    Proctor's cry condemns him as well as Abigail, although choosing to shame himself makes his testimony more believable (and Abigail's less so, according to the double standards of the community)
  9. Examine how each character addresses Danforth. Which character differs from the others?
    The other characters address him with a title such as "Your Honour" or "Your Excellency". Abigail uses "you" and the simple "Mr. Danforth". Earlier John Proctor addresses Danforth as "Your Excellency". Abigail has no need to show such respect because he is in thrall to the drama she provides
  10. Why might Danforth's, Hathorne's and Parris's speech towards the end of this passage be included in the stage directions?
    It is easy to visualise the confusion on stage when reading these stage directions

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