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The Crucible - Setting

This GCSE English Literature quiz questions you on setting in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Setting in a literary text firstly consists of the location and the time in which the events take place. It is easy to forget that texts can have several settings, since events might occur in very different places or times. Buildings and spaces are also separate settings within the wider setting. Background events, even when these are merely mentioned by characters, are an important part of a text’s setting, as are political and social issues. This wider fictional world is referred to as context (but be careful not to confuse this context within the text with the author’s real-life context). Atmosphere, another key element of setting, usually changes multiple times in a text.

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Setting in a play differs somewhat from that in a novel. Watching different versions of the play gives a sense for the many ways in which setting can be interpreted. As you read the text, consider how well you are able to visualise the setting. What effects do you notice?

Beyond time and place, The Crucible has few specific details about its setting. We know the types of rooms in which the acts take place and have a few indications as to the type of furniture present. More interesting is that the stage directions specify the type of windows and lighting involved. Many of the physical settings give a sense of entrapment.

The change of seasons is one aspect of setting, as is weather, although a less predictable, more temporary condition. A text’s setting also includes geographical elements such as region, country, environment, landscapes and buildings. Pay attention to the interaction of characters with their environment: how does this interaction affect the text?

One useful exercise is to compare the era in which a text is set with when it was written. In the case of Miller’s play, the date for the setting is determined by real events. Beyond this fixed point, however, are there any similarities between the setting and Miller’s own time?

Answer the questions below on setting in The Crucible.

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  1. Act IV opens in darkness, with "moonlight seeping through the bars". What is significant about this setting?
    Darkness and light alternate throughout the play, which begins with the morning sunlight in Betty's room and ends with the sunlight on Elizabeth Proctor's face
  2. Which of the following is true of the spaces in which the action of the play takes place?
    The spaces grow ever more private and confined. Even the Proctors' living room is described as being "low and dark". The vestry room is much more private and confined than the meeting room in which the trial is held. This sense of private confinement emphasises the lonely entrapment of the many accused
  3. In which country is The Crucible set?
    The play is based on historical events which took place in Salem, Massachusetts
  4. In which year is the play set?
    The witch trials took place between 1692 and 1693. The play begins in the spring of 1692 and ends in the autumn of the same year
  5. Which of the following is true of the trial scene?
    The real trial takes place as the accused are questioned, bullied and tormented into their confused confessions. Once the accused reach the court, the verdict is a foregone conclusion. The near impossibility of changing the outcome is emphasised by the trials taking place off stage
  6. What is taking place in Andover in the autumn while the Salem executions are in progress?
    Reverend Parris reports that the people of Andover have thrown out the court. He fears a similar riot in the town when Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor hang
  7. Act II takes place in the "common room" of the Proctor house. The homely atmosphere of the setting is disturbed by which of the following?
    John tells Elizabeth that he has been planting all the way to the edge of the forest; the presence of his gun brings the awareness of surrounding danger into the home. Danger does not enter the home from the forest, however, but from the other inhabitants of the town
  8. Which of the following settings is immediately associated with the practice of magic?
    The forest symbolises all that is dark, wild and untamed. Abigail and the other girls are accused of dancing like the heathen, or the native (non-Christian) inhabitants of the area. It is important to note that Reverend Parris's own reason for going into the forest is never given
  9. The audience first meets most of the characters, including Abigail, Reverend Parris, John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, Reverend Hale and the Putnams where?
    A continual procession of people come into Betty's room, either out of curiosity, or because they have been summoned, or because they are seeking someone else who is there. At the centre of all this motion lies Betty in stillness on her bed, aware of all that is going on and hearing the wild surmises of the other characters
  10. What is the Christian religious group to which the characters in the play belong?
    Puritans disagreed with the use of any ritual or use of objects in religious worship, preferring instead to read and listen to the Bible and to sermons. Some of the activities to which Abigail initially confesses relate to the rituals thought to be magical

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