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The Crucible - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at themes in The Crucible by Arthur Miller. All works of literature have multiple themes, ranging from the very subtle to the obvious. Individual themes are rarely, if ever, presented in isolation, but instead interact with and comment upon other key themes in the same text. Authors develop the themes of their texts through the use of setting, character, plot and dialogue. Consider the related ideas and concepts in the text, making an effort to follow the development of the different themes. See if you can notice any change of opinion as you read a text by comparing your final thoughts with those you held as you began reading. Have your opinions on any of the issues changed? If they have, can you explain why? Is it possible to pinpoint the part in the text where your views on a key theme began to change?

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The title of The Crucible is very interesting. A crucible is an object in which metal can be melted over an extremely hot fire. In Biblical imagery, the crucible is where the faithful are tested by God. Can you think how various characters are tested? Who passes the test? Miller wrote the play at a time when similar issues were having an impact on life in the United States and when people were being threatened and exposed to similar pressures as the characters in the play. See if you can identify how the text asks you to respond to the various themes. Are you meant to change or challenge yourself? If so, how?

The Crucible deals with a shameful episode in American history in which great numbers of people were tried, convicted and executed for the crime of witchcraft, always in the absence of real evidence. The themes of the play, accordingly, include innocence, guilt, judgement, sin, truth and lies, the nature of authority, loyalty and many others. Each character relates to these themes in a different way and when the characters interact in their rigid, theocratic environment, the outcome is fixed.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of The Crucible.

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  1. Reverend Parris sends for Reverend Hale despite his reluctance to accept the possibility of witchcraft being involved in his daughter's illness. Which of the following is NOT correct?
    Miller demonstrates a phenomenon known as "confirmation bias". The beliefs of Parris, Hale, and the Putnams strongly influence the outcome of the original investigation. Hale finds witchcraft because that is what he expects to find
  2. When Proctor most needs Elizabeth to tell the truth and admit to his adultery, she lies to the judges. What does this tell the audience about Elizabeth?
    John has utter faith in Elizabeth's inability to lie. He underestimates her love for him, which leads her to lie to the court in an attempt to protect his reputation
  3. Which of the following challenges the townspeople's idea that youth is paired with innocence?
    Danforth briefly doubts the truthfulness of the young women's testimony. Their youthfulness presents an air of innocence which is not compatible in his view with the activities Proctor mentions
  4. Where does the play show evil to be located?
    Evil is shown to be present in the petty grievances and wish to find a scapegoat for one's misfortunes, as well as in the deliberate and destructive lies of Abigail and in the cowed obedience of Mary Warren
  5. The nature of group hysteria is a major concern of The Crucible. In which acts does the audience directly witness this hysteria?
    In Act I, we see the progression to hysteria ending in the first accusations. In Act III we see the hysteria build in intensity as it becomes directed towards Proctor
  6. Which of the following is true of John Proctor?
    Proctor recognises that he is weak and sinful, even in his willingness to confess in order to survive
  7. Which of the following is seen by those in authority as a threat to the community of Salem?
    John Proctor's irregular appearance in the meeting house and his occasional work on Sundays leaves him vulnerable to accusations. Miller refers in his notes to the eventual "turn toward greater individual freedom". It is this turn which is being resisted by those in authority in the town
  8. Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are condemned despite being known for their good characters and upright lives. Their convictions for witchcraft convey which of the following lessons?
    Observable behaviours are no defence against accusations which rely on irrationality and a belief in pervasive, invisible evil
  9. In Act IV, the convicted are asked to confess to witchcraft in order to save their lives. To which of the following themes is this expectation most closely related?
    Hypocrisy reigns over the court, which cannot acknowledge that the innocent might have been convicted, and which urges a hypocritical confession even in the face of protestations of innocence. Hale at least suffers at his awareness of his own hypocrisy
  10. The enormous courage which people can show in the face of irrationality, torture, injustice and death is one of the themes of this play. What gives characters such as Rebecca Nurse such courage?
    Although the community's religious beliefs are at the root of the witchcraft trials and the hanging of the innocent, Miller also shows that the utter faith of the accused in an authority that transcends men such as Parris, Danforth, Hathorne, and the other judges gives them the courage to continue to assert their innocence in the face of death

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