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The Crucible - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz tests your understanding of the text in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Being sure you understand the text is the first step you take before you can begin to analyse and write about it. Surprisingly, this is more difficult than it sounds. After all, if authors only wished to convey a simple message, would it really take hundreds of pages and thousands of words to do so? When you read a text written long ago, or one from another country, or perhaps written in a strong dialect, understanding requires more effort. The Crucible requires good historical understanding as well as some practice in making sense of the characters’ dialect, in addition to the usual comprehension skills.

Authors convey meaning through a variety of methods.

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They often prefer not to state what they mean directly. Instead, they communicate with their readers through the various aspects of fiction, such as character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue. Consider each of these elements as you work to understand the text you are reading. Re-reading is a good idea and helps you understand more than you might if you only read a book once. If you do find that you need to read a text again, don’t worry! This is something that most people experience. It also proves that you have been paying attention!

What are the connections between context, setting and the events which the text relates? A timeline of events can be useful and making one will help develop your understanding of the text. Although in novels, events are not always related chronologically, a play will often present them in the order in which they occur. This makes the timeline easier to create, but you might want to consider where events occurring off stage fit in.

What do actions reveal about the characters’ motivations? Have you examined the text for clues to explain their behaviour? Can their words be taken at face value, or will you need to examine the subtext of those words more closely? Do characters’ actions match their words? Think about your reasoning behind the answers to these questions and justify your views by referring in detail to the text.

Remember to analyse beginnings and endings. Why does the text begin as it does? What do you learn straight away about the setting and the characters? How are future events foreshadowed? It is a good idea to analyse the beginnings and ends of individual acts and scenes in a play, too. Careful and detailed analysis of this sort will help you to dramatically improve your knowledge and understanding of the text.

Read the questions below on The Crucible and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

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  1. Why are the girls afraid to admit to their activities in the forest?
    Being honest about their activities will result in a whipping at best, or, at worst, being hanged as witches
  2. Why is the poppet given by Mary to Elizabeth considered evidence of witchcraft?
    Cheever finds a needle in the poppet and believes that Elizabeth has used the doll to cause Abigail excruciating pain. Those investigating witchcraft cannot see their own credulity
  3. Why does John Proctor refuse to sign his confession?
    John Proctor recognises as weakness his own desire to do whatever is necessary to live. He is shamed by the courage with which others have gone to their deaths
  4. What is the obstacle facing Mary when she wishes to set the record straight?
    Lies lead to more lies; honesty would also require the judges to acknowledge that they have caused the death of innocent people
  5. Why is Reverend Parris afraid during the final act of the play?
    Reverend Parris is a weak, self-absorbed man who is only concerned for his own respectability. He is afraid of retribution for his part in the deaths
  6. Why did Abigail lose her position as a servant in the Proctor household?
    Miller portrays the relationship as an affair and Abigail as a temptress. As a careful reader, you might notice that John is in his thirties and that Abigail was his teenage servant. You might also consider Miller's comment in his note on historical accuracy that he increased the age of the historical Abigail
  7. What does the text present as motivations for the various accusations of witchcraft?
    Abigail is suspected of wishing to replace Elizabeth as John's wife; Mrs. Putnam cannot understand why all but one of her babies died and therefore wishes to have someone to blame; and Giles Corey accuses Mr. Putnam of using the accusations as a way of gaining more land
  8. When does the audience first realise that Betty is pretending?
    Betty whimpers while being shaken and threatened by her cousin Abigail, leaping out of bed and crying for her mother when she believes Abigail to have confessed their deeds
  9. Why does Reverend Parris ask Susanna Walcott not to speak of any "unnatural causes" of Betty's illness?
    The people of the town are already murmuring about witchcraft and Parris feels that his ministry to the people will be undermined if anyone knows about the girls dancing and running naked in the forest
  10. Why does Reverend Parris fear that Salem will become restless and might even riot?
    His fear is an acknowledgement that the people of Salem do not care so much for the lives of the poor, the troubled, the outsider

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