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Book Review

The Crucible by Arthur Miller has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

It is 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. Reverend Parris ponders his fate as his 10-year-old daughter, Betty, lies motionless in bed. Parris witnessed Betty, his 17-year-old niece, Abigail and other girls frolicking in the woods. Since then, Betty and another girl, Ruth Putnam, have taken ill.

Salem buzzes with the rumor that the girls were conjuring spirits and practicing witchcraft. Abigail enters, and Parris demand details about what the girls did in the forest. Abigail insists they were just dancing. Parris’ servant, Tituba, was with them, but Abigail says the woman was just singing songs from her native Barbados.

Parris is concerned how about how the congregation will react to him if they think his wards are consorting with Satan. He also wonders why Abigail has been discharged from working for the Proctor family. Abigail adamantly states that Goody (Elizabeth) Proctor is trying to soil her name.

Thomas and Mrs. Putnam arrives to see Betty. Mrs. Putnam says their daughter, Ruth, has also been touched by the Devil. She says Reverend Hale of a nearby town has been summoned to Salem, since he has experience dealing with the demonic arts.

Parris denies that any witchcraft has taken place. Mrs. Putnam, who has lost seven babies to death, admits she asked Tituba to conjure the spirits of her children to learn who murdered them. At this point, Abigail changes her story and says Tituba and Ruth were conjuring spirits.

When Abigail and her friends Mercy Lewis and Mary Warren are alone, Abigail demands none of them mention drinking blood or cursing Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail and Elizabeth’s husband, John, talk in private. Their conversation reveals John and Abigail had an affair some months earlier. Abigail still loves John, but he says their relationship is over. Elizabeth knows about them, and John has vowed to be a faithful husband.

Reverend Hale enters and promises to determine whether Betty is possessed. Hale tries to get Betty to speak and grills Abigail about what the girls did in the woods. Abigail starts blaming Tituba, and the others pelt the servant with questions. They force her to confess she’s been conjuring spirits and demand she name others who are walking with the Devil. She, Abigail and Betty start naming townspeople they’ve seen with the Devil.

The second act begins eight days later. Elizabeth Proctor serves dinner to her husband, who has come home late in the day. They talk about the people who have been imprisoned for witchcraft. Elizabeth thinks John should inform the court that Abigail told him the whole thing was a hoax.

They begin to argue about John’s relationship with Abigail. He insists he has been honest and that the affair is over. He’s angry that Elizabeth doesn’t trust him. Having caught him in a lie, she still believes she has the right to be suspicious.

Mary Warren, Abigail’s replacement as the Proctors’ maid, enters. John expresses his anger that she went into town and participated in the trial without permission. Mary is acting strange and gives Elizabeth a doll she made during the proceedings. Mary reports that 39 people are now on trial and that some are sentenced to hang. Those who want to avoid being hanged must confess to their interaction with the Devil. Mary also mentions that Elizabeth has been accused.

When Mary leaves for bed, John and Elizabeth continue to argue. Elizabeth is convinced Abigail means to get rid of her and take her place. John angrily agrees to speak with Abigail. Hale comes to their home and begins to grill John about his religious convictions. He questions him about things like church attendance and whether he knows the Ten Commandments. He insinuates there is reason to mistrust the Proctors’ Christianity.

An old man named Corey Giles enters and says his wife has been arrested. Francis Nurse is with him. His wife, Rebecca, has been accused of supernaturally murdering Mrs. Putnam’s babies. Another man enters and presents a warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest. Abigail has accused Elizabeth of performing a type of voodoo on her using a doll. They find the doll Mary brought home, and a needle is stuck in it. Elizabeth is imprisoned, and John promises to help her.

John drags Mary into court. He forces her to tell the judge what she’s admitted, that the girls never saw spirits and that they’ve all been pretending. He also brings pages of signatures of people who will vouch for the character of Elizabeth, Giles’ wife and Rebecca Nurse. John learns Elizabeth is pregnant, so she will be safe from the threat of hanging at least until the baby is born. Mary begins to testify about the girls’ falsehood when Abigail pretends a cold wind has blown in.

The girls follow Abigail’s lead. John jumps at Abigail angrily, calling her a whore. He reluctantly tells the court about their affair. He says Elizabeth knows about it and could never lie. The court brings her in and asks her. In her efforts to protect her husband, Elizabeth lies about John’s relationship with Abigail. Abigail and the girls pretend to see a yellow bird. They blame Mary for sending it to claw at them.

As Mary continues to testify, the girls repeat every word she says; the court believes she is afflicting them. Mary weakens under peer pressure and says John has been urging her to sign the Devil’s book. The court orders John and Giles be taken to jail. Hale denounces the proceedings and leaves the courtroom.

John, Giles and Rebecca Nurse are about to be hanged. Hale urges the court to drop the charges. Those accused refuse to confess they’ve worshiped the Devil, and he believes they’re innocent. Elizabeth urges John to confess so he can live. He agrees, until the court tries to push him into signing a written confession and accusing others. He decides to hang rather than soil his name and the good names of others. Abigail runs away with Parris’ money.

Christian Beliefs

The people of Salem live by strict moral codes based on biblical principles. The reviewed version of this book includes a critical introduction by professor and author Christopher Bigsby. He discusses, among other things, the roles religion and sexuality played in the Salem witch trials.

Miller also includes comments in the subtext of his play about the theocracy, or combination of state and religious power, that developed in Salem. He suggests that the hysteria of the witch trials and the people’s black-and-white beliefs concerning God and Satan allowed people to confess unspeakable things, take vengeance on neighbors and otherwise behave in ways that were unheard of in that society.

Other Belief Systems

Many falsely confess they were in league with the Devil to avoid being hanged. Crazed in the courtroom, John says God is dead and that he sees the face of Lucifer.

Authority Roles

Reverend Hale starts out self-righteous and confident in his ability to hunt witches. He ends up confused and frustrated, and he tries to keep innocent people from being hanged. John Proctor has an affair with a teenage girl. He feels deep guilt and regret for his indiscretion. The self-centered Reverend Parris is more concerned about his personal needs and reputation than for the people in his flock.


The Lord’s name is used in vain. The words d--n, b--ch and whore also appear.


Several references are made to Abigail and John’s past affair.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Historical note: The characters in this fictional story are based on real people who lived during the Salem witch trials. Arthur Miller wrote the play in the 1950s, when many in the United States demonstrated a hysterical fear of communists. He wanted to illustrate the dangers of vilifying fellow citizens in modern day “witch-hunts.”

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 19


Arthur Miller






Record Label



Penguin Books version reviewed (2003)


On Video

Year Published





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