In this allegorical drama, inspired by the witch hunt trials of 1692-93 and the 1950s Red Scare, the town of Salem is plagued by hysteria and accusations of witchcraft.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In “The Salem (and Other) Witch Hunts,” Mike Kubic explores the Salem witch trials, and the various other prejudiced hunts that have occurred throughout history.
Before reading the play, pair “The Salem (And Other) Witch Hunts” with The Crucible as historical background information on the literal witch hunts of 1692-93 and the figurative witch hunts thereafter. Ask students to compare these historical examples — what events preceded and/or provoked these witch hunts?
In “Puritan Laws and Character,” historian Henry William Elson discusses the Puritans, their laws, and the impact they made on early America.
Introduce “Puritan Laws and Character” before beginning The Crucible as historical context on Puritan beliefs and culture. Ask students to consider how the Puritans structured their society and government, as well as how they enforced conformity and restricted personal freedoms.
The informational text “McCarthyism” discusses the United States’ fear of communism during the Cold War and the unfair trials led by Senator Joseph McCarthy to root out supposed communist spies.
Have students read “McCarthyism” before beginning the play as historical context for the events in The Crucible. Ask students to consider how Arthur Miller was inspired by the “Red Scare” and to draw any direct connections between both sets of trials.
In “The Dancing Plague of 1518,” the informational text explores the medieval case of sudden, violent dancing in a small French village.
Have students read “The Dancing Plague of 1518” after reading the final scene of Act I (or other passages of great hysteria in the play) as insight into instances of spontaneous phenomena and mass hysteria. Ask students to consider how human nature allows for or creates these strange historical events — can the events in The Crucible be described this way? What about the actual historical events of Salem?
The informational text “Witchcraft in Salem” recounts how mass hysteria gripped the town of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692-1693, a period now known as the Salem Witch Trials.
Introduce “Witchcraft in Salem” before beginning Act II of The Crucible to give students context on the witchcraft trial proceedings in Salem. Ask students to discuss how people behaved at the trials, what was considered “evidence” at the time, and the dilemma the accused faced when asked to confess.
This NPR news transcript discusses whether the Supreme Court will accept the “insanity defense” when a schizophrenic man shoots an officer.
Have students read this text after finishing Act III of the play as a contemporary comparison on justice and insanity. Pair “High Court Reviews Insanity-Defense Case” with The Crucible and ask students to discuss how the notions of guilt and justice have evolved in the United States, and how this system may or may not take advantage of neuro-atypical, marginalized people — is the insanity plea a valid defense? Why or why not?
In Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “‘Enemies from Within’ Speech,” he condemns the threat of communism and accuses the State Department of communist infiltration.
Introduce this text following the disastrous trial in Act III of the play as a comparison of rhetoric and scare tactics, when it comes to invading or otherwise imagined enemies. Pair “Enemies from Within Speech” with The Crucible and ask students to compare the rhetoric, or persuasive speech, of McCarthy with that of various characters in the play—Hale, Abigail, Danforth, Hawthorn, etc. How do they utilize fear to maintain their authority and increase their power or influence?
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic, and editor. His best known poem is “Invictus,” published in 1875, which he wrote just following the amputation of his foot due to tuberculosis.
Introduce “Invictus” after finishing The Crucible as insight into the themes of fate and resilience in the drama. After reading this poem, ask students to compare it to the final scene of the play, in which John Proctor decides upon his fate — how does he take control of his fate and why does he choose what he does?
In “Excerpt from ‘Civil Disobedience’” Thoreau meditates upon the necessity of willfully disobeying unjust laws, no matter the personal consequences.
Introduce this text after finishing the play, and have students focus on Act IV, as a thematic connection regarding individual action in defiance of the law. Pair “On Civil Disobedience” with The Crucible and ask students to discuss John Proctor’s refusal to sign his confession and name the accused as witches, sealing his own fate at the gallows. How does this act of disobedience create ripples of change in the community and in history?