As numerous do, the word “crucible” has many opposing meanings. Specifically, three of these interpretations of the word thematically align with the play, The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller. These definitions include that a crucible is a vessel used for melting at high temperatures, a severe test, and a time characterized by powerful forces. The decision to title the play The Crucible indicates a clever attempt to provide the reader with a preview into a few of the play’s central ideas. This is a very appropriate title for the play because every definition of the word can be traced within an element of the story, both through characters and through the behavior of the city of Salem as a whole. The term “crucible” has a variety of accurate definitions that can all be found within different aspects of the play, The Crucible.
The definition of the word “crucible” as “a vessel made of a refractory substance such as graphite or porcelain, used for melting and calcining materials at high temperatures” relates to the play through analyzation of the effect of pressure on multiple characters. Throughout the play pressure was placed upon the citizens of Salem, their city being the vessel referred to in this definition, to accept the court’s rulings and accusations of witchcraft, or to confess. Numerous characters “melted” when compelled to say what the all-powerful court wanted to hear, ultimately to do what they thought they had to, to save their lives. For example, Mary Warren betrayed Proctor in court after she had revealed all the girls were only pretending to see the Devil because she was afraid that she would be hung or berated by the other girls.
As opposed to remaining honest with the court, Mary exclaims “‘You’re the Devil’s man!’” referring to Proctor, to turn the accusations the girls were aiming at her to Proctor to protect herself (118). Ultimately, Mary Warren falls victim to the pressure of the court to believe in the trial and commotion the girls cause in order to accuse her of witchcraft. This reveals that she is too weak to withstand questioning of her truth. Another example of a character who “melted” under pressure to confess in order to save their life was John Proctor. On the morning of his execution, John Proctor is asked if he has bound himself to the Devil’s service to which he responds “‘I did’” (139). Proctor confesses reluctantly, merely to save his own life.
Even though he has been aware of the lies in the court, but he kept his knowledge within for so long because he was afraid that his sin of adultery would come out and ruin his name. However, John’s ending is different than others who confess and submit to the corrupt vessel of Salem because he realizes that if he wants to truly overcome the corruption he knows exists in Salem, he must die to protect the only thing he still possesses, his name. The submission of various characters to the corrupt court of Salem aligns with the definition of the word “crucible” as a vessel used for melting very well.
Defining the word “crucible” as “a severe test, as of belief” fits the play because it parallels the harsh nature of the trials upon those in the court. The court system in Salem at this time was thoroughly testing the willpower of the characters in The Crucible. The severity of this trial can clearly be seen with the statistics provided in the play itself. When Hale realizes that the whole trial may have been conducted under false information, as Proctor informs him, he says to Judge Danforth, “‘Excellency, I have signed seventy-two death warrants; I am a minister of the Lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it’” (99). In this case, Hale’s humanity has been tested by the witch trial to see if he would stand up for the new information he has gathered from Proctor that the girls are only pretending to see witches in court. This proves that Hale is very strong since he continually fights to show Judge Danforth the truth that those accused and scheduled for death are not guilty of witchcraft. Due to the intense nature of both the trial and Judge Danforth, however, Hale cannot prevent further deaths in Salem. To add, Proctor’s honesty and integrity are brutally tested throughout the play.
When the trial first began and Proctor is aware that it is based upon a story of nonsense that occurred in the woods he falls victim to fear and chooses to not express this with the court, which ends up allowing the trial to escalate and eventually leads to his death. When he finally decides to bring this knowledge to the court his truthfulness and bravery is tested when he must decide whether to admit his sin of adultery to the court in order to expose Abigail as a liar. He proves to be extremely brave when he says “‘I have known her, sir. I have known her,’” admitting he committed the crime of lechery in order to explain to the court why Elizabeth sent Abigail away (110). However, Elizabeth lies to protect her husband’s name, unaware that he had already confessed his sin and ultimately debunks Proctor’s bravery. The intensity of the court proves that The Crucible is a fitting title for the play due to the severe tests that take place within the witch trials of Salem.
An explanation of the meaning of the word “crucible” as “a situation or time characterized by powerful intellectual, social, or economic forces” is appropriate for the storyline of the play The Crucible because it explains why the trial is truly occurring due to beliefs in Salem at that time. In the society of the time the play is set in, women did not have the full trust of men. Women were considered inferior and if they did not act as society expected them to, they were immediately questioned about their morals. This distrust in women may stem from their “lack” of economic benefits to society since men were typically the ones plowing the land they own to grow crops to make money. In the play, a woman who acted strangely according to her community was immediately questioned as a witch. This scrutinization of women’s character is revealed in the play when Thomas Putnam asserts that only women may be guilty of witchcraft. In the middle of Tituba’s “confession,” Putnam prompts her to accuse women who own property near his, so he can purchase their land when they are hung as he says “‘Sarah Good? Did you ever see Sarah Good with him? Or Osburn?’” (46). This proves that Thomas Putnam feels that if he accuses the women that neighbor him as opposed to the men that neighbor him, he will be more likely to receive what he seeks, more wealth and dominance.
Another example showing the true power of elite men in Salem is when Cheever arrives at Proctor’s house to take Elizabeth even though he knows she is a good woman. He does not stand up for her because the judges with lots of respect and prestige in the community have ordered him to take her. Cheever says to Proctor, “‘Now believe me, Proctor, how heavy be the law, all its tonnage I do carry on my back tonight. I have a warrant for your wife’” (72). This reveals that although Elizabeth Proctor has never done anything wrong and has remained a good woman for her whole life, one accusation against her will automatically deter the court from her side. In addition, people with a high status in the community are able to effectively sway the respect of the general public, which introduces another form of corruption to the court. For example, no matter what Abigail says, the court will typically believe what she claims to see because she is Salem’s reverend’s niece, which automatically makes her credible in the eyes of the public.
On the other hand, even though John Proctor has a decent name in Salem, his claims are questioned more because he does not attend church often. This causes the trial to possess a high degree of bias that ends up leading to the unfair deaths of many innocent people. Therefore, the definition of the word “crucible” as “a situation or time characterized by powerful intellectual, social, or economic forces” aligns very well with the background and biases within the witch trials that take place in The Crucible.
Overall, the title of the play, The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, is very appropriate and parallels the lives of the characters living in Salem at the time of the play. Even though the definitions of the word “crucible” differ greatly, they all equally align with the story and help develop thoughts regarding hidden reasons for why the trials are important within the society of Salem. The pressure each character is placed under and how they respond to it, the fierce nature of the trials taking place, and the predetermined biases and beliefs that exist within the community of Salem all reveal how these opposing interpretations of the title of the play unite to describe much of the story in detailed context.