The Crucible - Ethics, Leadership and Success
The Crucible (1953)
A play by the American, Arthur Miller (1915- 2005),
pictured right, who also wrote Death of a
• Based on the trial and execution of 19 innocent “witches” in the Puritan (strictly
religious) village of Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in 1692
• Inspired by McCarthyism, the witch-hunt against communists in America in the 1950’s, led by
Senator Joe McCarthy.
• Miller’s second wife was the movie star, Marilyn
Monroe (pictured right together).
• A 1996 film of the play starred Daniel Day-Lewis and
John Proctor, farmer.
Elizabeth Proctor, his wife.
Abigail Williams, his ex-lover and ex-servant.
Reverend John Hale, church minister and famous witch finder.
It is 1692 in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Its people are Puritans, who live strictly according to the
Salem’s minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, finds some girls dancing in the forest with his:
- Afro-Caribbean slave, Tituba.
Betty becomes ill, leading to rumours of witchcraft.
Thomas Putnam (a wealthy farmer) and his wife, Ann, visit Parris, and
conclude that witchcraft has caused Betty’s illness (as revenge against Parris for getting the minister’s job their
John Proctor, a farmer, tells Abigail, his former lover and ex-servant, that their affair is
Reverend John Hale, a famous witch finder, arrives looking for signs of witchcraft in Betty.
Tituba is forced to confess that she was talking to the devil
Abigail accuses many people of being witches including (out of jealousy) Elizabeth, Proctor's
wife. The Putnams accuse the kind Rebecca Nurse, because they want her land and are jealous of her
With Deputy Governor Danforth as the judge, a court is set up to try the accused, where Proctor
confesses his affair with Abigail.
He also says that Abigail is jealously trying to kill his wife, Elizabeth, who denies the affair to protect
her husband's honour.
Under Abigail's direction, the girls in the court start to scream which frightens Mary
Warren (Proctor's servant) into saying that Proctor is the devil's man.
Proctor is found guilty, even though Hale knows that he is innocent
On the morning of his execution, Proctor has a last chance to confess to witchcraft and save his life. He
is persuaded to do so after seeing Elizabeth who escapes hanging because of her pregnancy.
But he then saves his reputation and honour by refusing to confess. He is executed along with
Abigail disappears and later becomes a prostitute in Boston. Elizabeth marries again four years after Proctor's
What does the play tell us about ethics, leadership and
1. Don’t persecute people for their views
Innocent people in Salem are convicted of witchcraft, simply because their views are unorthodox or
Many people are resistant to new ideas because of their strict Christian ideology.
But in Salem there was too much order from prohibition at the expense of people's freedom of thought.
The first Act's overture says:
“All organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition”.
2. Stick to your principles
Principled John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis, pictured right at his execution, in the 1996
film) dies with honour in the face of intense pressure to confess to something he
In contrast, Hale doesn’t have the courage to defend him, despite knowing that a great injustice has been
Miller called the play, The Crucible, because it is a container in which heat purifies
Similarly John Proctor triumphed over the fire of hatred to purify his soul by acting according
to his conscience.
3. Evil leads to ignorance
The vindictively jealous and greedy Abigail shows no remorse after John's execution and
leaves Salem, having stolen her uncle’s savings.
4. Work out wisdom for yourself
Innocent people are executed because, through fear, suspicion and ignorance, people
unquestioningly believe that they are guilty of witchcraft.
John and Elizabeth are heroes, because they stand up for truth and force Reverend Hale to challenge
his opposition to witchcraft.
5. Leadership matters
John and Elizabeth show moral leadership by fighting for their principles
But others only like power for their own advantage:
a) Abigail (Winona Ryder, pictured right, in the 1996 film)
She leads and manipulates others to convict Elizabeth, particularly
- Abigail's girl supporters (who frighten Mary Warren to accuse John Proctor in
b) Deputy Governor Danforth
(who orders the execution of innocent people to appear strong and decisive).
c) Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison, pictured right, in the film)
(who uses the trial to strengthen his position as Salem’s minister).
6. Learn from your mistakes
John’s affair makes him more aware of his love for Elizabeth who realizes that her
lack of forgiveness towards John’s affair is destroying their relationship.
7. Trust and forgiveness are vital to good
John and Elizabeth (pictured right together in the 1996 film) are finally happy, having
forgiven one another and re-gained each other’s trust.
8. Remember your reputation
John finally refuses to confess, which costs him his life but saves his reputation.
9. Vengeance is vile
Jealousy leads to Proctor, Elizabeth and Rebecca being hypocritically victimized in the name of God.
10. Life is sacred
Laws are mistaken, if they condemn innocent people like John Proctor, because Reverend John
“Life is God’s most precious gift”.
Key quote on
How may I live without my name?, John Proctor on saving his reputation
Key quotes on ethics and religion
Life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it, Reverend
Theology is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small, Reverend Hale.
Key quote on family
A child’s spirit is like a child, you cannot catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love,
it will soon itself come back, Rebecca Nurse.
Key quote on management
All organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition (overture before the first
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