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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

Table of Contents

THE STORY

Although the action is continuous in each act of The Crucible,
this guide breaks the acts into what are called "French scenes."
A new French scene begins every time a major character enters
or exits.

ACT I, SCENE 1

From the moment the curtain rises, we know something is
wrong. A little girl, Betty Parris, lies inert on the bed. What's the
matter with her? Is she sick? Hurt? Her father, Reverend Samuel
Parris, is weeping and praying frantically over her. The next
three things that happen tell us things are really bad: 1) the
black slave Tituba, obviously very frightened, comes in begging
Parris to tell her that her Betty's "not goin' to die," and Parris
furiously drives her out; 2) Betty's cousin Abigail Williams
comes in to announce a message from Dr. Griggs, which means
that Betty's been like this for some time; and 3) Susanna
Walcott delivers the doctor's message: he cannot help Betty, so
her affliction must be from "unnatural things," meaning
witchcraft.



Parris' first reaction is to deny that Betty's "witched," which
seems natural: it's a horrifying thought. Horrifying, but not out
of the question, because Reverend Hale, a witchcraft expert
from Beverly, has already been sent for and is on his way. Both
Parris and Abigail warn Susanna to "speak nothin' of it in the
village" on her way back to the doctor. This seems natural, too:
Parris is trying to avoid panic among his congregation.

But we soon discover that Parris is more worried about his
position in the village than he is about his daughter's health.
Throughout the following interrogation, during which Abigail
admits that she, Betty, and Tituba were dancing in the woods,
Parris mentions his enemies four times, saying clearly at one
point, "There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my
pulpit. Do you understand that?" In other words, the worst part
of this scandal is that it began in his own house, a fact his
enemies will surely take advantage of. For the rest of the play,
Parris is consistent in his self-centeredness. No matter what
happens to anybody else, he will always be concerned only
about himself.

For her part, Abigail at first appears to be humble and repentant.
She confesses that they danced, and she's willing to be whipped
for it, even if they did it just for "sport." But Parris, in his
anxiety about his own reputation, insinuates that Abigail's name
is not "entirely white" in the town. Goodwife Proctor, it is said,
"comes so rarely to the church this year for she will not sit so
close to something soiled," meaning Abigail, who used to work
as the Proctors' servant.

Abigail tells us a lot: instead of answering the accusation, she
attacks the accuser. She says Goody Proctor hates her because
Abigail would not be her slave; twice she calls Goody Proctor a
liar. (Elizabeth Proctor's truthfulness will be very important
later.) Abigail then turns her wrath on Parris: "Do you begrudge
my bed, uncle?" (Later on, in Act II, Abigail will once again be
accused of wrongdoing, and she will get out of it in exactly the
same way.)

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