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The major theme in the play is that of good versus evil. Based on the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, The Crucible explores the fragility of a changing society and the difficulty of doing good in the face of evil and tremendous social pressures, both at the social and personal level. John Proctor, the protagonist of the play, is faced with the choice of accepting responsibility for his actions and doing the right thing. In a similar vein, society as a whole must deal with the challenge of doing good when threatened by evil, even when it comes with the stamp of law, authority, and social opinion.
A minor theme of the play is that the hysteria of the witch trials can be easily duplicated, as seen in the hysteria surrounding the "McCarthyism" of the early 1950s. This link should be understood as a background to the play, not as a simple interpretation of the play.
Throughout the play, the mood is one of impending doom in the face of rampant superstition and increasing hysteria in the Salem society. Almost every character in the play is looked upon with suspicion by his or her neighbor. The good people are punished while the evil triumph. The audience or reader presumably knows the outcome of the witch trials before they begin in the play and can only watch helplessly as events unfold. Even the final victory of good at the end involves the unnecessary sacrifice of a life. When Proctor tears up his confession and goes to his death, Hale realizes the evil he has done. Some balance is restored to Salem, but only after much needless suffering and destruction.