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Free Study Guide-The Crucible by Arthur Miller-Free Booknotes Summary
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ACT III

Notes

Act III further develops the profiles of the play's main characters. The manipulative skills of Abigail, the self-righteousness of Danforth and his eagerness to carry out his duties, the pettiness and prejudice of Hathorne and Parris, and the growing disillusionment of Hale contribute to the terrible tragedy of the drama.

In this act, Miller fully unfurls his theme of the dangers of combining temporal and religious powers in the hands of a few. In that sense, this act can be deemed to be the central one of the play. The church, as represented by Parris and Hale, and the law, as represented by Danforth and Hathorne, are shown to be hollow and false. Parris uses the trial as an opportunity to increase his power and punish his enemies. Danforth and Hathorne show their arrogance and rigidity and refuse to let anyone question the court’s proceedings or its authority; “a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.” Even the one fairly good institutional representative, Hale, is shown to be lacking in moral strength, for though he questions the authority and logic of the court and eventually quits the proceedings, he does not do enough to stop the witch hunt or the hangings.


The legal system is made a total mockery by the complete acceptance of the false accusations of Abigail and the girls and the inability of Corey, Nurse, and Proctor to obtain justice. The court shows itself to be absolutely incapable of seeing truth when presented with it. Abigail scares Mary into disavowing her testimony and accusing Proctor, and Proctor's damning self-admission of adultery is not believed, especially when the good Elizabeth refuses to reveal her husband’s sin. When she is asked if her husband “is” a lecher, she says that he is not; her answer is not truly a lie, for Proctor is no longer involved with Abigail and Elizabeth does not view him as a lecher. Furthermore, the court considers any appeal for fairness and justice as a suspicious attack upon it, deserving of punishment or condemnation as a witch; when Giles Corey tries to bring evidence against the court, he is accused of being a witch and arrested. Danforth's suggestion that the innocent have nothing to hide and that everyone should, therefore, be happy about the proceedings is especially chilling. Proctor’s response to the irony of the court proceedings is that “God is dead;” these words are damaging to his testimony in court and to the saving of his soul for eternity.

The two institutions on which the Puritan society rests are both shown to be corrupt and inadequate. The Crucible suggests that a society in which the very foundations are crumbling cannot survive for long and will, by necessity, stumble upon itself and its own contradictions. Although belief in witches was very real, the witch hunt in Salem is in part a facade that has at its real aim revenge, power, and economic gain. What started as a silly pretension ends in disaster.

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