The Crucible | Motifs and Symbolism

I don’t know about you but I personally love The Crucible – it’s literally one of my favourite texts to teach and analyse. So here I am writing another blog at 3am because it’s the only time I’m actually in my zone!


Animal imagery – Miller makes a lot of references to animals, including birds, stallions, dragons, etc. Often times, this is used to highlight the dichotomy between the civilised and the uncivilised. They may also represent a lack of restraint, or in other words, freedom – since, unlike the people of Salem, they are not bound by rigid Puritan values.

  • “sweated like a stallion” – That Proctor “sweated like a stallion” whenever Abigail comes near him says a lot about him. It shows us that uncontrollable lust and how much he struggles to restrain himself from “reach[ing] out for Abigail again.” This simile in a way portrays personal desires as something “animalistic” and therefore “uncivilised”, “un-Puritan.” To err is human? I bet the Puritans would disagree. Absolute conformity is demanded and the system that governs Salem back then isn’t exactly forgiving.
  • “fly to mama” – The image of Betty “fly[ing] to mama” invokes the same connotation. It seems that she fakes her sickness to escape from being “whipped” for dancing in the words – a fear that quickly manifests into a spiritual sickness. As she “gets one leg out” and “streaks for the window,” the audience can see her yearning for freedom – to be far away from Salem and its oppressiveness.
  • “You drank blood Abby” – This also underpins Abigail’s lack of restraint and her carnal desire for John Proctor. It can be inferred that the image of Abigail drinking blood also portrays her as bloodthirsty, foreshadowing that she would go out of her way to get what she wants. She is the symbol of female empowerment, a statement against subservience and an immoral (probably amoral) non-conformist.


Paper – Miller also uses the motif of paper a lot throughout his play. It is usually associated with court documents such as warrants and confession papers – a symbolism of authority and power. The iconic scene in which Proctor tears his confession paper seconds this as this brave evasion acts as Proctor’ active defiance of the court and his refusal to ‘tell lies to dogs.’ In tearing this paper – one that the court desperately relies on to legitimise their mission purify Salem, Proctor challenges the theocracy that governs Salem and undermines its ideology. The vulnerability of the court is herein likened to the fragility of the paper, which suggests that it can be challenged – Danforth’s greatest fear! Well, Salem does turn into an anarchy eventually which proves that a court that values formality and lies over genuine goodness and the truth will ultimately be overthrown.

  • The Devil’ Book “his black book”: Since this is an imaginary object which can be used as a tool of conviction, we can infer that this represents the fictitious nature of the court. The accusations are mostly based on the forced testimonies of those who allege to have signed in the devil’s book, showing how the hysteria that pervades Salem is all fuelled by lies, deceit and the dogmatism of the court.
  • Hale’s heavy book: Salem needs an intervention from an outsider, an expert who is experienced in dealing with the invisible world. Hale’s entrance with his heavy books establishes his depth of knowledge and the weight of his authority. However, it is later revealed that he is in fact misled, which results in the execution of innocent victims.

So yes, books and paper are often associated with authoritative figures. However, they are often casted in negative light as these figure are often irrational.

Doors and windows

Doors and windows – Doors and windows are often used as metaphors for freedom in literary works. I was just reading Chopin’s Story of An Hour the other day and this metaphor is again staring at me in the face. It is so popular that I haven’t come across a book that doesn’t have these motifs. Miller’s play The Crucible is no exceptional.

  • The image of Betty trying to “fly to mama” and “streak[king] for the window”, as mentioned above, connotes a sense of freedom. Herein, the metaphorical window represents her hope to be free from the oppressive society of Salem, free from societal pressures and free from harsh and unreasonable punishments.
  • The metaphorical “narrow window” also captures the claustrophobic atmosphere in Salem at the time. Through this metaphor, Miller implicitly establishes his criticism of the oppression imposed on individuals as the ‘narrow window’ aligns with Salem’s lack of freedom and autonomy.
  • Sarah Good is accused of witchcraft on the grounds that she “comes to this very door” and mumbles to Mary Warren. The door between the two characters is the physical manifestation of the social segregation, the division between the lower and the middle echelon of the society. Goody Good’s position being outside of that door establishes her as an outcast while Mary’s position inside the house establishes her as a part of ‘the group’.

That’s it for today!! Thanks for bearing with me!

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