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English 11-12

Common Module: The Crucible Part 2 – Textual Analysis

Unsure how to analyse The Crucible for Common Module? You're in luck! In this post, we explain how to analyse Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" for the Common Module.

Are you confident about studying The Crucible for Common Module? You need to get your head around the contents and concepts in The Crucible and consider them through the lens of human experiences and emotions. In this post, we will present a step-by-step guide for how to analyse a passage from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for the Common Module.

If you haven’t read it already, you should check out our overview of The Crucible, Common Module: The Crucible Part 1 Dos and Don’ts.

 

The Crucible – Textual Analysis: What is the Common Module?

First, before you start analysing the text, you need to understand the module. Let’s look at the key sections of the Common Module Rubric:

Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences
“In this common module students deepen their understanding of how texts represent individual and collective human experiences. They examine how texts represent human qualities and emotions associated with, or arising from, these experiences.

Students explore how texts may give insight into the anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations, inviting the responder to see the world differently, to challenge assumptions, ignite new ideas or reflect personally. They may also consider the role of storytelling throughout time to express and reflect particular lives and cultures.”

What does this mean for you?

You need to analyse how the text represents an individual experience and then contrast this to a collective or community experience.

In addition, you need to explore how the text represents the emotions and emotional experiences of the characters within the text.

In particular, you want to look at how the behaviour of the characters demonstrates how human behaviour and motivations is full of “anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies.”

You then want to think about how the text you are studying, in this case, The Crucible, demonstrates a particular type of storytelling: using historical events as an allegory for contemporary events (Miller is doing something that Shakespeare had done extensively). Furthermore, you need to take into consideration how The Crucible directly reflects historical figures and places while also alluding to Miller and his contemporaries in the 1950s.

Exactly what you focus on in your responses and presentations will be dependent on the question you are presented with.

If you want to learn more about the Common Module, read our Year 12 Study Guide article.

Now let’s look at a process for analysing The Crucible and the things you need to think about and how you should approach them.

 

Step-by-step: How to analyse a passage from The Crucible

Now let’s have a look at a passage from The Crucible and analyse it in terms of the module requirements. We’ll look at an extract from Act 3 (pages 103-105 in the 2000 Penguin Classic edition).

This is the moment where the authority of the court and the validity of the trial hangs on the testimony of Mary Warren against Abigail. Proctor has confessed his affair with Abigail, but Elizabeth has lied to defend him. Mary Warren can still save Proctor and all the others accused, but Abigail will stop at nothing to save her own skin:

Source: Miller, Arthur. The Crucible (1953). Act 3, p.103-105
Extract from The Crucible
Danforth: Do you confess this power! [He is an inch from her face.] Speak!

Abigail: She’s going to come down! She’s walking the beam!

Danforth: Will you speak!

Mary Warren: [staring in horror] I cannot!

Girls: I cannot!

Parris: Cast the Devil out! Look him in the face! Trample him! We’ll save you, Mary, only stand fast against him and –

Abigail: [looking up] Look out! She’s coming down!

[She and all the girls run to one wall, shielding their eyes. And now, as though cornered, they let out a gigantic scream, and MARY, as though infected, opens her mouth and screams with them. Gradually ABIGAIL and the girls leave off, until only MARY is left there, staring up at the ‘bird’, screaming madly. All watch her, horrified by this evident fit. Proctor strides to her.]

Proctor: Mary, tell the Governor what they – [He has hardly got a word out, when, seeing him coming for her, she rushes out of his reach, screaming in horror]

Mary Warren: Don’t touch me – don’t touch me! [At which the girls halt at the door.]

Proctor: [astonished] Mary!

Mary Warren: [pointing at PROCTOR] You’re the Devil’s man!

[He is stopped in his tracks.]

Parris: Praise God!

Girls: Praise God!

Proctor: [numbed] Mary, how – ?

Mary Warren: I’ll not hang with you! I love God, I love God.

Danforth: [to MARY] He bid you do the Devil’s work?

Mary Warren: [hysterically, indicating PROCTOR] He come at me by night and every day to sign, to sign, to –

Danforth: Sign what?

Parris: The Devil’s book? He come with a book?

Mary Warren: [hysterically, pointing at PROCTOR, fearful of him] My name, he want my name. “I’ll murder you,” he says, “if my wife hangs! We must go and overthrow the court,” he says!

[DANFORTH’S head jerks toward PROCTOR, shock and horror in his face.]

Proctor: [turning, appealing to HALE] Mr. Hale!

Mary Warren: [her sobs beginning] He wake me every night, his eyes were like coals and his fingers claw my neck, and I sign, I sign…

Hale: Excellency, this child’s gone wild!

Proctor: [as DANFORTH’S wide eyes pour on him] Mary, Mary!

Mary Warren: [screaming at him] No, I love God; I go your way no more. I love God, I bless God. [Sobbing, she rushes to ABIGAIL] Abby, Abby, I’ll never hurt you more! [They all watch, as ABIGAIL, out of her infinite charity, reaches out and draws the sobbing MARY to her, and then looks up to DANFORTH.]

Step 1: Understand the plot of the passage

At this point in the text, the town of Salem is beginning to reach crisis point. Many in the town have been imprisoned or executed. Others have turned on one another in a frenzy of accusations driven by malice or self-preservation.

Hale has returned to Salem, and he is concerned at the direction the trials have taken. He sees through the religious rhetoric of Parris and can see that Danforth and Hathorne are being played by people in the town with self-interest – such as the Putnams or the girls led by Abigail.

Because people have already been executed and imprisoned, it is very hard for Danforth and Hathorne to walk back the trials or abandon them. They have their reputations on the line as they are prosecuting the trials. Admitting fault or abandoning the court would do significant injury to their reputations. While they might not be maliciously prosecuting innocent people, they are willfully ignoring the possibility of the basis of the prosecution being the fraudulent testimony of Abigail and the girls.

The deception by Abigail and the complicity of Parris is a fragile house of cards: if the deception is revealed they will all suffer retribution and reputational damage. Putnam, Hathorne, Danforth, and Putnam all have a shared interest in seeing the trials continue, even if they are motivated by different things:

  • Abigail and the girls need to maintain their charade or they would face punishment and possibly death. If Abigail can send Proctor and Elizabeth to the gallows, she can protect herself and get revenge on both of them:
    • Elizabeth for having Proctor’s love and child, and
    • Proctor for spurning her.
  • Because people have already been executed and imprisoned, it is very hard for Danforth and Hathorne to walk back the trials or abandon them. They have their reputations on the line as they are prosecuting the trials. Admitting fault or abandoning the court would do significant injury to their reputations. While they might not be maliciously prosecuting innocent people, they are willfully ignoring the possibility of the basis of the prosecution being the fraudulent testimony of Abigail and the girls.
  • Parris has to protect his own reputation if it is revealed that Abigail lied, his reputation and standing would suffer. As a Reverend, Parris is the senior member of the town. If Abigail were found out, he would be ousted. As the trials have begun, Parris has sycophantically aligned himself with the most powerful figures in the province. If the trials falter, he will lose everything.

Proctor’s desire to save his wife Elizabeth and reveal the malicious behaviour of Abigail is a threat to the trials. Mary Warren is the key witness: her testimony could clear Elizabeth and put a stop to the trials.

When Proctor and Mary Warren are facing the court and Mary is providing her evidence, things hang precariously in the balance. When Abigail begins playing a game of mimicry to discredit Mary Warren and Proctor, Proctor confesses his affair with Abigail. Abigail denies it. When Elizabeth is asked, she lies to protect Proctor and says that he didn’t cheat.

After this turn of events, the only thing that can save Proctor and Elizabeth is the testimony of Mary Warren. Mary Warren is young and is under intense pressure from all sides: from Proctor to confess; from Abigail and the girls to stop opposing them; and, from the judges to either confess or admit lying to the court.

Abigail chooses to save herself and sides with Abigail and the other girls, accusing Proctor of consorting with the devil and threatening the trials. This condemns Proctor and Elizabeth to the gallows (Elizabeth later escapes the noose), but also is the tipping point for the collapse of the town.

Now we need to identify the techniques that Miller has used in the text.

 

Step 2: Identify the techniques

In this passage, Miller makes use of several techniques in this passage, but let’s focus on how he uses two – stage directions and dramatic irony – to convey meaning:

  • Stage directions – The composer’s instruction for how actors should perform things and position themselves. Of most importance here is the girls’ unified game of mimicry and Abigail’s game of pretend.
  • Dramatic irony – This is when the audience knows something that the characters do not. In this case, the audience knows that the girls are playing and Abigail is manipulating everybody.

Now, we’ll look at how these techniques develop meaning.

 

Step 3: Understand how the techniques represent the meaning

Now we must see how these techniques represent these ideas.

Stage direction

Miller’s stage directions are very specific and are especially useful for understanding the girl’s pantomime act and game of mimicry.

Consider:

Abigail: [looking up] Look out! She’s coming down![She and all the girls run to one wall, shielding their eyes. And now, as though cornered, they let out a gigantic scream, and MARY, as though infected, opens her mouth and screams with them. Gradually ABIGAIL and the girls leave off, until only MARY is left there, staring up at the ‘bird’, screaming madly. All watch her, horrified by this evident fit. Proctor strides to her.]

In the above extract, we are shown Abigail’s performance and Mary Warren’s fearful and terrified response to it. This shows how individual bravery can collapse, and a desire for self-preservation takes hold, when an individual is ostracised and threatened by their community. Mary Warren is pitted against Abigail. Mary Warren wants to do the right thing and absolve herself of the complicity in Abigail’s accusation of Elizabeth, Abigail wants revenge and to protect herself.

As Abigail is victorious in her actions, Abigail’s childish game emotionally and spiritually breaks Mary Warren in an evocative and distressing way as she is ” left there, staring up at the ‘bird’, screaming madly.”

The confrontation between Proctor and Mary that follows illustrates how Mary has changed sides, winning them over:

Proctor: Mary, tell the Governor what they – [He has hardly got a word out, when, seeing
him coming for her, she rushes out of his reach, screaming in horror]

Mary Warren: Don’t touch me – don’t touch me! [At which the girls halt at the door.]

Mary’s actions imitate the pantomime put on by the girls. The girls stopping by the door symbolises how they perceive that Mary has changed sides.

We can also see Proctor’s realisation that he is defeated here:

Proctor: [numbed] Mary, how – ?

The simple direction, “[numbed]”, demonstrates how is defeated and confused. The ellipsis as he trails of asking “how – ?” compounds this.

Abigail has succeeded and he has lost.

Her victory is reflected in Abigail’s actions:

[They all watch, as ABIGAIL, out of her infinite charity, reaches out and draws the sobbing MARY to her, and then looks up to DANFORTH.]

Her embrace of Mary is theatrical, and Miller’s description of her “infinite charity” captures this with a sarcastic tone. Her look to Danforth shows the audience who really has the power in the courtroom as she is clearly challenging his authority.

Dramatic Irony

This is a powerful way to develop tension as the audience can guess what is going to occur. The girls pretend to see a bird on the rafters and claim it is Mary Warren’s familiar – visible to only them. We, the audience, know they are lying and also know that the girls’ position is based on a series of successive lies and deceptions.

Thus, the scene unfolds like a slow-motion car crash, the audience knows the consequences and outcomes of the girls’ actions and are frustrated by Danforth and Parris’ willful naivete, and cannot help but watch the tragedy unfold on stage. As everybody is hood-winked by Abigail’s last-ditch ruse, Proctor’s fate is sealed.

This demonstrates how an individual’s desire to do the right and noble thing can be thwarted by those with bad intentions.

But there is also an important piece of irony here. In many ways, Proctor only has himself to blame.

If he’d been honest and forthright at the start, and not so fearful of being marked as an adulterer, he could have avoided the whole situation.

Abigail’s victory is embodied in her final look up to Danforth.

 

Step 4. Connecting the analysis to the Module

What does this mean for students of the Common Module?

In this passage, we have the individual experience being counterposed to that of the community. We gain insight into the individual experiences of Abigail, Proctor, and Mary Warren. We can especially feel for Mary Warren who is being used as a pawn by both Abigail and Proctor.

In addition, we can see the “anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies” of human behaviour and motivation as all of these characters act in ways that are contrary to their own interests, desires, and stated values.

Let’s look this in a table:

CharacterConnection to Common Module
Proctor
  • Is a moral man. Parris dislikes him because of this rigid morality.
  • Proctor’s hamartia (his fatal flaw) is his pride. He won’t damage his reputation unless he absolutely must.
  • His affair with Abigail is inconsistent with his values.
  • His refusal to admit it is paradoxical with his noble aims and belief in moral actions.
  • His reluctance to be truthful and pride in his good name threatens the whole town.
Abigail
  • Is in love with Proctor.
  • Is committed to her lies to save her skin.
  • Wants to get rid of Elizabeth, even though it means she won’t have Proctor. THis is paradoxical.
  • Is willing to see Proctor killed, this is inconsistent with her desire for him.
Mary Warren
  • Wants to do the right thing.
  • Is scared by Abigail.
  • Likes Elizabeth.
  • Her fear of Abigail outweighs her compassion for Elizabeth and Proctor.
  • Her actions are driven by:
    • The emotion of fear driven by the threat of death
    • The peer pressure from the girls
    • Affection for Elizabeth and Proctor

Now we need to combine these connections with the Module to the example and the technique being used.

 

Step 5: How to discuss the evidence and ideas

Now we know what is being represented – the defeat of individuals’ noble aims by a corrupted community – and how it is being represented – stage direction and dramatic irony – we need to discuss our understanding of the text in a way that satisfies the concerns of the module and is supported by evidence. While we’ve discussed quite a lot of things to frame what’s happening in the extract and how it connects to the module, we’ll only focus on one example to illustrate how to discuss things to keep things concise.

We will use a T.E.E.L structure that Matrix students are taught to use in their Band 6 responses to present our evidence and discussion of it:

English-Blog-TEEL-structure

The link is particularly important as it connects the technique and thing represented back to the concerns of the module.

Let’s look at a band 6 example of this kind of analysis:

Miller employs stage direction and dramatic irony to present the complexities, paradoxes and inconsistencies within Mary Warren and Abigail’s actions. Mary Warren attempts to do the moral thing by acting as a witness to Abigail’s lies and frauds, but Abigail’s independence and ethical stand are pitted against the collective pressure of Abigail and the other girls. Miller’s stage directions, “[they let out a gigantic scream, and MARY, as though infected, opens her mouth and screams with them. Gradually ABIGAIL and the girls leave off, until only MARY is left there, staring up at the ‘bird’, screaming madly]”, illustrate how the peer pressure and threat of isolation drive Mary Warren to act in a manner that is inconsistent with morality. The dramatic irony, as we are aware of the girls’ deception and desire for self-preservation, develops significant tension and reflects the consequences that individuals face if they value their anomalous individual morals and attitudes over those of their peers. In the end, the combination of peer pressure and fear threaten Mary Warren with isolation and the threat of death to the point that she has a visible and distressing breakdown.

Download an annotated Band 6 response

Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012. He is the editor of the popular Matrix blog.

 

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