The Crucible

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Puritanism and Individuality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Puritanism and Individuality Theme Icon
Hysteria Theme Icon
The Danger of Ideology Theme Icon
Reputation and Integrity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Crucible, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Puritanism and Individuality Theme Icon

Puritan society required that its members follow strict guidelines of social order. These rigid rules of conduct helped the Puritans endure the persecution they faced in Europe and, after they came to America, created a close-knit community able to withstand the harsh weather and Native American attacks common to New England in the 17th century. But communities that focus primarily on social order leave no room for personal freedom. Those who think or act independently are seen as a threat to the community: they must therefore be swiftly stopped or eliminated.

An excessively strict social order also provides no outlet for personal grievances. Over time, unvoiced resentments build up among individuals, primed to explode. The witch trials depicted in The Crucible can be considered an attack against individuality: those accused and convicted of witchcraft were mostly people who prioritized their private thoughts and integrity above the will of the community. The trials provided a legally sanctioned forum for the expression of anger and grievance. If your neighbor once sold you a pig that died soon after you bought it, and that neighbor stands accused of witchcraft, it seems only natural to bring up the dead pig as possible evidence. The trials also gave people like the Putnams the chance to voice their festering bitterness by accusing those whom they had quietly resented for years.

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Puritanism and Individuality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Puritanism and Individuality appears in each act of The Crucible. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Puritanism and Individuality Quotes in The Crucible

Below you will find the important quotes in The Crucible related to the theme of Puritanism and Individuality.
Act 1 Quotes
I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation. Take it to heart, Mr. Parris. There are many others who stay away from church these days because you hardly ever mention God any more.
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Reverend Parris
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

As the villagers wait for the Reverend Hale to arrive and offer guidance on Betty Parris' illness, Mr. Putnam accuses John Proctor of failing to attend Reverend Parris' church services. Proctor, in turn, criticizes the Reverend. Proctor feels that the Reverend's focus on "hellfire and bloody damnation" turns the parishioners away from their personal relationships with God, perverting the proper role of the Church.

Here, John Proctor presents a striking individuality at odds with the strict, communal ideology of Salem's Puritanism. Proctor challenges the church, and, thus the community, since Puritan society was based around the church. Proctor will later say of Reverend Parris, "I see no light of God in that man": Proctor is separated from his community by his determination to define his faith on his own terms, instead of the church's.

Proctor's request of Reverend Parris to "take it to heart" suggests that Proctor genuinely does want to make Salem a stronger, more genuinely faithful community. Even though he responds to his discomfort with the way that Reverend Parris runs the church by staying away as much as he can, Proctor also refuses to be silent and freely shares his views on how to improve Salem and the Puritan church (a habit that will ultimately lead to his arrest and conviction).


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I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet!
Related Characters: Abigail Williams (speaker), John Proctor
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Left alone with John Proctor and the supposedly ailing and unconscious Betty Parris, Abigail reminds Proctor of their past adulterous relationship, insisting that Proctor still loves her. Abigail is furious at Elizabeth Proctor, John's wife, who has ruined Abigail's reputation in the village. Proctor, meanwhile, feels that his personal integrity has been destroyed because of his affair with Abigail and betrayal of Elizabeth, and he is dismissive of Abigail's pleas to return to her. Abigail places no such value on personal integrity; she is willing to make accusations of witchcraft in order to get out of trouble with Reverend Parris for dancing in the woods.

Abigail's speech also reveals that she has taken Proctor's opinions on Salem's hypocrisy and corruption to heart. From Proctor, Abigail has learned to recognize that the power of the Puritan church comes from its stifling of individual ideas that conflict with church doctrine. Abigail's understanding of the church's hypocrisy and paranoia will lead her to see how she can manipulate the church's fears in order to protect herself and to take revenge on the people she hates (like Elizabeth). In this speech, Abigail implies that the accusations of witchcraft she is going to make will be false, and are a calculated manipulation of the people of Salem.

Abigail fuses together her sexual awakening ("John Proctor that took me from my sleep") and her intellectual awakening ("and put knowledge in my heart"), using the Biblical language she is accustomed to (Adam and Eve's first sin was gaining "knowledge," and in the Bible sexual intercourse is often referred to as "knowing" one's spouse). Abigail shifts swiftly back and forth between the "light" of Proctor's love and the "light" of his teaching.

I want to open myself! . . . I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him, I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
Related Characters: Abigail Williams (speaker), Mrs. Osburn, Sarah Good
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Out of fear that she will be hanged, Tituba confesses to making a compact with the Devil and says that she has seen Sarah Good and Goody Osburn with the Devil. In these closing moments of Act 1, Abigail leaps up and offers her own confession: she too has been ensnared by the Devil, but she now accuses a long list of villagers of witchcraft. Betty immediately follows Abigail's lead, offering her own confession and accusations.

This passage shows that Abigail understands the way that Reverend Hale and Reverend Parris will carry out their investigations: anyone suspected of dealing with the Devil can simply confess, make another accusation of witchcraft, and automatically be "cleansed." The community's hysteria and mob mentality ensure that Abigail and all her friends will be believed.

In this moment, Abigail chooses to protect her reputation over her integrity, preferring to send the women she names to their deaths rather than face the consequences of her misbehavior. Abigail's accusations here also introduce the ripple effect that her actions will have throughout the play: as soon as she begins to make these claims, Betty Parris and the other girls do, as well, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the innocent to argue against the mounting hysteria and the testimonies of the "victims" of witchcraft in Salem.

Act 2 Quotes
I like it not that Mr. Parris should lay his hand upon my baby. I see no light of God in that man. I'll not conceal it.
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Reverend Parris
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Reverend Hale arrives at the Proctor home, as he has decided to visit each of the villagers who has been named in the trials. Hale questions John Proctor about the family's inconsistent attendance at church and his failure to have one of his three sons baptized. In John's response he explains that these lapses have nothing to do with an absence of personal faith but with his misgivings about the spiritual leadership of Reverend Parris.

The Puritan community believes that a minister is the instrument of God and, therefore, must be followed and recognized as sanctified. John stands up against this ideology, sure in his own faith and his own individual judgment of Reverend Parris. Unlike the rest of Salem, John is unafraid to share his opinions about the church ("I'll not conceal it") and to separate his own individual faith from the measures of observance prescribed by church leaders.

I'll tell you what's walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant's vengeance! I'll not give my wife to vengeance!
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Elizabeth Proctor
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Cheever, the court clerk, arrives at the Proctor home with a a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. He explains that Elizabeth has been accused of sending her familiar spirit to stab Abigail with a needle. John Proctor protests, tearing the warrant, and demanding to know why no one suspects Abigail of lying: "Is the accuser always holy now?"

In this speech, John stands up to the Puritan court and church, laying bare the weakness and hypocrisy that have led to the warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. The citizens of Salem have always been rather close-minded and ideologically inflexible ("We are what we always were in Salem"), but now they have given into their paranoia, manipulated by Abigail and her band of "little crazy children." John insists that Abigail's accusations—and, therefore, the trials and warrants that result from them—are driven by personal vengeance, not truth.

The stain of vengeance is evident throughout the play. Most obviously, Abigail acts against those who have sullied her reputation or whom she hates, like Elizabeth. Earlier in this scene, we learn that Walcott has accused Martha Corey of witchcraft because she refused to give him his money back for a pig that died from his poor care.

John's sorrow is also driven by his own guilt: the "vengeance" wrought by Abigail upon Elizabeth is the result of John's adulterous affair.

Act 3 Quotes
Do you take it upon yourself to determine what this court shall believe and what it shall set aside? . . . .This is the highest court of the supreme government of this province, do you know it?
Related Characters: Deputy Governor Danforth (speaker), Giles Corey
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Act 3 opens with Giles Corey's interruption of the court proceedings. He wants Deputy Governor Danforth to know that he has evidence of his wife's innocence and that Putnam stands to benefit financially from the trials. In these rebukes of Corey's claims, Danforth asserts the court's power and derides Corey's attempts to provide evidence.

Here, in the dangerous and self-righteous Danforth's first appearance in the play, the corruption of the court is instantly apparent. Danforth refuses to listen to testimonies that contradict the inevitable guilty verdicts. He will ultimately distort and dismantle any arguments that the accusers should be suspected of giving false evidence of their own. Danforth believes that, as Deputy Governor of the state of Massachusetts, he has been selected by God to serve, and that his judgment is necessarily sanctified by heaven. Danforth stands as the ultimate representation of the Puritan ideology, which devalues any individual's beliefs in favor of placating (while also encouraging) the community's fears.

You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God's grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.
Related Characters: Deputy Governor Danforth (speaker), Francis Nurse
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

John Proctor and Francis Nurse have collected 91 signatures of landowners attesting to the good characters of their wives, as well as Martha Corey. Danforth decides that each of the landowners must be questioned, and Francis Nurse expresses despair, saying that he had promised the landowners that they would not be punished for signing the petition. In this speech, Danforth coolly reminds Nurse that the landowners will come to no harm if they have committed no sin.

Danforth speaks, ironically, of the great clarity with which the court now can view and judge the accused: all men and women are either good or evil, and the court can consider every person either with God or with the Devil. "The dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world" has now past, according to Danforth. Even in the midst of the moral murk of the trials, Danforth asserts that telling good and evil apart has never been clearer or easier.

Danforth believes that the Puritan church and its court have been endowed with the great power to judge all people as God himself might. Danforth insists that only people who fear the light of God's grace could question the court's actions. In doing so, he stifles the voices of anyone who would speak out against the court, threatening them with condemnation: again, "a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it."

A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Deputy Governor Danforth
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Danforth tells Mary Warren that she will be hanged unless she confesses so Mary turns on John Proctor, accusing him of having joined with the Devil. Proctor, prompted by Danforth to confess, instead declares that, "God is dead!" He then delivers this speech, in which he holds himself and all the men of the court accountable for giving into their fears, asserting that they will all burn in hell for these sins.

Proctor accuses himself of having failed to reveal the truth of Abigail's manipulations soon enough. He recognizes that Danforth and his followers know that Abigail is a fraud but that they give into hysteria, preferring to protect their reputations as interpreters of God's will rather than confess that they have erred in believing the girls' false testimonies.

Proctor, at last, locates the real "filthy face" of the Devil in Salem. It is found in all the villagers who fear to do the right thing and instead persecute and execute innocent individuals to preserve their power over the community. Danforth, of course, hears this speech as nothing but sacrilegious evidence that Proctor has indeed allied himself with the Devil.

Nowhere else in the play does the playwright's voice speak as strongly, ferociously condemning both the perpetrators of such self-serving, fear-mongering crimes and the bystanders who know the right thing to do but yet stand motionless.

Act 4 Quotes
It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God's most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it . . may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.
Related Characters: Reverend Hale (speaker), Elizabeth Proctor
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

John Proctor has been sentenced to hang unless he confesses to his alliance with the Devil. Reverend Hale, holding himself accountable for John's sentence, pleads with Elizabeth to urge John to confess and save his life.

Reverend Hale's words to Elizabeth reveal a broken minister who has come to doubt everything that he once understood about God's grace and righteousness. He tells Elizabeth that it is better for John to live than to uphold his spiritual integrity and go to the scaffold professing his true innocence. Desperate for John to live, Reverend Hale argues that it may even be a greater sin to die for "pride" than to lie in order to live.

Reverend Hale finally sees how blind adherence to the church has led the Puritans away from God: "Cleave to no faith when faith brings blood," he tells Elizabeth. Reverend Hale asks Elizabeth to do the one thing that she (and, ultimately, John) cannot do: make two wrongs into a right.

I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

John Proctor decides to tear up his confession, and so he will be hung for his failure to admit his union with the Devil. Before he is escorted to the gallows, he delivers this final speech, declaring that he is glad not to have given into pressures to conform with Puritan tyranny, and urging his wife to stand steadfast against the court: "Give them no tear!"

John remains aware of the wrongs he has committed: his adulterous affair with Abigail and his failure to expose Abigail's treachery earlier still plague him. The goodness that he perceives within himself is only a "shred." Still, in his final moments, John chooses to reclaim his integrity, standing in the light rather than giving into the shadowy evil of the Puritan court which would have allowed him to live. At last, Elizabeth can forgive him, and John can forgive himself.