This story is about witches. It takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Salem was a town where the people were Puritans and really strict. You would be arrested for acting at all strange or different. Tons of things were considered witchy things, singing some song, being sexy, wearing freaky clothes, being smart, or anything that didnít fit in with the typical way of life. The play is about hunting for witches, but itís also about being chased down for being your own person. Arthur Miller wrote this during the 1950ís. The big action in this book is witch-hunting. Keep in mind that when the book was written there was a big hunt in the USA for people who were communists. Arthur Miller was involved with some commies. So he wrote this book about being hunted down for whatever it is you believe or do, whether itís chant out loud or are part of some political party.
John Proctor: John is a really cool guy. Everyone in Salem likes him. Heís an honest farmerÖ almost too honest. His lives a moral life, except for his big sin which was cheating on his wife. His enemy is Rev. Parris.
Elizabeth Proctor: Elizabeth is an okay wife. Sheís still a little mad at John because he cheated on her. Throughout this book sheís jealous, and a bit obsessive, but sheís also brave and smart.
Abigail Williams: Abigail is a bitch. She is the leader of the witches. She organized the big witch dance. She is mad at Elizabeth Proctor because after John and Abigail got it on, John kicked her out and stuck with Elizabeth. So Abigail is jealous and wants to kick Elizabethís ass. She lies a lot and does evil stuff.
Mary Warren: Mary doesnít have a strong will. Sheís afraid of Abigail, and sheís afraid of being killed because she is a witch. She is a good person, but not very bright.
Ruth Putnam: Witchy chick.
Betty Parris: The Reverendís daughter, sheís a witch.
Reverend John Hale: Hale is a smart dude. Heís an expert on the subject of witchcraft. Heís a little cocky about how smart he is. He comes to help the town of Salem with their witch problem but screws everything up.
Reverend Samuel Parris: He is not a nice guy. Greedy and mean, he hates John Proctor. He will do anything to help himself. His daughter, Betty, is a witch, and his niece is Abigail is the mean witch. She takes his money in the end and he ends up poor.
Deputy Governor Danforth: Heís a powerful man in the justice system. He decides who gets executed. Heís pretty strict about rules and stuff
Rebecca Nurse: No, sheís not a nurse. Rebecca is a cool gal, and everyone likes her. Everyone is surprised when they find out sheís a witch.
Tituba: Black slave of Rev. Parris.
Giles Corey: Giles is a jerky old man. He dies in the end.
This story takes place in Salem, MA in 1692. It starts out with the whole town in a frenzy. Betty, the daughter of Rev. Samuel Parris, is in some sort of coma, and Ruth, the Putnamís daughter, is walking around in a trance. The night before, Rev. Parris heard some noise in the woods. When he went to see what it was, he found his black slave (Tituba) dancing around a big black cauldron (one of those big witch cooking pots). She was dancing with some other girls, including Betty and Ruth. When Rev. Parris tried to go near them, everyone took off except for Betty, who passed out.
Everyone thinks Bettyís in a coma because of witchcraft. Rev. Parris doesnít want to think that but he calls for some witch expert dude. He gets Rev. John Hale from some town called Beverly. Hale tries to wake Betty up but he canít. Then the book talks about how some people in Salem donít believe in witchcraft, and they think itís just girls being stupid. One of the non-believers is John Proctor. His servant was with the girls when they were dancing.
Then Tituba spills the beans and tells Hale that they were dancing to communicate with the dead. Then she starts naming everyone who was dancing around the cauldron. Then this chick named Abigail (who was one of the witch dancers) also starts giving names. Then Betty wakes up and she starts telling names. So then they get the names of all these chicks and they arrest fourteen girls who are witches. The townspeople arrange to have a trial in court. John Proctor is scared because Abigail is like the leader of the group. She used to be his servant, and when his wife (Elizabeth Proctor) got sick, he cheated on her and did it with Abigail. But he felt really bad and apologized to his wife and kicked Abigail out of his house. He is afraid that Abigail will do something for revenge. But he remembers that he doesnít believe in witchcraft so he goes to the court to badmouth her. But then Johnís wife gets arrested because Abigail tells everyone that she (Elizabeth) is a witch.
The whole town is paranoid and crazy and a lot of people are arrested because people think they are witches. John Proctor brings his servant, Mary Warren, to the court to tell everyone that the whole witch thing is fake. The judges ask for proof, and John tells them about his affair with Abigail. They ask his wife about it but she denies it because she doesnít want to poop on his good name. Then Abigail rats out Mary Warren as being a witch. Mary turns on John and tells the court that her and Johnís whole thing about witchcraft being bull is not true. She tells the judges that he forced her to say that. Then John gets arrested.
Eleven Witches are hanged. Then the day John Proctor is supposed to be hanged, Rev. Hale has returned to see him. Rev. Hale is the only one who thinks John is innocent (he IS innocent). Rev. Hale tries to get the other prisoners to confess to something (even though they didnít do anything wrong). If they confess, they wonít die. Then Abigail escapes and steals her uncleís money. Then some rumors go around about how the witches might be innocent. This scares the judges because then they would have killed eleven innocent people. The judges try to get John Proctor to confess (even though it would be a lie, since he didnít do anything wrong). They get his wife to try and make him confess. So Proctor confesses, but then realizes what the hell is going on, and he doesnít want to lie just to help out the judges. So he tears up the confession and chooses to be killed.
ACT BY ACT/SCENE BY SCENE
- Betty Parris is sick and people around her worried.
- Tituba comes in to see if Betty is going to die.
- Rev. Parris, bettyís dad, doesnít want to think that this might be because of witchcraft. But he sends out for Rev. Hale (witchcraft expert) anyway.
- Parris doesnít want people to find out about his daughter because he doesnít want to look like a putz in the town.
- Abigail (Rev.ís niece) tells him that she was dancing with Tituba and some other chicks. They were dancing around a big cauldron.
- All Rev. Parris cares about is his own good name in the community. He tells Abigail that it doesnít matter if she confesses, people will see her as dirty anyway.
- Parris tells Abigail that John Proctorís wife, Elizabeth, doesnít come to church because Abigail slept with John Proctor..
- Abigail defends herself and calls Elizabeth a stinking liar.
- The Putnam family comes to the Rev. and tells him that their daughter, Ruth, has been acting weird too, and is sick.
- The Putnams say that they sent their daughter to go see Tituba and to do some witchcraft stuff and communicate with their dead relatives.
- The Putnams tells Rev. Parris that they think it is witchcraft because Ruth is walking around like she is possessed (probably by spirits of dead people).
- Abigail is scared because all the witches could get in trouble now so she makes sure everyone tells the same story.
- Mary Warren (Proctorís servant) is scared and is ready to confess everything, but Abigail stops her.
- Then Betty Parris wakes up.
- Betty yells at Abigail because Abigail drank blood at the witchdance to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor.
- Abigail punches Betty to shut her up and that sheíll kill her if she says anything to anyone.
- John Proctor looks for Mary Warren. He canít find her, so he talks with Abigail alone.
- He asks her about the witchcraft and she lies and tells him that some girls were just dancing last night.
- Abigail flirts with John and tries to get him to tell her he loves her. He never does.
- The girls really did do some witchy stuff. Also, Abigail hates Elizabeth because she has John.
- Betty screams because someone sings a religious song and she doesnít want to hear the lordís name. Everyone then thinks sheís a witch because she hates the lord.
- Then John Proctor gets mad at Rev. Parris because he sent for a witchcraft expert (Hale) before talking to people in the town.
- Then Rev. Parris gets mad at John for not going to church.
- John tells him that he doesnít come to church because the Rev. is greedy and never talks about God.
- The Rev. John Hale comes into town.
- John Proctor says he doesnít believe in witchcraft and he takes off. Rebecca Nurse leaves for the same reason.
- Everyoneís in Bettyís bedroom, waiting for her to do something that will show Hale that she is a witch.
- Hale talks to Betty to try and get the truth. Then he asks Abigail about the witch-dance. Abigail does a bitchy thing and tells them to ask Tituba (Rev. Parrisí slave).
- So they ask Tituba and tell her that if she denies that she did some voodoo magic, she will be killed. But if she tells the truth and confesses she will go to jail. So basically... Tituba is trapped.
- Tituba confesses. Then she talks some crap about her master, Rev. Parris.
- Then Abigail confesses and starts naming names of some other chicks who were out dancing and doing witchcraft.
- Abigail sees this as an opportunity to get revenge on people. She could name them as witches and everyone will believe her because she is "confessing."
- Hale is happy because the witches have been revealed. He calls for the cops to arrest them all.
- John Proctor has dinner with his wife at home and they talk.
- She asks him why heís late and he lies. She is kinda suspicious about him. She thinks heís off doing it with Abigail.
- So Elizabeth gets on his case. She asks him to go tell people that the witchcraft stuff is stupid (like a test to see if heíll make Abigail look bad).
- He gets mad at her for still harping on the fact that he slept with Abigail a long time ago.
- Mary Warren returns to the Proctor house (because sheís the servant). She gives Elizabeth some doll she made. It is a voodoo doll. Mary Warren sticks a needle in the stomach of the doll.
- Mary tells the Proctors about who is to be hanged and who is not. Then she tells Elizabeth Proctor that she defended her and told the people that she was not a witch.
- John gets pissed because Mary is supposed to be at home, not out doing witch stuff. He wants to whip her but she tells him that she is now in the custody of the court (as a suspect) and she canít be whipped.
- John realizes that Abigail is gonna get revenge on Elizabeth by telling everyone that Elizabeth is a witch.
- Elizabeth and John talk about what theyíre gonna do. They both know that Abigail still loves John. So Elizabeth tells John that heís gotta go tell her that they will never ever hook up again.
- Elizabeth wants him to do this for two reasons: To save her hide so Abigail wonít try and get her arrested and to see if John really has no feelings for Abigail and would say those bad things to her face.
- The story goes back to Rev. Hale. He is kinda upset because all these supposed "witches" are being executed by the law.
- He is nervous because he hopes that they really are witches otherwise they were killed for no reason. He goes to Johnís house.
- Hale is little suspicious of John Proctor because John isnít very religious. His son isnít baptized and John canít recite the 10 commandments. But Hale makes him to do it and he says them all except for that one about adultery.
- Hale asks John some questions. John tells him that Abigail told him that the witchcraft has nothing to do with the kidsí weird behavior. Then he tells Hale that he doesnít believe in witchcraft. This shocks Hale because his life is dedicated to witchcraft.
- Hale thinks that John is a witch because a witch would say that there is no such thing as witchcraft, just to save their own ass.
- Giles Corey (old dude) and Francis Nurse (Rebeccaís husband) come and tell people that their wives have been arrested.
- The whole town is out of control because innocent people are getting called witches and arrested.
- Those two chicks were arrested because their accusers wanted revenge on them
- Then the cops go to Elizabeth Proctorís house. They find that she has a doll -- the one that Mary Warren gave her.
- The cops think it is a voodoo doll so they arrest her for being a witch.
- Abigail did this because she wanted revenge on Elizabeth.
- Hale is a little doubtful that all of the women accused really are witches. He questions Mary Warren about the voodoo doll. He canít see why Elizabeth would have a voodoo doll and want to kill someone.
- Mary is Elizabethís last chance to become innocent.
- John is pissed that Elizabeth is under arrest. He goes to town to charge Abigail with murder.
- Now everyone might find out that he slept with Abigail behind his wifeís back, but he doesnít care because heís ready for his punishment.
- In the courtroom, the big witch trial has started.
- There are two sides: the people who were accused of being witches (John Proctor, his wife, etc.) and the accusers (Rev. Parris, etc.).
- Proctor has a tough job defending himself because he has to prove that the court is wrong.
- If the court is wrong, they murdered some innocent people, and they donít want to look like jackasses.
- Deputy Governor Danforth is the judge. He questions Proctor and finds out what kind of man he is before he hears the case.
- Danforth is presiding over the trial and so is Judge Hathorne.
- Giles Corey testifies for his wife (she was accused of being a witch).
- Giles feels guilty because he tells the court that she was reading some books.
- The court thinks that she read the books to learn how to put a curse on someone. They think she put a curse on the Walcottís pigs.
- Francis Nurse testifies and defends his wife.
- Judge Hathorne gets pissed because they are denying everything. He wants to have Giles and Francis arrested.
- Proctor has Mary Warren testify for the defense.
- John says that the kids are lying about the witch stuff. This makes the judge nervous because if John is right, then the judge has killed a lot of innocent people.
- Even though the judge has a lot to lose, he lets John speak and gives him a fair trial.
- John Proctor presents his case. He has three depositions (statements) to offer for evidence.
- The first statement is a signed petition. It goes bust because everyone that signs it gets arrested.
- The second statement comes from Giles Corey. He tells the judge that Tom Putnam is a greedy bastard and wants a lot of land. Tom Putnam comes in and says that he is not greedy.
- Then Giles gets scared because of what happened to the people from the first statement. He does not tell anyone who told him the dirt on Putnam because he doesnít want to get arrested.
- Then the story goes back to Rev. Hale. He has changed sides and is now supporting John Proctor and his side.
- Mary Warren is the third part of John Proctorís defense. John tells her what to say, and tells her that she has support. He wants her to tell the judge how this witchcraft stuff is all bull.
- She is scared because she doesnít think anyone will believe her since she lied about who was a witch earlier.
- Danforth brings in four of the witches, led by Abigail.
- Abigail says that Mary is lying. The judge wonders how Mary could be "pretending" to be a witch earlier. He asks her to demonstrate this "pretending" for the court. She canít.
- Danforth questions Abigail and then Abigail argues with him. Then she acts like a witch, so people will think she really is a witch because she needs them to believe that witchcraft exists so she can get Elizabeth Proctor arrested.
- John Proctor gets pissed because he knows Abigail is just pretending. So he jumps up and calls her a dirty whore. Then everyone finds out that John had sex with Abigail.
- Danforth sends for Elizabeth Proctor.
- Elizabeth Proctor comes to the court.
- Danforth asks her about Johnís affair and Elizabeth tells him that he never had an affair. She lies to protect her husbandís good name. Really sheís making a mistake because he admitted it... but not her fault since she didnít know that.
- Danforth sees that she is a liar and now he thinks she is a witch because if she lied about her husbandís sex life, she probably lied about not being a witch.
- Johnís accusations are thrown out, and Elizabeth is taken back to prison. Abigail is happy because she wins, and the court thinks that witchcraft exists.
- Mary is sad because John is now an idiot in the eyes of the law.
- Then Mary goes bonkers and starts acting like a witch. She yells at John because she thinks heís the devil. She is a traitor.
- Then John gives some long speech about how all of this witch hunt stuff was his fault and how he should have stopped it a long time ago.
- Two witches (one is Tituba) are taken out of their prison cell in the middle of the night.
- The guard takes them somewhere. They hear a cow mooing, and they think itís the devil, but the guard yells at them and tells them it is just a plain old cow.
- Judges Hathorne and Danforth come to the prison with their assistant, Cheever.
- They find out that Rev. Hale badmouthed the court system. He went somewhere, then returned back to Salem.
- They also find out that Rev. Parris is going nuts.
- Rev. Parris comes in. He says that Rev. Hale is praying with the witches and telling them to confess. If they confess, they live. If they deny, they will be hanged.
- Rev. Parris tells Hathorne and Danforth that Abigail escaped and stole all of his money -- she hopped on some boat and took off with some other witch.
- Then Rev. Parris talks about some other town (Andover) and that the town is in some sort of riot over killing witches. Rev. Parris is scared that Salem will riot too.
- Rev. Hale comes to the prison and asks Danforth to delay the execution. He wants it delayed because he hasnít gotten the witches to confess, and he needs more time.
- They want a confession because then people will think that witchcraft is real, and the judges wonít look like they killed innocent people.
- They go get Elizabeth Proctor to try and get her husband to confess.
- Rev. Hale asks Elizabeth to get her husband to confess. He feels bad asking her to tell him to lie since John didnít do anything wrong.
- Elizabeth cares more about seeing her husband and telling him that sheís pregnant.
- Elizabeth talks to John about confessing. He says he will because everyone is innocent and he doesnít want to die.
- He also says that lying in this case isnít bad because the situation sucked to begin with.
- He tries to convince Elizabeth that what heís doing is a good thing.
- He kinda wants her approval and she wonít give it to him. Sheís more concerned about what he thinks about himself. Then she tells him that she forgives him for having an affair, and that she loves him.
- She apologizes for being a bad wife.
- She tells him that whatever decision he makes (confess or be killed), she supports him.
- John Proctor tells Hathorne that heíll confess. Hathorne is happy.
- John is confused because he doesnít know if heís making the right decision.
- Everyone (Danforth, Hathorne, Rev. Parris) goes to get to get Johnís confession on paper.
- John is mad because heís giving a false confession to please these people.
- The book then talks about how these people accused of witchcraft are trapped because if they deny the charges, they get killed. If they confess, they live, but go to jail.
- They bring in some other witches to watch John confess. They want to get the other witches to confess, too.
- They ask him to also confess and tell the names of his witch friends. He doesnít do it (because he has no witch friends).
- He signs the confession. John learns that his confession will be posted in the church. Then he gets mad because he doesnít want to ruin his family name.
- He gets really pissed because he is confessing and all his enemies are going to benefit, so he rips up the confession, which means heíll be executed
- Then he kisses his wife goodbye and gets ready for his execution. Heís dying, but at least he can die proud.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
A major theme in this play is the paranoia and hysteria of the witch-hunt and trials.
Sometimes, people are scared by what they donít know or understand. In this case, ignorance lead to accusation.
In the 1950ís, with communism, people would accuse their neighbors of being communist if they didnít like them or they were different. McCarthy was the Senator who led the hunt for "reds" as the communists were called.
If your teacher defends McCarthy for how he acted in the 50ís, you are allowed to call him a fascist.
Another big point in the book is guilt. John Proctor feels guilty because he cheated on his wife. Then she might get killed because he cheated on her (Abigail frames her). So he feels really guilty for all of that. But in the end he makes up for it by sacrificing his own life to save his wifeís life.
The legal system in this story is a crock. Who is to say who is right? They are basing the fact that "witchcraft" is illegal on God and the Bible. Who is to say God is the law?
Think about the male/female relationships in this play. Miller sometimes is accused himself of being misogynistic (against women). How are the females treated by the males? Isnít is sad how badly the women treat the other women? Why canít we all just get along?