The Crucible is one of the most studied works in high school literature classes. It is an allegory that helps us to understand the irrational nature of mob rule and the dangers of jumping to conclusions without evidence. It also illustrates how desire can affect people’s moral choices. The story of John Proctor is a powerful example. He is driven to protect the lives of his wife and children from a malicious accusation, but in doing so he sacrifices his own integrity. He is willing to lose everything for love, but his desire turns against him in the end. This is a lesson that all students should be reminded of.
Nicholas Hytner’s movie version of Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials is grim but effective. It uses a limited set to create the feel of an intense drama. Its cast is terrific, with Winona Ryder proving that she can act as well in this genre as she did in more comedic roles. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a performance that is solid and even-toned, while Joan Allen displays Protestant righteousness.
Educators can use The Crucible in a number of ways to enhance student learning and encourage discussion about the themes in the play. It can be used to help students understand the McCarthy era and examine propaganda, hearsay, and fake news. It can also be used to encourage students to think about the ways that their own desires might affect the decisions they make. It can also be a starting point for conversations about the way that canonical works often center white, Christian, male perspectives and how these can lead to problematic caricatures of people from other communities (such as the depiction of Tituba, an enslaved woman) and the resulting injustices.