Studying HSC English? Need to do an in-depth analysis of ‘The Crucible’ to craft a Band 6 worthy essay?
Well, you’ve come to the right place!
We’re going to walk you through the key ideas in The Crucible, as well as give you a step-by-step of how to analyse a piece of text from The Crucible.
PLUS we’ll provide you with a sample analysis table (also called a TEE table) and a sample Band 6 paragraph for The Crucible!
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to ace your analysis of The Crucible – let’s go!
Check out our analysis of ‘The Crucible’ below!
What is The Crucible about?
The Crucible takes place in a town called Salem where a girl called Abigail and her friends are found dancing in the woods naked, and are accused of witchcraft. Abigail points the finger at her friends, taking the blame away from herself. This sets off a series of events which leads to mass hysteria and panic in the town and false accusations against many of its members. John Proctor, who previously had an affair with Abigail, takes a stand against the corrupt court system which is making false and illogical allegations of witchcraft. Proctor himself is inevitably accused, and in response, he agrees to confess to his guilt so that he will not be hanged. At the last minute, he changes his mind, choosing to sacrifice his own life, rather than be complicit in a system built on lies.
Context of The Crucible
The Crucible by Arthur Miller is based upon the real life event of the Salem witch trials which took place between February 1692 and May 1693. These trials led to the execution of 20 people and the death of five others (two infants) while in prison.
Miller uses these trials in his play as an allegory for McCarthyism.
McCarthyism refers the false accusations which were made without regard to evidence, against “communists” in America in the 1940s and 1950s.
The McCarthy Era was characterised by accusations towards people in the entertainment industry, academicians, and labour-union activists. Those accused were often asked to make lists of their friends and colleagues who they believed to be communist.
Miller himself was asked to make such a list, but he refused, saying, “I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him.” Miller was subsequently given a fine, a prison sentence, was blacklisted and denied a US passport.
Key Ideas in The Crucible
Now, we’ll walk you through some of the key ideas from ‘The Crucible’ and help you identify their link to ‘human experience’!
The key ideas include:
- The conformity of the masses through mass hysteria and mob psychology
- The importance of the individual and critical thought
- Corrupt power structures
- The use of fear to manipulate others
Remember that now that you are in Year 12, you want to be identifying key ideas more so than themes. Themes are generally one to two words whereas an idea is closer to a thought or sentence.
How The Crucible Links to Texts and Human Experiences
Before you begin your analysis of The Crucible, it’s a good idea to read up on what the Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences is about so you know how to relate to the module in your assessment.
Let’s take a look at the syllabus!
In short, this module is about deepening your understanding of how texts represent the individual and collective human experience. This can include examining how texts represent human qualities and emotions associated with, or arising from human experiences.
You can read more about Texts and Human Experiences in our guide here!
Link #1: Collective human experience of mass hysteria
The Crucible deals with the collective human experience of Mass hysteria. This is closely related to the human emotion of fear.
Mass hysteria refers to the ways in which a group of people perceive a great threat in society through rumours or fear.
In the Crucible, the people of Salem become irrationally afraid of witches in their midst, leading to the false accusations and subsequent executions of a number of people in the town.
Mass hysteria is also seen through examples of mob psychology.
Mob psychology is a process by which people lose their individuality and their perspectives and beliefs are altered by a crowd.
This is seen particularly in Act 3 when Abigail convinces the girls in the courtroom that there is a yellow bird above them preparing to attack. We are told all the girls scream and shield their eyes, although the audience can see that the bird is imagined.
Miller suggests that mass hysteria and mob psychology are dangerous human emotions and experiences because they stifle truth.
Link #2: Paradoxical characters
The Crucible is full of paradoxical characters, making it easy to discuss anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations.
A paradoxical character is a character whose actions are seemingly absurd or contradictory.
Abigail is paradoxical as she is both a victim and a perpetrator. We all know that Abigail is a perpetrator, as she her lies act as the driving force which leads to all of the false accusations and imprisonments in the town. However, her character is not entirely one dimensional, as she is also a victim of John Proctor’s love and subsequent rejection, her uncle Parris who makes her feel worthless and the patriarchal and theocratic society which she lives in.
John Proctor’s complex morality also makes him a paradoxical character. His immorality is highlighted throughout the play through his adultery and poor treatment of Mary Warren. However, in contrast, he becomes the moral exemplar of the text when he chooses to sacrifice himself in order to be truthful and challenge the corrupt theocracy of the court.
Finally, the behaviours and actions of the paranoid townspeople is self-contradictory in that their self-preservation ultimately endangers them. People in town of Salem are quick to falsely accuse their neighbours in order to avoid being accused themselves. However, this creates a culture in which lies thrive and no one is safe from the accusations which, rumours and paranoia that permeate society, ultimately making their “self-preserving accusations” self-defeating.
Link #3: The anomaly of pursuing truth rather than self-preservation
John Proctor is an anomaly in the town of Salem, in that the natural human response to fear is to act in a way that seems to preserve oneself, even if it endangers society. Proctor, instead of conforming to the paranoia of the town, refuses to falsely accuse his neighbours. This culminates at the end of the play, when Proctor has been convinced to falsely sign his name, admitting his own guilt, saving his life, but condemning himself by lying. Proctor, at the last minute changes his mind, deciding that telling the truth is more important than saving his own life.
A similar situation occurs with Giles, who is stoned to death for choosing to stand up for the truth, rather than conform to mass hysteria and false accusations. These actions by Giles and Proctor can be interpreted by an audience in two ways. Firstly, it might suggest the futility in standing up for what is right, as these actions merely led to the deaths of characters. On the other hand, Miller may be suggesting that a person always has the choice to do the right thing, and that ultimate goodness is to sacrifice one’s life for goodness and truth. The best essay responses will involve a student making their own interpretation of these characters’ deaths, and arguing their interpretation convincingly.
How to Analyse The Crucible in 4 Steps
Often students will try to start with their thesis when trying to answer an essay question. Instead, start with your analysis! You need to equip yourself with the knowledge of your text before you can answer anything about it.
After you’ve analysed your text, you can draw ideas from it, then you can build your thesis!
We’re going to walk you through an how to analyse a piece of evidence from The Crucible within the theme of individuality in 3 steps using the passage below!
Step 1: Choose your example
As we’ve chosen to analyse the idea of individuality and critical thought, it’s important we choose an example that is relevant to it!
That’s why we’ve chosen the quote below:
“[Mary Warren] and all the girls run to one wall, shielding their eyes . . . they let out a gigantic scream.”
Step 2: Identify techniques
When trying to find a technique within your example, it’s not about finding the fanciest technique or just any old technique for that matter!
It’s about identifying a technique which will enable you to say something about your idea that’s interesting and can contribute to your argument and analysis.
For example, in this excerpt, stage direction is a technique but it doesn’t contribute to an idea or your analysis, therefore you should look for a stronger technique.
We’ve identified synecdoche and heightened emotions as useful techniques in this passage:
- Synecdoche: a literary device in which a part of something represents the whole, or it may use a whole to represent a part.
- Heightened emotions:
If you need to brush up on your literary techniques, check out this cheat sheet of literary techniques to help you analyse The Crucible here!
Step 3: Carry out your analysis
Now that you’ve identified your techniques, you need to conduct some analysis!
Did you know the key to good analysis is starting with a technique? You focus on the technique and identify what it reveals about an idea.
Good analysis involves using a technique to say something in addition to what the quote says.
Bad analysis is using a technique to restate what happened in the quote.
It usually sounds something like this: “Therefore [technique] shows [your idea]”, without going into any real depth.
So, what do the techniques of synecdoche and heightened emotion reveal about The Crucible in this passage?
Through synecdoche, the eyes represent the whole – the eyes show how the girls can’t see the truth and aren’t thinking for themselves.
The girls are making a choice to not look and therefore give up their individuality.
The decision to close your eyes means you’re choosing to not see things critically, you think how everyone else is thinking, not based off the fact of what you see in front of you.
Heightened emotion can be used to show how easily humans can be manipulated by emotions into doing what people tell them what to do.
Mob psychology is what brings everyone together such that they lose their individuality.
Mob psychology: once you tend to be in a group, there’s a bandwagon effect. When one person does something, you go with it within a group out of fear of being different!
Now, let’s organise our analysis by placing it in a TEE table like below!
What’s a TEE table?
The TEE in TEE table stands for Technique, Example and Effect. They’re a great tool you can use to analyse your text.
All you have to do is include your pieces of evidence under ‘example’ then identify the technique in the ‘technique’ column and carry out your analysis.
If you’re analysing a few themes, it’s a good idea to have a separate TEE table per theme. For example, for The Crucible, you may want to keep all your pieces of evidence that relate to individuality in one table.
For more info on what a TEE table is and how to use one to boost your analysis of an HSC text, check out this article here!
Step 4: Link to the question
Finally, it is important to establish that we do not recommend fully memorising an essay paragraph like this to go into your exam. Your analysis, examples and ideas will always change based on the essay question.
However, it is helpful to have paragraph plans like this one which you can use to answer an essay question if the ideas fit.
This paragraph could not be used directly to answer the 2019 HSC question, “To what extent does the exploration of human experience in The Crucible invite you to reconsider your understanding of love?” Some of the ideas from it, however could be used.
You could talk say something like, “The hypocrisy of judicial and religious leaders in professing their love for God, allows one to reconsider the authenticity of love.”
You could then go on to talk about how it was the hypocritical ways in which Danforth and Paris talk about the love of God that is used to manipulate society into conforming. In contrast, you could discuss that Proctor has a genuine love for morality.
So there you have it guys! That’s the step by step to crafting your analysis.
Sample Band 6 Paragraph and Analysed Examples
We’ve analysed another two examples using TEE tables that relate to the theme of individuality in The Crucible that you can access below!
We’ve also got a sample Band 6 paragraph that you can read over in our downloadable guide below!
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Brooklyn Arnot has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature with Honours at the University of Sydney. She scored an HD average and has even received the Dean’s award for excellence! Brooklyn teaches our English classes at Art of Smart and has over 5 years of experience supporting Year 11 and 12 students throughout their HSC. She’s also a new Syllabus expert and studied 4U English in high school.