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The Crucible

Arthur Miller

Theme: When Fear Drives Mass Hysteria
Grades: Grades 10-11

The Crucible, a historical drama, reflects examples of how a dogmatic society's mistrust of nonconformity can result in injustice. As witchcraft accusations fly in Puritan New England, John Proctor must choose between his own personal safety and the truth.

  1. Writing Assignment: Fear.
    Fear plays an important role in the play students are about to read. Have students make a two-column chart of examples of people acting from fears that are justified and fears that are irrational.
  1. Linking to Today: Mass Hysteria.
    Help students explore their views on issues and events that can lead people to act irrationally, even self-destructively. Stimulate discussion by bringing up such current topics as HIV and other deadly viruses. Ask them if most people's fears of AIDS are based more on fact or on rumor. Can a person with AIDS be in any way compared to a person persecuted as a witch in colonial America? Encourage students to reevaluate their arguments as they read The Crucible.
  1. Editorialize.
    Have students write a newspaper editorial in which they discuss what happened in Salem more than 300 years ago and what lessons the United States can still learn from those events.

  1. Debate.
    Abigail is usually seen as the originator of most of the accusations of witchcraft in Salem. Yet some readers have seen her character as a victim of the Puritan society against which she rebels. Poll students, and divide them into two panels according to how they feel about this issue. Have students engage in a debate, using specific incidents from the play to defend their postition.
  1. The Ministers.
    Much of the history of colonial Massachusetts was dominated by great ministers like Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewall who controlled the religious and political affairs of the colony for may years. Have students write a biography based on research into the life and work of one of these prominent ministers.

  2. What Happened After?
    Have students research what happened to the accusers after the hysteria of the witch trials had passed. Instruct them to pick one accuser, and write a short biography.