The Crucible is a film that dramatizes real-life events that took place in Salem where people accused as witches became subjects of mass executions. In the film, characters, who depict the real persons of the time, accuse others of witchcraft, an act that initiates a series of executions and false confessions. In the film, those, who confessed to being witches, were freed, and their overall respect decreased.
On the other hand, those, who refused to confess to the false accusations of witchcraft, became subjects of executions such as hanging. Film The Crucible depicts Salem witch trials that took place in Salem in 1692; even though the events in the movie are historical, they are shown with several inaccuracies such as partly fictional plot and setting of the story, names and age of some characters, the rituals they practiced, and time of the year when the events revolved.
The Crucible, released in 1996 and directed by Nicholas Hytner attempts to recreate the dramatic and horrifying historical facts for which Salem, Massachusetts is the best known – the hysteria around some individuals’ suspected involvement in witchcraft. The film is based on a play written by Arthur Miller (Queen par. 1). It features a group of young women who at the very beginning of the story escape from their homes to participate in an act resembling a voodoo ritual. The girls bring sacrifices such as herbs, frogs, and a chicken to their leader – a black servant called Tituba, who is in charge of all the manipulations.
After their act of occultism is witnessed by one of the girls’ father, the rest of the group becomes scared, and two of its youngest members fall into a strange kind of sleep and cannot be wakened. The incident causes a wave of suspicions and worries. The rumors about the witchcraft in the village spread quickly resulting in the arrival of reverend Hale known as an expert who is able to determine whether or not there are any signs of demonic possession and witchcraft in the village.
Afraid of execution, the girls begin acting as if they were tormented by dark forces and putting the blame on other women. As the list of “witches” grows the accused people have only two options – to “confess” and lose respect in the society or refuse to admit participation in witchcraft and be hanged. The trials result in several innocent victims being subjected to false accusations and executed. At the same time, the person who catalyzed the events, Abigail Williams, decides to flee to Barbados.
From the historical point of view, The Crucible describes a series of notorious events that happened in real life and incorporates actual historical figures. However, even though the names of some of the main characters match those of the real persons, there are a lot of characters who were added to the plot for the sake of its attractiveness to the audience. For instance, the secret affair between Abigail Williams and John Proctor was not a historical fact, and yet in the film it serves as the most important detail of the story.
In The Crucible, the makers provide the beginning of the story of the hysteria around suspected witchcraft evidence and demonic possessions in Salem. The film suggests a point of view on the background of the tragic events that may be recognized as a logical explanation of the madness that revolved in 1692. However, the version of the causes of dramatic events in Salem should not be taken as historical evidence, but as an artistic perspective.
Similarities and Differences
The story shown in The Crucible reflects some of the events of 1692 accurately, but the main plot, as well as the setting, is partly fictional. The film relies on some historical facts and incorporates them into an interesting, captivating, but inaccurate storyline. For example, the geographical aspect of the plot matches the real events of the past as the hysteria around the perceived witchcraft revealed itself in the village of Salem and then moved to the town (Conforti par. 9). The film repeats the true events by showing the rural area where the story revolves, but never mentions the town. This way, one of the inaccuracies of the film is that it fails to present the historical events fully.
Further, the names of the characters repeat those of the people involved in the witch trials, and this aspect of the story is accurate. However, according to the film, the first two girls to cause the wave of suspicions are Betty and Ruth; in reality, their names were Betty and Abigail, and they were 9 and 11 years old responsively (Conforti par. 2). In the film, Abigail is the main character, and she is portrayed by Winona Ryder. This character is clearly older than 11 as she has an affair with a married man.
Moreover, the historical evidence maintains that the person who facilitated the young girls’ interest in magic was Tituba, the slave woman (Petry par. 4). As a foreigner in America, she entertained her owner’s child and her cousin with tales about Barbados where she was originally from. The acts of witchcraft mentioned historically were fortunetelling and hand reading that happened in the house of Samuel Parris (Petry par. 4; Queen par. 2). These details are not mentioned in the film. Instead, the group of girls is seen conjuring a love spell, sacrificing animals to the fire, and dancing naked. This inaccuracy of the film is deliberate as it contributes to the overall impression of frustration of young women in a suppressive Puritan culture.
At the same time, historically, the events in Salem village occurred in February of 1692, which means that the weather was extremely cold and dancing in the woods accompanied by undressing would not be possible (Kohn par. 2). That way, one may add dates to the list of inaccuracies in The Crucible.
To sum up, in general, the plot of The Crucible is very similar to the real history of Salem witch trials of 1692. However, it is filled with inaccuracies such as the evidence of love affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams, animal sacrifices, and actual proofs of involvement of any of the accused people in witchcraft. Moreover, the story in The Crucible develops much more rapidly than that in historical Salem where the accused individuals were imprisoned for days or even months.
For a person unfamiliar with the actual story of witch trials in Salem, the film could be rather educational, yet it would be better for the audience to have a basic understanding of such events as mass hysteria, resulting from multiple cultural, political, and economic factors, and not caused by a black slave from Barbados fond of occultism and a young girl madly in love with a married man.
Conforti, Joseph. “Salem Witch Trials.” Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History. Facts On File, 2008. American History Online. Web.
Kohn, George Childs. “Salem Witch Trials.” New Encyclopedia of American Scandal. Facts On File, 2001. American History Online. Web.
Petry, Ann. “Tituba.” The Early Years. Facts On File, 1997. American History Online. Web.
Queen, Edward L. “Salem Witch Trials.” Encyclopedia of American Religious History, Third Edition. Facts On File, 2009. American History Online. Web.