Crucible Project


In literary works, irony is not just a sentence or a group of words; it is in fact a tool utilized by the author to indirectly enhance a character. In writing The Crucible, Arthur Miller employs three major types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic irony. The irony is used to illustrate a point, to add suspense and keep a reader interested in the author’s work, or to show a character’s ignorance. Miller displays much of his irony through the characters’ dialogue, and on occasion, shows the situational irony through an action.


Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the “speaker intends to be understood as meaning something that contrasts with the literal or usual meaning of what he says.”[1] There is much verbal irony in this play. One example of this is when John Proctor says “Good. Then her saintliness is done with”[2], mentioning Abigail. However, Proctor does not actually believe that Abigail is a saint. She, in reality, actually had an affair with him, making her a sinner, since he is married. However, he says this line because the rest of the town, and most importantly, the courts believe that she is a believable and truthful young soul. In effect, he tries to convince the court and the people of her “unsaintliness”, by bringing to their attention her sins, but to no avail. Another example has Proctor telling his wife “It’s winter in here yet.”[3] However, it is actually spring, as in the same dialogue he asks her to go walking in the field with him so that they may pick flowers and bring them into their home. Proctor really means to tell his wife that their home is cold, that there is no sign of love. He believes that when his wife fills the home with warmth and love, he is forgiven for his sin of lechery, and only then can he continue on with his life normally. By using this type of irony, Miller’s characters indirectly bring something to our attention, which could not otherwise be done.


Situational irony describes a “…discrepancy between appearance and reality, expectation and outcome, or reality and the way things should be.”[4] This is the second type of irony used in the play. The reader does not think an incident can occur, yet it does; which in turn keeps the reader guessing to what can happen next. One of many examples of this is Proctor telling his wife, Elizabeth, that he will “find Ezekiel Cheever.” and “tell him she said it were all in sport.”[5] He was referring to Abigail’s reason to why she was in the woods dancing with the others. Instead of Proctor, however, Cheever comes to arrest Elizabeth. This is to the disbelief of the reader due to the fact that they are led to believe Cheever is a friend who will offer his assistance. This irony could also be a surprise to the characters. Asked if Rebecca was accused, Reverend Hale responds, “God forbid such a one be charged”[6]. However, she is later arrested and charged with “the marvelous and supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies”[7]. None of the characters could have suspected this, and many begin to doubt the court at this time. Throughout the play, there has not been such an astonishing example of this kind of irony then when Danforth tells Proctor “…your wife send me a claim in which she states she is pregnant…”[8]. This seems to be a contradiction to the thought of the reader since Proctor proclaims to his wife earlier in the play, “You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin’…I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven month…I have not moved from here to there without I think to please you…”[9]. From this dialogue, one would conclude that there was no love or romance, and to some degree, a lack of affection in their marriage for many months. So it is truly unsuspected, to the reader and to John Proctor himself, when we are told that Elizabeth is pregnant. By using this form of irony, the play never becomes excessively predictable. By using situational irony, Miller creates a sense suspense that keeps the reader drawn into the play.


Dramatic irony is viewed as a