The Crucible is like a 17th century Mean Girls. One queen bee can manipulate her friends into a pretty nasty witch hunt, which is why it's so appropriate that students read it in high schools nationwide.
What it's about
Arthur Miller's play takes us back to colonial Salem, Massachusetts, where Puritan colonists reign supreme. Apparently teenage rebellion is timeless, because the town's minister, Reverend Parris, catches some girls dancing around in the forest (a big deal back then). After being discovered, the reverend's daughter Betty mysteriously falls into a coma-like state, and suddenly people think a witch is running around casting spells on people like Betty.
The reverend plays bad cop and questions the girls, especially queen bee of the group Abigail Williams. But Abigail has a lot of power over her friends, and convinces them not to say anything. Then Abigail starts claiming that while dancing, the girls had contact with the devil. Betty, who has awakened from her coma in an altered state, confirms this.
The reader also learns that Abigail is especially sly - she had an affair with her boss, a married farmer named John Proctor. (Side note: The audience finds this out before the other characters, a tactic in literature called dramatic irony.) Anyway, the guy's wife Elizabeth found out about it and fired Abigail, but the girl still hits on her former employer. John, however, is now resisting her.
Sadly, Proctor shouldn't underestimate a teenage girl. Another minister, Reverend Hale, and a Judge Danforth, are brought into the story as Abigail and her friends start accusing various townspeople of being witches. Eventually one of the teens, Mary, admits that her peers are lying. Well Abigail just claims that Mary has bewitched her and her friends, and turns the tables on her. Suddenly, no one knows what to believe.
As the story continues, tables keep turning as various characters are accused back and forth, back and forth. People admit to being witches to save themselves from being executed, but then renounce in order to face the death penalty with dignity. It's all pretty upsetting considering a bunch of girls caused so many people to be put in a place of near life and death.
Your favorite part will be
Specifically, Elizabeth Proctor is pretty calm and collected considering the girl who her husband cheated with is accusing her of being a witch. Instead of trying to beat any of the girls (like her husband does to Mary), she maintains herself pretty well.
Overall, Arthur Miller makes a great examination of the fact that without evidence, the tables can always be turned. Witnesses can lie, speculation is not solid, and ultimately people's emotions and motives can always alter the justice system if not checked by concrete proof and reasoning.
The cause-y angles
Intolerance - You're either with the town's view of religion or you are the enemy, as represented by people accusing so many people of witchcraft. Puritan Massachusetts was notorious for keeping people in line or throwing them out (Rhode Island and Connecticut were founded by people expelled by Massachusetts Puritans).
Women's rights - Girls have no equal rights here. Part of what motivates Abigail is that her power to accuse people raises her social status. Before, she was at the bottom of the social ladder, only above the slaves of the colony.
Political freedom - The entire play represents the US in the 1950's and how one little-known Senator named Joseph McCarthy caused a huge frenzy when he tried to hunt down and accuse "suspected communists" (including The Crucible playwright Arthur Miller).