Arthur Miller, The Crucible and Sanskrit wordplay

Copyright 2009, Richard Stoney of Orleans, CA email

There are several examples of wordplay in Miller's "Death of a Salesman", mostly in English. What follows shows Sanskrit wordplay in "The Crucible", a piece of historical fiction based on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

In Act One, there are these major lines which are found in a section covering about two pages:

(Mr.) Putnam: "...There are hurtful, vengeful spirits layin' hands on these children"...

(Mr.) Putnam: "There is a murdering witch among us, bound to keep herself in the dark".

Mrs. Putnam: "I take it on my soul, but who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?...They were murdered, Mr. Parris!..Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir. How else is she struck dumb [cf. Skt. ruTh, "strike down"] now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth?"

Mrs. Putnam: "...I have laid seven babies unbaptized in the earth. Believe me, sir, you never saw more hearty babies born. And yet, each would wither in my arms the very night of their birth... And now, this year, my Ruth, my only--I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin' on her life too" [italics mine]. Then there is mention of Ruth being mentally afflicted. (Note: Ruth is a fictionalized, non-historical character.)

Here is the Sanskrit wordplay, based on the name Putnam:

1) pUtanA, "name of a female demon or witch said to cause disease in children and their deaths; a kind of disease in a child attributed to Putana". According to Hindu mythology, she offered her poisoned breast to young Krishna [Skt. "dark, evil"], who seized it and sucked away her life." And in Vishnu Purana [Vishnu=Krishna], it is explicitly stated that Putana should work in the dark, symbolizing the lack of illumination of knowledge". Also, the Putnams had 8 children, while Krishna was eighth-born.
2) am, "be sick or mentally afflicted". Some of the people mentioned in the transcripts of the Salem witch trials are referred to as "afflicted ones".


And I believe that the use of the word Mrs. implies the multiple definitions of the Sanskrit word mR, "die, cause to die, kill." In other words, they are the mR's.

mR's. pUta-nA-am

To get back to the section about Krishna and Putana, read the following about the real events which occurred in Salem:

"Once Hathorne and Corwin arrived in Salem Village in March, 1692, they met with the minister and village leaders to explain the process [of investigating the witchery]. The problem the magistrates had was just how to go about proving witchcraft. They had easily come to agree that all suspects would be searched for 'witches tits'--any kind of mark on the body that a witch could use to suckle a demon"--for nourishment.

In the same section of the story as the above, there is this short quote involving more Sanskrit wordplay:

"So it is not surprising that... [Thomas Putnam's] name is so often found as a witness corrborating the supernatural testimony..."

This passage can be interpreted to mean that Thomas Putnam's name confirms by additional evidence something beyond the natural world, so consider the following Sanskrit words:

--tamas, "hell or a particular division of hell";
--put, "hell or a particular hell to which the childless are condemned;
--nAma, "named".

The above passage continues:

"...or that his daughter lead the crying-out at the most opportune junctures of the [witch] trials, especially when--But we'll speak of that when we come to it".

Then, at the trials themselves, Danforth says, "Mr. Putnam, I have here an accusation by Mr. Corey against you. He says that you coldly prompted your daughter [Ruth] to cry witchery upon George Jacobs that is now in jail". Cf. Skt. ruta, "made to resound, filled with cries".

According to accusations, the female slave Tituba (sometimes written "Titiba" in witch trial transcripts) flies as light as a bird, speaks to the dead and conjures spirits from the grave. She is suspected of being a witch. Cf. Skt. TiTibha/TiTTibha, "name of a daitya or of a dAnava", both of which are "demon"-related. The dAnava, like Tituba, is considered an enemy of gods/God and a symbol of ill-omen. And at the start of Act Four, Tituba says, "We goin' to Barbados, soon the Devil gets here with the feathers and the wings". See next paragraph.

The name of Tituba is sometimes written "Titibe" in transcripts of the witch trials. And the word TiTTibhI is the female form of the male tittibha bird, which is known for its shrill screeching (as is also the case for Tituba). Concerning this matter, an online Hindu article states:

"An intelligent man should disregard any abusive language who resembles, after all, only a Tittibha uttering dissonant cries".

Elsewhere in Act One, Tituba says, "Well, they was always talking; they was always runnin' round and [sexually?] carryin' on". This quote reflects certain activities of the tittibha bird:

--It is always screaming "Tit! Tit!" (see section above on Putana's breasts, lol);
--Its manner of walking is an allegory for conceit and ridicule, according to Hindu tales;
--It is polyandrous and is sexually active with up to ten males.

The tittibha is known scientifically as Parra jacana, apparently from Latin parra, "some bird of bad omen", although author Horace suggested it refers perhaps an owl. There are also another tittibhas, Hydrophasianus chirurgus and Metopidius indicus (the very closely-related jacanas), from the Indian subcontinent. They lay their eggs on floating vegetation in ponds, and the eggs are conical-shaped on one end and spherical on the other, allowing them to roll back and forth in a tight circle to prevent them from falling into the water. In The Crucible, there are three mentions of Tituba's rocking back and forth.

And in Act One, Parris says, "I saw Tituba waving her arms over the fire when I came on you...She were swaying like a dumb beast over that fire". Well, it turns out that there is an arm-strenthening yoga posture known as Tittibha-asana, "Firefly Pose", so-named supposedly because it resembles an insect in flight. One form of the asana has the legs pointing into the air, while the tittibha sleeps with its legs pointing skyward.

When Hale asks Tituba how many people were with her and the Devil, she replies, "There was four. There was four". Cf. Skt.:

--tiTibha (a different word), "a particular high number";
--a, "not".

Here is anoher quote by Tituba: "[The Devil] say Mr. Parris must be kill...[H]e bid me rise out of my bed and cut your throat". Cf. Skt. 1) ti, "in this manner", referring to something which has been said; 2) tubh, "kill".

Three-fouths through Act One, Tituba is shocked and angry over something and says, "Abby!" Cf. Skt. abhi, "a prefix to nouns expressing intensity". (Note: bh represents one Sanskrit letter.)

Although Tituba is portrayed in more modern times as being of African or African-Indian blood, the transcripts of the witch trials simply refer to her as "Indian woman".

"...Scholars claim Reverend Parris had purchased her in Barbados, unaware of the voodoo and witchcraft practices she would eventually undertake under the roof of the Salem parsonage.

"However, the mantle of guilt thrust upon Tituba may not be rightfully hers...Later investigations have only raised more questions about the very little verifiable information available on her. Most of the perceptions and understandings of Tituba, today commonly accepted a fact, are actually based on local tradition and fictionalized literature rather than actual court documents or eye-witness accounts.


At one, point Parris asks Susanna Walcott whether the doctor has found a reason for the erratic behavior of some of the girls. And she replies, "He bid me come and tell you, reverend sir, that he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books". Consider these Sanskrit words:

--sUSaNa, "a parturient woman", i.e. "one about to produce something, such as a discovery";
--a, "no, not";
--valk, "tell";
--eminence" (=the reverend).
(Susanna's name is a work of fiction, although there are four Walcotts mentioned in the witch trial transcripts.)



--"Abusive Speech". [online] http"//
--American Heritage Dictionary, The, second edition
--Barillari, Alyssa. "Tituba", [online] http://www2.iath.virginia.du/salem/people/tituba.html
--Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, [online] (based on A Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams)
"Dharmashastra: Einfuhrung und Uberblick". [online]
Gaur, R.K. Indian Birds
--Gribben, Mark. [online]
--"Jacana". [online]
--Miller, Arthur. "The Crucible"
--"Putana". [online]
--Pizer, Ann. "Firefly Pose is the Yoga Pose of the Week", [online]
"Salem Witch Trial Transcripts". [online]
--Simpson, D.P. Cassell's New Latin Dictionary
--"Tittibhasana A". [online]
--"Tittibhasana", [online]