The Crucible: Relevant Historical Allegory
“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is a historically motivated play presenting a shocking view of human nature and of what a community of otherwise vibrant and civilized people of faith and moral principle are capable of when insecurity, fear, prejudice and superstition are introduced. Arthur Miller is concerned about what he perceives to be a weakness in the moral fabric of America, he sees a people dedicated to a belief in freedom and yet vulnerable to hysterical violence against dissenters. The literary setting in “The Crucible” is a peaceful religious community in colonial Salem, Massachusetts which degrades into a frantic frenzy of hearings before local magistrates to prosecute over 150 people accused of witchcraft. It addresses the historical social drama of the Witch Trials of 1692 and in so doing Miller subtly applies the famous Salem witch trials allegorically to make parallels to the contemporary moral climate to frame contemporary lessons to his audience. Arthur Miller’s play sharpens moral awareness of the ‘witch trials’ phenomenon as a recurring contemporary theme in the crucible of American culture and society. The Crucible is a relevant allegory that Witch Trials are always with us.
The contemporary context of the play is post-WWII , to an American audience under Cold War fear of the Communists in the 1950s and fear of a potential WWIII. “The Crucible” was aimed at this “emotionally charged anti-red communist paranoia and the congressional investigation of the subversive activities in the U.S. led by the passionate but power hungry Senator Joseph McCarthy” (Schlueter 34).
Every one in a while, America erupts into mass hysteria because of the ranting of some crazy people. In the 1600’s, we had the Salem witch trials, and as described in the book, “The Crucible”, a group of girls falsely accuse their neighbors of witchcraft, and regular, innocent people are hung. Then, in the 1950’s, a man named Joseph McCarthy sparked a craze of accusing ...
Miller uses his play to interpret Salem behavior to make a moral stance on what he saw as mindless persecution similar to the many lives and careers were ruined by McCarthy’s anti-communist fear driven hearings. The people summoned before the House of Anti-American activities were required to betray others by naming names as in “The Crucible”. Those who did not were blacklisted. In 1956, John Elsom tells us that Arthur Miller was tried before the house for being a communist sympathizer. He refused to name others who had been at particular communist meetings years before and was convicted of contempt. The trials were a severe test or trial for him (Elsom 99).
Like John Proctor, he had not looked to be tested but felt very strongly about only taking responsibility directly for his own actions and refused to ruin others. He said during his trial that “I could not use the name of another and bring trouble on him. I take the responsibility of everything I have ever done, but I cannot take the responsibility for another human being.”[Proctor acted very similarly in his trial] “’I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another” (Miller, Arthur 141).
Proctor like Miller in his own life experience could see beyond the hysteria concerning ridiculous accusations and like Proctor he was not prepared to betray others to save himself (Bentley 147).
The rights of the individual must be guarded and honored. In uncertain times, there appears some scapegoat on which to blame a feeling of lack of security, it was the devil in Salem and Communists in 1950’s America, and in our days perhaps Al Qaeda terrorists in post 9-11 America.
Actually, “The Crucible” is more of a melodramatic morality play than a historical narrative, in which the characters are intended to be dramatized symbols of good and evil. The dynamic of the melodrama is moral quandary, emotional terrorism and struggle, emerging from ‘crucible’ situations. The dramatization of evil appears in Abigail and other young girls who had been caught dancing in the moonlight and blamed their behavior to the influence of Satan (Miller, Arthur 10).
... Proctor was spoken in response to one of the many motives in the Salem witch trails in The Crucible. The witch trials ... keep quiet about his lechery or expose Abigail and possibly forfeit his own life (High Intensity)”. She uses the Salem witch ... Washington Post [Washington D.C.] 11 Mar. 2004, Sec: A3 Miller, Arthur. “The Crucible.” The American Experience. Ed. Kate Kinsella. Upper ...
To cover up their own misbehavior, innocent people are accused and convicted of witchcraft on the most absurd testimony, together with the testimony of those who themselves meddled in witchcraft and are therefore doubly to be distrusted. When Abigail was accused of witchcraft, she threatened the other girls’ lives if they told. Abigail was so afraid of getting in trouble that she would sacrifice someone’s life to avoid it. The fear that they spread ends up preying upon the fears and dominating the lives of everyone in the puritan community causing people to do things out of character.
Moreover, added to the moral crucible of the drama is an adulterous relationship between young Abigail and John Proctor as motivation for Abigail’s public denunciation of John and his wife Elizabeth. Abigail’s credibility is placed in doubt when Proctor confesses to adultery. Unfortunately, his wife Elizabeth testified differently out of fear of not knowing what else to do and wanting to keep her husband alive. She told everyone that she had no clue that her husband committed adultery with Abigail. She wasn’t sure what was said about the situation so to spare her husband’s life, she did something completely out of her character which was lying.
The symbolic representation of good is brought out in Proctor. The crime he is accused of is not the adultery but that of trafficking with the devil, a charge that isn’t even possible to prove or disprove in a court of law. So Proctor gets trapped in this crucible-like situation, unsure of how it all started or what is happening. He wants only to be left alone with his wife and his farm but he is trapped in the crucible. He considers making a false confession but in the end goes to his death for reasons that he finds a little hard to define but that are clearly good reasons.
Miller contends that there are times when the political, legal and church institutions enable the accuser to pressure conformity to false confession. Rather than stop the moral fallout and hysteria, it participates in the pressure to conform in favor of the false accuser. Calarco says, “When judicial truth becomes a personal lie, the link between social and sacred justice collapses. The trial becomes an empty form open to chaos, an exorcism of good rather than an exorcism of evil, and the judge becomes a witch” (Calarco 157).
One of the most vibrant, deep, and sagacious screenplays of the 21st century is Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Miller brilliantly comments on human morals, authority, and mass hysteria. He parallels the events of Salem in 1600’s to the blacklisting and the discrimination against those who were labeled as a “communist” in America during the 1950’s. He ...
In “The Crucible”, even people as wise as Rev. Hale are confused as to what is the truth and what is false (Miller, Arthur 99).
This is an example of illusion vs. reality, because so many people are “crying witch” (Martin 46), that it becomes impossible to discern the people that have selfish intent from those that actually believe in witchcraft. And the mass hysteria causes the citizens to assume the defendants are guilty before they are officially tried.
What is the meaning of it all? When does the hysteria end? The mass hysteria resulted in the hanging of a great many respectable men and woman of charges of trafficking with the devil. They were convicted by people at least as respectable as themselves, largely on the evidence of descent citizens who sign petitions attesting to the good character of the accused friends and neighbors who are then thrown into prison as suspects. Some individuals may initially find a temporary benefit in the ordeal such as those like Rev. Parris who consolidated his shaky position in a parish that was murmuring against his “undemocratic” conduct of the church, or a politician might gain a temporary political upsurge. Eventually no good person is exempt from suspicion and the actual conduct of such witch hunt trials is outrageous.
It is absurd to make the whole matter rest on the question of a fair trial: how can there be a “fair trial” for a crime which not only has not been committed, or is impossible? The Salem “witches” suffered a fate worse than persecution: they were hanged because a metaphysical error or predicament. Anyone who tries to introduce into court the voice of reason is likely to be held in contempt. No one is acquitted. The only way out for the accused in a witch hunt trial is to make a false confession and themselves join the accusers. And all could have saved themselves by “confession”, but for their own credit on earth and in Heaven: they would not say they were witches when they were not. When there is unresolved animosity and insecurity thrown into the mixture of society, momentum gains until a witch hunt lynch mob mentality with stampede power will defy everything in its path including rationality, the system of law, faith and good sense to stop it from finding a scapegoat victim, a constant force trying to rip things apart. This struggle is only slowed down and stopped by opposition of the courageous who resist concerted pressures toward compliance and yielding to conformity. Each of us should remain courageous and morally conscientious to avert being tagged as either accuser or accused.
In this essay, I intend to analyse the historical content of The Crucible and its relevance in today's society. I believe that Arthur Miller's life and his experience of McCarthyism strongly influenced the writing of The Crucible. McCarthyism, named after Joseph McCarthy was a period of intense anti-communism, which occurred in the United States from 1948 to about 1956. During this time the ...
Certainly, the pattern will repeat itself yet again and the question Miller raises through this morality play is whether there will be adequate courageous dissent to diffuse the hysteria thereby giving significance to the unfortunate fate of the first accused in the crux of the crucible.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 1976.
Miller, Marie. “The Crucible’s Contemporary Context is Still Relevant Today.” Siebold, Thomas. Ed., Readings on Arthur Miller The Crucible. Ed. Thomas Siebold. San Diego, California: The Greenhaven Press, 1999.
Bentley, Eric. “Arthur Miller’s Innocence.” Siebold, Thomas. Ed., Readings on Arthur Miller The Crucible. Ed. Thomas Siebold. San Diego, California: The Greenhaven Press, 1999.
Calarco, N. Joseph. “Interpreting The Crucible in a Theatrical Production.” Siebold, Thomas. Ed., Readings on Arthur Miller The Crucible. Ed. Thomas Siebold. San Diego, California: The Greenhaven Press, 1999.
Martin, Robert. “Miller’s Manipulation of Fact Results in Powerful Drama.” Siebold, Thomas. Ed., Readings on Arthur Miller The Crucible. Ed. Thomas Siebold. San Diego, California: The Greenhaven Press, 1999.
Schlueter, June. “The Historical Basis of The Crucible.” Siebold, Thomas. Ed., Readings on Arthur Miller The Crucible. Ed. Thomas Siebold. San Diego, California: The Greenhaven Press, 1999.