The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a historical novel that details how hysteria overwhelms the small devout town of Salem, Massachusetts after local girls are caught performing a pagan ritual. Knowing that this act could incur death in their pious community, these girls accuse their fellow town members of being witches to convince others that they have forsaken the devil and have returned to the Lord. Miller uses the Salem witch-hunt to demonstrate the devastating effects of paranoia. During the Salem witch trials, this paranoia eventually led to the death of 37 innocent people (“Salem,” par. 2) as rational citizens under the influence of the pervasive fear ignored the injustices being committed. History has shown that given the right atmosphere, any spark could set off a chain reaction much like that described in The Crucible.
The atmosphere of the fanatically religious town of Salem was a breeding ground for fear and suspicion. The minister, Parris, “[preaches] only hellfire and bloody damnation” (Miller 28), encouraging a constantly apprehensive attitude towards God’s power. Also, the citizens of the town recently had to endure a smallpox epidemic and are under a constant threat of Native American assaults, denying them a sense of physical security (“Salem,” par. 2).
This persistent apprehension explodes into hysteria as the girls’ accusations transform the supernatural into a tangible threat.
Trials are held to try the accused but even as it becomes evident that the trials are based on faulty evidence and logic, no one questions the validity of the proceedings, because they fear that if they do, they will be labeled as a witch. When a local townsman, Francis Nurse, presents a petition protesting the imprisonment of two of the prisoners, the court summons all the petitioners for questioning (Miller 94).
The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Time of Fear and Confusion Imagine, just for a minute, living in a time and place where you are not free to practice your own religious or spiritual beliefs and you are forced to live in fear because of persecution by the church and everyone around you. Persecution back in 1692 in Salem Massachusetts was a very real, very serious thing. Those persecuted were hanged, ...
The fear of being associated with the supernatural compelled many to accept the blatantly faulty proceedings and allowed the trials to spiral out of control, eventually taking 37 lives. Therefore, the pervasive terror of external forces, such as disease and God, allowed for the hysteria but the fear of one another caused the hysteria to linger, inflicting even more damage. Had there not been an atmosphere filled with insecurity, the events in Salem could never have ballooned to such proportions. This fear is an innate human characteristic that causes events such as these to repeat throughout the course of history.
During the McCarthy Era of the 1950’s, the mood of the United States was extremely similar to that of Salem, Massachusetts, making it especially susceptible to similar problems. To the Americas, the spread of communism after World War II seemed be a direct attack on their democratic and capitalistic ideals. Paranoia of communist spies and sympathizers who threatened the United States ran high among the American public. Like the town members of Salem, the American people were extremely uneasy and only needed a catalyst to set off a mass hysteria.
This catalyst came in the form of Senator McCarthy, who wielded the fear of the American people into an awesome political weapon that damaged the careers of hundreds and silenced the voices of many more. “A simple sentence of his could be enough to ruin a man’s career” (“Friedman,” par. 23).
Like the Salem witch trials, protestors to McCarthy policies were labeled as communist and blacklisted from their industry, which quelled opposition and allowed McCarthy free reign over the American public. Experts have estimated that as many as ten thousand people may have lost their jobs as a result of the McCarthy proceedings (“Impact,” par. 13).
The same pattern of events from The Crucible repeats itself during the McCarthy Era, demonstrating the inevitability of another hysterical scare. Fear is a human nature that is a constant in every culture. The plot of The Crucible parallels the recent events after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The American people were plunged into a state of fear from not only terrorism but also a faltering economy (“Johnson,” pg 2-6), depriving them of both physical and economic security, respectively. This atmosphere of panic allowed the government to abuse individual rights through the judicial system and such legislation as the USA PATRIOT Act. Just as courts of The Crucible era judged trials on the flimsiest of evidence, modern courts are making a mockery of the right to due process.
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 ...
Simply by declaring and individual as an “enemy combatant,” the military can deny these detainees the rights of due process, including the right to a lawyer (“Jackman,” par. 1).
Legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act blurs the line between terrorism and dissent, and threatens to undermine the civil liberties and ideals of the American democracy. One of the provisions of this act gives the attorney general the power to detain immigrants indefinitely without trial, which is an utter mockery of democracy (“PATRIOT,” par. 2).
Few prominent figures are willing to protest these unjustified actions, as they are afraid of being labeled as unpatriotic and the government has already censured some who have spoken out, such as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
(“Jezer,” par. 11).
Thus, even in the present day, an environment permeated by fear can lead to the injustices and hysteria seen in The Crucible and the McCarthy Era. The McCarthy Era and the present post 9/11 period show that the events of The Crucible can occur again. Paranoia and hysteria is an innate human flaw that will reappear in history.
Whenever the atmosphere is saturated with fear and there is a catalyst that can set off this fear, it is most likely that the events of The Crucible will repeat. Works Cited Friedman, Jesse. The Fight for America: Senator Joe McCarthy. 1 Jun.
2003. 30 Nov. 2003. The Impact of McCarthyism. Ed. Ellen Schr ecker.
1995. 30 Nov. 2003… Jackman, Tom, and Eugen, Dan. “‘Combatants’ Lack Rights, U. S.
Argues.” Washington Post 20 Jun. 2002. 19 Nov. 2003. Jezer, Marty.
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." This quote is a testament to the Salem Witch Trials and many incidents proceeding 1692 that were mimics. Events like McCarthyism, Wenatchee, Washington, and current events with terrorism all have striking resemblance. The happenings all occurred in different times and places but the likenesses are hard to look past. The Crucible is a ...
McCarthyism’s Revival: Chicken Little Journalism. 9 May. 2003. 30 Nov. 2003. Johnson, Alex.
“2002: A year on the edge.” 31 Dec. 2002. MSNBC. 19 Nov. 2003. Miller, Arthur.
The Crucible. New York: Peng iun Group, 1976. Salem Witch Museum Education – Salem, Massachusetts. 30 Nov. 2003. 30 Nov.
2003. “USA PATRIOT Act.” 30 Nov. 2003. Wikipedia. 30 Nov. 2003.
Works Consulted Rosen, Ruth. “ROSEN: Could it Happen Again? .” San Francisco Chronicle 12 May. 2003. 19 Nov. 2003.