Hailey MontanaroMrs. CangialosiEnglish 109 January 2018McCarthyism and The Crucible by Arthur MillerThe Crucible by Arthur Miller, undoubtedly, is considered one of the most iconic allegories in classic American literature. It holds truth, even today, just as it did in the twentieth century and the seventeenth. Having lived during a time of mistrust in America, Arthur Miller, the very creator of this play, experienced a witch hunt of his own.
He was accused of being a communist, solely because of his democratic political leanings. Miller’s works all revolve around social issues; The Crucible, in particular, draws attention to the phenomenon of “witch-hunting”, which is the act of causing mass hysteria and moral panic. Through his play, Miller criticizes McCarthyism, and draws comparisons between this ideology and the ideology that the Puritans of Salem had back in 1692.
The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller during the Cold War, was written as an allegory for McCarthyism, which was a prevalent anti-Communist social movement after the second world war. In the years following the Cold War, American political culture revolved around an anti-communist ideology. Joseph McCarthy was a republican senator from Wisconsin, whose beliefs and actions made an everlasting footprint in American history. This movement, dubbed ‘McCarthyism’, was very popular amongst Americans who feared the Soviet Union.
The atmosphere after the second World War was extremely tense, as there was still a lot of pent-up hostility between the two nations. There was no fighting involved, but, there were threats of nuclear warfare. McCarthyism was the radical belief that there were communist spies and sympathizers embedded in Hollywood, the government, and mainstream society. In February of 1950, McCarthy gave a speech to a group of Republican women regarding alleged communists that were, “nevertheless still working and shaping public policy in the State Department” (Wills 17). From this point on, McCarthy’s ideas became very popular; his beliefs were widely accepted by the American public. On May 26th, 1938, the House of Un-American Activities Committee was founded.
This committee would, in the years following McCarthy’s speech in 1950, end the careers of many well-respected actors, politicians, and citizens. “Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, the HUAC investigated what it called ‘communist influence’ in the movie industry, the nation’s universities, and the scientific community” (Wills 17). McCarthy and the HUAC pointed fingers at people that they thought to be threats to United States’ interests. What historians like to refer to as a modern day ‘witch-hunt’ followed these accusations.
A great deal of people went on trial, simply for their political leanings. Some even went on trial for disagreeing with the way that McCarthy handled the situation at hand. Arthur Miller was a playwright targeted during the McCarthy Era for his political beliefs. Eventually, Miller wrote The Crucible, which compared the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 to his personal experience with Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC. “From 1950 through 1954, McCarthy accused many people in government of being communist agents working against U.
S. interests” (Wills 16). This coincidentally parallels the entire plot of The Crucible. Miller, along with many other prevalent American people, lost all credibility due to McCarthy’s irrational, radical, and tyrannical ideology.The Salem witchcraft trials occurred during the years 1692 and 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts. During this period of time, Puritans inhabited Salem; here, they spent their days tending to their crops,worshipping God, and leading an otherwise simplistic lifestyle. Puritans were radical Protestants, who wanted to “purify” Catholicism and the Church of England. In the 1600s, these people left England in hopes to escape religious persecution.
In the colonies, Puritans could worship when they wanted to, and how they wanted to. As previously mentioned, Arthur Miller, the author of The Crucible, used these events as an allegory for his personal experiences with Joseph McCarthy’s radical, anti-communist ideology. The witch hunt that ensued in 17th century Salem, and that Miller captures in The Crucible, is directly analogous to the HUAC trials held during the Cold War.
In early 1692, girls in the village of Salem began to act very strange. Rumors spread around town, there was word of witchcraft in Salem. Many historians believe, though, that what started out as horseplay between children was misconstrued, and turned into one of the largest witch hunts in U.S. history (Boyer 1).
Abigail Proctor, the minister’s niece, had had an affair with a man in his forties, who went by the name of John Proctor. Abigail and the other young girls who lived in Salem were interested in using black magic to seduce the boys they had eyes for. Abigail, although he had children and a wife, sought to seduce John Proctor. In the play, Reverend Samuel Parris, minister of Salem, finds the group of girls dancing around in the woods like heathens.
With them is Tituba, an enslaved woman who was known for using black magic. Betty Parris, the young daughter of Samuel Parris, becomes ill soon after these events, which leads everyone to believe that she has been possessed. Parris becomes gravely worried about the town; he fears that Satan is on the loose. Immediately, he goes to Abigail, as she had been one of the girls he saw dancing in the woods. Abigail, as any young teenager would, denies the claims, and claims to be telling the whole truth, She proceeds to make Parris feel as if had been hallucinating. Rightfully angry, Parris says to Abigail: “I have given you a home, child, I have put clothes upon your back — now give me upright answer. Your name in the town — it is entirely white, is it not?” (Miller 11). Abigail responds to this inquiry defensively; she claims that she has done no wrong whatsoever, and that there is “no blush” about her name (Miller 11).
This is essentially what leads to the falling out in Salem. From this point in the play and on, Abigail, the very perpetrator of the situation, manages to get nineteen people lynched for false accusations that made all to cover her own back (including the one she claimed to love so dearly, John Proctor). “The Puritans believed that each person was on the most difficult and uncertain path: the journey towards God” (Aronson 27). Given their strict belief system, it makes sense that these people jumped to such absurd conclusions. We find out that in the woods that day, Abigail had tried to put a curse on Proctor’s wife in order to kill her, so that Abigail could marry him. Amongst those hanged at the end of the play is John Proctor, the very man who Abigail had been infatuated with. “The central character in The Crucible is John Proctor, a Salem farmer accused of witchcraft.
Proctor’s moral dilemma stands at the heart of the play. He can plead guilty to a false charge to save himself, or he can deny the accusation and lose his life, but save his good name for his children” (Zeff 1). When the rumor got out that he and Abigail had had an affair, everyone questioned Proctor. To have an affair was one of the worst things you could do, as it was considered adulterous. People in Salem started to question whether or not the Proctors were actually Christian. Proctor was not the only prevalent Salem resident accused, though. The witch trials reached a whole new level of absurdity when Salem’s most predominant citizens were accused (Queen 1). Some of these citizens included: Francis Nurse, Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and Giles Corey.
The Crucible displays the persecution of innocent people as a result of: jealousy, sexual repression, resentment, and most of all, revenge (Zeff 1). The Crucible is undoubtedly an allegory for Miller’s experience with McCarthyism. Each character in the play represents someone (or a group of people) during the McCarthy era. “Miller wrote that the play demonstrated parallels between the witchhunt of the 1690s ad the controversial activities of the HUAC led by Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s” (Zeff 1). There have been multiple accounts where Arthur Miller has drawn similarities between his experiences and his works. Although The Crucible was set in the late 1600s, it was written as an indictment of Miller’s personal experience with the HUAC (Hurvitz 1). Proctor and Miller faced similar moral dilemmas: do they do what’s right and not confess to something they’re innocent of doing, or do they take the easy way out and forget about their integrity? The idea that Satan was loose in Salem parallels the crazy ideology McCarthy had: he believed that people embedded in the government and Hollywood were serving the Soviet Union. Abigail Williams represents Joseph McCarthy, whilst the group of girls that listen to her are the HUAC.
Both make outlandish accusations and create a tense atmosphere. Joseph McCarthy often made many accusations without any sufficient evidence. Just as Abigail did in The Crucible, Joseph McCarthy ran with his accusations until he was found contemptuous. By comparing the witch trials to his own trial, Miller criticizes human nature. He is critical of the way we as humans automatically jump to conclusions about people based off of rumors and lies.
The Crucible is an allegory; it parallels Miller’s personal experiences with Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC during a time where anti-communist ideas were extremely popular. Many do not understand the implications of both of these historical events. Both times in history reflect witch hunt culture prevalent in today’s world. It is popular to gang up on someone or a group of people because of their political leanings, sexuality, interests, et cetera.
Miller’s The Crucible is a fantastic depiction of what witchhunting does to society. It causes distrust and ultimately can ruin lives, just as it almost did his own.