Crucible vs. Mccarthyism Essay

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Crucible vs. McCarthyism

Fear over reason: Modern witch hunts depicted in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and in the House Un-American Activities Committee

No work of art can be subsumed under a single interpretation. However, Arthur Miller himself has stated that his play "The Crucible," set during the Puritan era in colonial New England was intended to be an explicit historical allegory, highlighting the parallels between the Salem witch trials and the era during which Miller wrote the play. Miller was a victim of the anti-communist hysteria of the early Cold War era. He was called by Senator Joseph McCarthy before the House Un-American Activities Committee. As a result of seeing himself, and other great writers and artists of the era being tainted with the public's fear of communism, Miller wrote a play specifically designed to highlight the parallels between the witch hunts and 20th century American fears of communism.

Miller did not desire to produce a strictly historically accurate rendition of life in Salem. For example, in the real Salem, Abigail Williams and most of the accusing girls were prepubescent children. However, Miller deliberately made Abigail older to serve his dramatic purposes. Abigail is an outcast in Salem because of her sexually forward behavior. She has also been carrying on an extramarital romance with John Proctor. Suspicions about witchcraft and Abigail's supposed demonic possession give her a great deal of power within the community, power she never had, much like McCarthy was an obscure senator before he began to develop his reputation as a zealous communist.

In both the play and the historical reality of the 1950s, accusations make the appearance of small improprieties seem larger than they were and distorted the truth. For example, during the Great Depression, a desperate era in American history, many Americans dabbled with political radicalism. During the 1940s, the U.S. was an ally of the Soviet Union. However, Americans who had shown interest in leftist causes, or praised the Soviet Union during World War II were now tarred and feathered in the public imagination as communists, as Joseph McCarthy preyed upon people's fears. Similarly, John Proctor's refusal to attend church services, because of his personal guilt over his extramarital affair is made him to seem like a 'witch' in the public imagination.

In "The Crucible" the people of Salem are so afraid of witchcraft, a seemingly silent and uncontrollable force they cannot understand, that they give credibility to the few people who seem able to discover it, like Abigail and her followers. They blind themselves to the fact that Abigail has a profound self-interest in accusing others, including Proctor's wife Elizabeth, of witchcraft. Similarly, the American public was so afraid of a communist take-over of the world, they trusted McCarthy and sacrificed their liberty as Americans to believe freely, just as the public in Salem sacrificed their sense of godliness and justice and actually hung good men… [END OF PREVIEW]

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