Table of Contents
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a dramatized and fictionalized story that explores inconsistencies in religions and social norms. Miller efficiently illustrates how blindly following religion can result in preconceived ideas about other people’s values leading to false accusations. The play was influenced by the historical event of the Salem witch hunts in 1862 that involved innocent men and women falsely accused of witchcraft and hanged. Written in 1953, The Crucible explored a more recent witch hunt in the 1950s, where individuals accused of supporting and sympathizing with communism were hunted and jailed. Joseph McCarthy, a U.S senator, was in charge of the committee that sought to find communists in the country, giving rise to the term McCarthyism. During this period, panic ensued across the country as people were falsely accused of associating with communists putting at risk the reputation and lives of numerous people. This anti-communistic fervor created a massive hysteria forcing suspected individuals to confess and identify other communists to save themselves. Miller’s The Crucible is an allegory for McCarthyism by portraying a Puritan Community that plunges into fear and false accusations as a means to evade punishment. Proctor, the protagonist, is at the heart of these false allegations as his reputation as a respected puritan is on the line when his wife is accused of witchcraft. Miller effectively explores McCarthyism in the crucible through a flawed religious influence and hysteria.
Miller portrays the concept of McCarthyism in The Crucible through accusations and subversive investigation without substantial evidence. Proctor is a local farmer, just like many members of his community who are devoted to their work and religion. Proctor is also a loving husband to his wife, Elizabeth, and a devoted pious man who is respected in the Puritan community. Elizabeth is full of praise for her husband’s hard work and determination. Elizabeth reiterates, “My husband is a good and righteous man. He is never drunk, as some are, nor wasting his time at the shovelboard, but always at his work.”(Miller, 1953). Her husband’s reputation is just as important as his role in the household. However, a series of false accusations not only threatens their family’s reputation but also the husband’s life is in danger. The community is caught in panic when Tituba, Reverend Parris’s slave, is accused of practicing witchcraft. Reverend Parris finds her daughter Betty, his niece, Abigail, and Tituba dancing in the forest. In the process, Betty faints, leading to rumors about witchcraft spreading across the town, and the townspeople gather at Reverend Parris’s residence.
Similarly, the community falls into a massive hysteria as people begin questioning if Betty’s condition resulted from witchcraft. Ann Putman bitterly exclaims, “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!” implying that evil people exist within the community. (Miller, 1953). The hysteria is further hastened by more allegations as the fear of being accused overwhelms logic and uprightness (Hutchins-Viroux, 2008). Abigail, accused of sorcery, begins falsely accusing others to save herself. She states, “I go back to Jesus; I kissed his hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!” (Miller, 1953). Similarly, Abigail manipulates Mary, Proctor’s servant, to falsely accuse Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch. Rebecca, a respected nurse in Salem, is accused of the “marvelous and supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies.” (Miller, 1953) According to Mattia (2018), the hysteria reflects the McCarthyism tactics of fear and panic that led to the individualistic thought of saving oneself by throwing others under the bus.
Miller portrays an established system and law that strictly governs the society with severe punishment for deviation, as seen with McCarthyism. Salem is governed by strict Puritan norms and rules that have grave consequences for any individual considered a threat to the established system. Puritanism is similar to the state of law portrayed through McCarthy’s administration which targeted government employees with little evidence of their association with communism. Religion in Salem acts as an oppressive system because members are given higher moral and social responsibilities in the community (Michaels, 2017). When Deputy Governor Danforth comes to preside over the witch trials, he represents the intolerance of an established system as he only believes in his way of discerning truth from false allegations. He states, “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.”(Miller, 1953). Mattia (2018) points out that this declaration symbolizes the bigotry of Salem’s religious establishment, which views non-Puritans as evil. Proctor is expected to testify against his wife because of his religious devotion. Elizabeth Proctor is accused of witchcraft despite the lack of evidence suggesting she is involved. Such established moral obligations and laws act as the logic for allegations against suspected individuals, consequently overlooking rational thinking and evidence to judge people.
Clearly, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is an allegory for McCarthyism as it proficiently portrays the effects of an established oppressive system that uses religious norms to divide and castigate underserving community members. Miller’s play explores the intolerance shown by religious establishments in punishing those who deviate from such norms that are believed to restore the community’s purity. The quick spread of witchcraft rumors and the subsequent state of hysteria led to numerous individuals being falsely accused, reflecting the ruthless tactics used during the McCarthyism period.
- Hutchins-Viroux, R. (2008). Witch-hunts, Theocracies and Hypocrisy: McCarthyism in Arthur Miller/Robert Ward’s opera The Crucible and Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Revue LISA/LISA e-journal. 140-148.
- Mattia, D. M. (2018). “The Unwelcome Truth”: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as Satirical Political Allegory.
- Michaels, J. (2017). McCarthyism: the realities, delusions, and politics behind the 1950s red scare. Routledge.
- Miller, A. (1953). The crucible. Bloomsbury Publishing.