Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and the Red Scare

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Sarah Andrews
Caldwell
ENGL 1102
07-28-10

Arthur Miller was born October 17, 1915 in Harlem, New York. His father Isidore Miller, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, owned a successful ladies’ clothing store and manufacturer despite his illiteracy. His mother, although a native New Yorker, had family roots in the same village of Poland as his father. Miller graduated from high school in 1932. He had been seemingly unimpressive throughout his early education, but nonetheless earned a degree in English from the University of Michigan in 1938. He married Marilyn Monroe in 1956, around the time that he was known as “the man who had all the luck”, but the two divorced soon after, in 1961. During his time as a student, he won multiple awards in play writing, along with noted playwright Tennessee Williams.

After writing multiple plays, including Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and The Man Who Had All the Luck, Miller wrote The Crucible, which opened on Broadway January 22, 1953. The year before the play opened, April 1952, he went from Washington to Salem, to do research in the Salem, Massachusetts archives, for the sake of historical accuracy. On his way, he visited his friend Elia Kazin, who had recently become a target for the political attacks on Hollywood that had been taking place in the government.

The political advances of the time were not merely on members of Hollywood. With the onset of the Red Scare in Washington, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin first targeted several members of the Army and the State Department as Communist sympathizers. At the time, there was a “deepening national anxiety about the spread of world communism” (“Have you no sense of decency?). Senator McCarthy was placed at the head of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the objective of which was to uncover all communist sympathizers of the time. The committee quickly expanded their search to the White House, Congress, even to Hollywood. Many of the trials were aired on television, which pressured the accused even further to admit their guilt. The unstoppable crusade against communism at the time led many innocent members of society, both high profile and civilian, through unfair trials. At this time, when due process of law had been all but abandoned, the term “witch hunt”, a hearkening to the Salem witch trials, had found a way back into everyday American language.

Miller’s friend Elia Kazin, a film director of the time, had been accused by the HUAC as a communist, and wanted Miller’s aide during the investigation. While Miller could not be of much help to his friend, staying out of the committee’s sight could not be helped much longer. Miller himself was called before the HUAC in 1956. He admitted to the members that he had been to several writers’ meetings hosted by the Communist Party, but he could not honestly say to them that he was in fact a sympathizer to the Communists. Later, when he was questioned, he refused “to offer other people's names, who had associated with leftist or suspected Communist groups” (Liukkonen). Miller was cited for contempt of Congress.

While Miller’s involvement with the House Un-American Activities Committee came after the opening of The Crucible, it is unfathomable to say that the anti-communist mood in the country was not present in his mind when he wrote it. Miller himself seemed to have some difficulty admitting this point in the years after the play opened on Broadway. Around the time The Crucible premiered, Miller was quoted as saying “I am not pressing an historical allegory here, and I have even eliminated certain striking similarities from The Crucible which may have started the audience to drawing such an allegory” (Hendrickson, 3). At the time, Miller insisted that his work had no analogy to the current wave of McCarthyism present in America. After many years, and many interviews, Miller seemed not to know himself if the work had any connection to the actions of the HUAC or...
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