The Crucible Is Still Relevant Today

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“The Crucible,” a play by Arthur Miller later turned into a major Hollywood movie, explores the politics of fear, social norms, and the fight to recapture a man’s moral compass. Miller paints his story using the small tight knit community of Salem circa 1692 as his canvass, brilliantly weaving historical fact and fiction to portray a scenario not unlike events seen since. The infamous witch hunts of 1692 and wild accusations of a subversive culture that threatened to tear away at the fabric of society are at the center of the film. Originally conceived in the 1950’s during the red scare, it is well known and accepted that Miller sought to highlight the similarities with the ongoing persecutions of accused communist sympathizers. The mass hysteria and destruction of the individual at the hand of society’s values reflected in the play perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of 1950’s America. Miller’s thought provoking play was viewed then with much criticism, drawing the ire of the Right, due to its implied message of hypocrisy and subconsciously questioning what he viewed as malfeasance. But does Miller’s “The Crucible” still resonate today? I will argue that it does. In doing so, I feel it is imperative to try and understand the initial reaction to the play and how it mirrored the times. I will then look for similarities in the present day citing examples from the past eight years in particular. There are three main attributes of “The Crucible” that I will be focusing on which include fear tactics, power struggles, and challenge to conformity. In examining these within the context of the play I will seek to draw parallels not only with the 1950’s but present day America as well. The story revolves around the accusations from a vengeful girl, Abigail, whose past affair with an older married man, John Proctor, leaves her wanting more. Proctor makes clear to her that he had made a mistake in having an affair with Abigail and from there the hysteria ensues. Abigail and other girls start accusing people all over town of confiding with the devil through witchery. Abigail in particular names Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor’s wife. The Reverend, and the religious alike, start giving credence to these accusations and subsequently set up trials to purge the community of witches. The accused are brought in and forced to sign a statement admitting to witchcraft and listing others involved in witchcraft in exchange for their lives. In the ensuing melee John Proctor is forced to concede his previous affair with Abigail to free his wife and he is accused of witchcraft. He is given the chance to save himself by confession but chooses to hang rather than sacrifice his good name. One of the key elements explored in “The Crucible” was the effect fear had on an otherwise normal community. As Bigsby states in his analysis of Miller’s work, “what is at stake in The Crucible is the survival of Salem, which is to say the survival of a sense of community” (148). Fear helped to rid Salem not only of accused witches but a sense of morality, intelligence, and humanness along with it and “more fundamentally than this, Miller is concerned with the breaking of that social contract which binds a community together, as love and mutual respect bind individuals” (Bigsby 149). Rational people were soon convinced of very irrational ideas and started taking advantage of other’s fears, seeking to profit themselves by naming names. The dominant class sought to fortify themselves within the community psyche responding with such zeal to the accusations with witch hangings. It didn’t take a giant leap to see how Salem was a microcosm of 1950’s America. The House of Un-American Activities Committee was on its crusade of purging the liberal elite from society by attacking each based on their supposed Communist affiliations. That Committee did its fare share of fear mongering forcing people to name names and black-listing many of the...
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