The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. The Crucible is about a group of girls who practice witchcraft and then accuse innocent people of being witches in order to avoid consequences. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during the McCarthy period when many Americans were accused for having Pro-Communist beliefs. The Crucible draws many parallels between the witch-hunts of the 1690s and the McCarthy trials of the 1950s
The Puritan life was a very plain, straightforward life; their religion was a very harsh and strict religion. The Puritans’ life was mostly based on discipline and religion. Back in the 1690s, “A thousand Puritan settlers arrived in New England in 1630 after leaving England. In the next fifteen years the Puritan community in the New World would have almost 20,00 members” (“Overview: The Crucible” 1). When the Puritan came to the New World, they had to face a new harsh environment. So, “to combat the harshness of life in the Massachusetts wilderness, as well as the temptations of sin, the Puritans employed a rigid sense of discipline, placing the good of the group over the rights of the individual” (“Overview: The Crucible” 1). Puritans feared witchcraft the most; “in the early 1690s the Puritan community of Salem abruptly exploded in terror over claims that some of its citizens were practicing witchcraft” (“Overview: The Crucible” 1). Witchcraft began in many ways during the 1690s, but according to The Crucible, “The hysteria over witches in Salem began innocently enough with the play of young girls” (“Overview: The Crucible” 2). Many innocent people during the 1690s were accused of witchcraft, and many were executed. The crime of witchcraft was a felony and “of the 100 people accused before the 1690s, at least twelve were executed” (“Overview: The Crucible” 2). Witchcraft was not just a problem in the Puritan religion, but “such accusations were commonplace in many religions of the world in the seventeenth century. Hundreds of people accused of witchcraft in England were killed, while thousands of suspected witches were executed in Scotland, Germany, and Scandinavia” (“Overview: The Crucible” 2). According to Understanding The Crucible, most “accusations in Salem were made chiefly and at first by young women and girls who protected themselves from charges of witchcraft and lewdness by accusing others; later accusations were made by those who themselves had been accused and confessed to witchcraft in order to save themselves from the gallows” (Johnson and Johnson 141). In The Crucible, few suspected that the girls that were accusing the innocent people of witchcraft were frauds and making everything up. According to Francis Nurse from The Crucible, “Excellency, we have proof for your eyes; god for bid you shut them to it. The girls, sir, they are frauds” (Miller 87), which meant that Francis Nurse was aware that the girls were lying about the accusations. The people that were accused of witchcraft were put on trials, and then they are either let free if they agree that they were practicing witchcraft or if they disagree then they are executed. In the witch-hunts of 1692 and 1950s, “both sets of ‘trials’ occurred outside the bounds of legal practice. The Salem trials were at first conducted as extralegal Hearings by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestor John Hawthorne” (Johnson and Johnson 141). Many people that were put on trial “were forced to appear and defend themselves in extralegal trails of both the seventeenth and twentieth centuries against charges based almost solely on two kinds or evidence” (Johnson and Johnson 141).
Other than witchcraft being a notorious crime during the 1600s, Communism was an even bigger threat to the Americans. According to Understanding The Crucible, “In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, instead of seeing witches everywhere, the government saw “subversives” people involved in an international conspiracy to ever throw the country” (Johnson and Johnson 141). Joseph McCarthy started a movement to stop communism from entering the United States, “During the late 1940s and early 1950s, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), a Wisconsin Republican, led a tidal wave of anticommunist political republican repression in the United States” (“McCarthyism” 1). Witchcraft was a major crime many years ago, but as more people were accused of witchcraft, the more people that denied it. There were too many people denying the fact that they are not witches, which caused the witch trials to stop.
There were many accusations of communism in the 1950s. McCarthy himself also accused others of communism, especially when “McCarthy was nonetheless catapulted to national prominence as he exploited the press with thundering quotes and unfounded accusations” (“Overview: The Crucible” 5). But also “he even went so far as to accuse the Secretary of Defense, George C. Marshall, of being a conscious agent of Soviet Russia” (“Overview: The Crucible” 5). Arthur Miller was also accused of being a communist, “Miller complained that the fear of being labeled a communist had created an atmosphere of dread and fostered a feeling that individual Americans could operate under an officially approved set of moods and attitudes” (“Overview: The Crucible” 6). If a person were to be accused, their jobs and reputation would suffer.
People that had been accused of communism would most likely face the FBI. However “the FBI provided much of the information, sketchy though if often was, that fueled that investigations and prosecutions of suspected communists and communist sympathizers” (“McCarthyism” 2). In the United States during 1938, “the House of Representatives formed the Committee on Un-American Activities (HAUC)” (“McCarthyism 1”). After more programs and acts grew to stop communism in The United States, “the Smith Act was passed, making it illegal to advocate the violent overthrow of government. Various loyalty programs designed to weed out communists from jobs in the federal government were put into place over the next few years” (“McCarthyism” 1). The purpose of was supposed to protect America from subversion and also to investigate people that were suspected of unpatriotic behavior and attempting to overthrow the government. For example, “the Hollywood Ten ushered in a dark period for Hollywood, they were called to appear before HUAC, some three hundred witnesses from Hollywood clung to their own careers by admitting their previous communist affiliation and naming others whom they know to have similar connections in their past” (“McCarthyism” 4).
After WWII was over, “the republican takeover of congress turned out to be the beginning of the end of McCarthyism. With Republicans in control in Washington, McCarthy could no longer weave tales of communist conspiracies within the federal government” (“McCarthyism” 3). Going back to the “Witch-hunts” of the 1950s and 1690s; these two different time periods had many similarities’, “Both sets of “trials” occurred outside the bounds of legal practice (Johnson and Johnson 140), The two similarities on both time periods was that “citizens were arrested solely on the accusations of others and were found guilty on the accusations of others” (Johnson and Johnson 140). In The Crucible, there were many accusations especially coming from the young girls. According to Arthur Miller, Mary Warren explains why Goody Proctor is a witch, as she says, “I never knew if before. I never knew anything before. When she come into court I say to myself, I must not accuse this women, for she sleep in ditches, and so very old and poor. But then-then she sit there, denying and denying, and I feel a misty coldness climbin’ up my backs, and the skin on my skull begin to creep, and I feel a misty coldness climbin’ up my back, and the skin on my skull begin to creep, and I feel a clamp around my neck and I cannot breathe air; and then-entranced-I hear a voice, a creamin’ voice, and it were my voice-and all at once I remember everything she done to me!” (54). Although many think The Crucible strictly involves the Salem witch trials of 1692, it clearly has a greater meaning than just that. Once one accusation was made, it was easy to release all the buried suspicions and hatred into a wave of madness. Therefore, when they spotted what they believed to be a witch, they would execute them, as the Bible instructed them.
Johnson, Claudia Durst, and Vernon Johnson. “Witch Hunts in the 1950s. Understanding The Crucible: A Student Casebook and Documents. Westport, CT. GreenwoodPress, 1998. 133-135. “McCarthyism.” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. History: Government and Politics. Anne Marie Hacht and Dwayne D. Hayes. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Student Resource Center – Junior. Gale. St Francis High School – GA. 27 Aug. 2012. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin, 1953. Print. “Overview: The Crucible.” Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Joyce Moss and George Wilson. Vol. 1: Ancient Times to the American and French Revolutions (Prehistoric-1790s). Detroit: Gale, 1997. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 8 Aug. 2012.