The Crucible was written by Arthur Miller, and is believed to be based on, and inspired by, the Communist Red Scare, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the 1950's. Although Miller's characters in The Crucible were very religious, they were quick to accuse and judge others of witchcraft, which was based only on hearsay, or they would "identify" other witches as a way of pardoning themselves from persecution. This tale is similar to Joseph McCarthy's unfair and unjust interrogations and imprisonment of hundreds of innocent government employees, who were accused of being spies for the Soviet Union. This may have been Miller's attempt in educating the public about how quickly a government issue could get out of control, without drawing too much attention to himself, otherwise he could have become the next communist on the Senator's list.
The Crucible was written as a play in 1953. Contrary to common belief, it is not a 100% true story. It is a work of fiction, based on the real events of the Salem Witch Trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay between 1692 and 1693. In The Crucible, many people were accused of being witches and working for the devil. Several of the younger girls in the small town of Salem began to claim that they were being visited or possessed by the specters of their neighbors. The girls started out accusing the outcasts and lower-class people of the town, and slowly worked their way up to accusing highly respected people. Being a very religious and superstitious town, the accused were quickly arrested and held in prison by order of the court. The problems began when a group of girls were caught out in the woods, accompanied by a black woman from Barbados, using "love potions" in order to get boys to be attracted to them. They quickly ran away when they were seen dancing around the fire and chanting. To cover up the truth, they lied and said that they were forced by the devil to do the rituals. They also lied and told of other "witches" that accompanied the devil when he approached them. These "witches" were other people from the town, and this was their attempt to remove the townspeople's focus from them onto others. Another cause of trouble was Abigail Williams, the "leader" of the group, was under the impression that John Proctor, the man she had once worked for as a housekeeper, was still in love with her, but was hiding his love for her because of his wife Elizabeth. When Elizabeth had discovered the two having an affair, she immediately fired Abigail. When the girls were being questioned, Abigail thought that if she could get Elizabeth tried and killed as a witch, then she would be able to marry John, and Elizabeth would be out of the way. The other girls did not have such complex plans; they only did what Abigail told them to do. She was clever in using blackmail and trickery with the girls, and convinced them that following along with the group decreased their chances of being accused of witchcraft. "In the actual Salem witch trials, out of the approximately 600 people living in the town of Salem, 185 people were accused of practicing witchcraft (141 women and 44 men). Of that number, 59 people were tried in court, where 31 were convicted of the crime, and ultimately 19 of them were executed by hanging.
The Red Scare that is believed to have so strongly influenced Arthur Miller's play, took place from 1947 to 1957. The Red Scare was a period in which a large portion of the American population felt fear that communism would disrupt the United States government, that communists would infiltrate the federal government, and that the Soviet Union would use their atomic bombs against the United States. The overwhelming amount of communist threats and communist espionage was what caused the American people to believe the most insane things that were said by public officials, the media, and the government. In 1949, the Soviet Union tested an Atomic Bomb, and in 1950, a high-level State Department official was found guilty of espionage. Also in 1950, two men were arrested on charges of stealing top secret atomic bomb designs and giving them to the Soviet Union. When World War 2 ended and the alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was no longer in place, the Cold War started almost instantly. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had their fingers on the buttons to launch nuclear missiles at one another. In 1947, President Harry Truman signed an order that led to the creation of the Federal Employees Loyalty Program. This program supported groups of officials that investigated the "Americanism" of government employees. Any employees that were too "un-American" were reported and it was suggested that they be relieved of their position. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a part of the investigation team that focused on American communists and if or how they were involved in espionage and propaganda. McCarthy used all of the fear caused by the cold war, the espionage, and the threat of nuclear attack, plus his position in Senate and in the investigation team, to convince America that he had a list of over 200 communists that had infiltrated, and were working for, the U.S. Government. McCarthy made a speech on Lincoln Day, in February 1950, to a Republican women's club in West Virginia. He pulled out a sheet of paper which was claimed to have the names of 205 communists working for the State Department. The speech was the center of press attention and led to McCarthy becoming one of the most recognized U.S. politicians. The Alien Registration Act, or Smith Act, made it illegal to teach, advise, encourage, etc. the overthrowing of the government by force, to form a group who's goal was to overthrow the government, or to become a part of this kind of group. Using these laws, hundreds of communists were prosecuted. By 1957, over 140 leaders and members of the Communist Party had been charged, with 93 being convicted. "It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of McCarthyism. The number imprisoned is in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs," (2). Several of the people who were held in prison, had lost their jobs, or were questioned, did have some sort of association with the communist party, but most of them would have been unable to do any harm to the United States even if they had tried.
The story of The Crucible by Arthur Miller has several similarities to the Red Scare and the communist threats that were taking place at the time when the play was written. If the Red Scare and McCarthyism had never happened, it is doubtful that The Crucible would have been written, based on how similar the two are. In both cases, many people were falsely accused and imprisoned. A person's credibility and standings were hurt if they were taken in for questioning, and in both cases people were executed. Before McCarthy said that he had a list of communists working in the U.S. government, there wasn't as much of an overwhelming fear of attack. There was already some fear due to the threat of a nuclear war, but most people assumed that the only danger was from bombs. McCarthy caused mass panic by saying communists had infiltrated the government. This gave him extraordinary power because people were afraid, and looked to him for suggestions on what to do, so he could tell them whatever he wanted, and the majority of people would accept it completely. This is most likely what lead Miller to write The Crucible the way he did. Miller's main character, Abigail, could tell anybody anything, and most people believed her. She had the power to get rid of whomever she wanted just by saying they were a witch. She got rid of the people she disliked, and anyone who was threatening her. There was a chance that if someone spoke out against McCarthy, he would put them on the list of potential communists, thereby getting rid of anyone he disliked, just like Abigail. Arthur Miller did end up on the "Red Channels" blacklist of artists and entertainers, and was investigated by the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) shortly after The Crucible opened. He was unable to get a passport to view his own play's opening show in London in 1954. One could conclude that McCarthy was not in favor of Miller's play.
Was The Crucible by Arthur Miller a response to the Red Scare? Almost every website that reviews this book says that it was. The story of The Crucible, and the events that happened during the Red Scare involving Senator Joseph McCarthy, are so alike in so many ways. It is hard to deny that the play would not have been written if the Red Scare had not happened.
- Campbell, Donna. "Literary Movements." Washington State University, Donna M. Campbell. 21 May 2007. Washington State University, Web. 2 Jan 2010. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/witch.htm>.
- "McCarthyism." Wikipedia. 2 Jan 2010. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, Web. 2 Jan 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism>.
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