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The Crucible

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Arthur Miller was an American dramatist who wrote the play The Crucible in 1953 as a reflection of the Second Red Scare and McCarthyism in the United States (Wake Forest University, 2012). The Crucible describes notorious witch trials in Salem in 1692 (Miller, 1954, p. 3). The play can be identified with the Second Red Scare period since it depicts mass hysteria and witch trials, which remind of the communist trials in the USA in the 1950s. Though communists were not hanged like characters of the play who were accused of witchery, they were accused of communism without any proof just like citizens of Salem.

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Miller wrote his play to show his disagreement with McCarthy’s policy. Joseph McCarthy was the Senator of Wisconsin who aroused national paranoia “by proclaiming that communist spies were omnipresent” (U. S. History, n.d.). After the Second World War, people had a fear of communists since they believed that the Soviet Union could use a nuclear weapon against the Americans.

Thus, Joseph McCarthy used this fear to gain a favor of President Truman and national recognition. In February of 1950, he pronounced that he had a list of 200 communists who were dangerous for the USA (U. S. History, n.d.). Since communists dominated in the world after the Second World War, people believed the Senator and mass hysteria began. McCarthy blamed all people who disagreed with his politics of being communists. Thus, many celebrities, actors, writers, and politicians lost their jobs and reputation because of his unjustified accusation. Arthur Miller was one of these people since he was accused of communistic views. Moreover, he refused to call the names of communists in 1957 and the House Un-American Activities Committee found him guilty (Jewish Currents, 2010). Miller’s play The Crucible is a reflection of McCarthyism since it recounts the similar situation in Salem when hundreds of innocent people were accused of witchery.

After reading The Crucible, one can symbolically identify some characters with representatives of the McCarthyism era. For instance, protagonist Abigail Williams can be identified with Joseph McCarthy since she accused innocent people of being guilty. Both Abigail and McCarthy believed that they did good things for their nations. At the same time, they acted selfishly and often blamed those people they did not like. Both McCarthy and Abigail were perfect manipulators. They used other humans’ fear to incline them to support their actions or, if those people refused, they were blamed. Abigail wanted to save her reputation and destroy her lover’s wife, while McCarthy wished “to gain notoriety as a potent government figure” (Ohio History Central, n.d.).

However, neither McCarthy nor Abigail provided evidence for their accusations. After the first hearing, the court insisted on the investigation, but McCarthy continued blaming famous people and governmental workers without any proof. Finally, he was censured for verbiage. In the play, Abigail did not wait for being censured as she stole money from Reverend Parris and ran away. Eventually, both personages did not succeed in their lives and Abigail ended as a prostitute, while McCarthy died from alcoholism.
Interestingly, John Proctor can be identified with Arthur Miller since they both were accused of wrongdoing and criticized the court. John Proctor was a single person who saw how foolish all those people were. He tried to persuade the judge that Abigail and other girls were pretending and lied; however, no one believed him (Miller, 1954, p. 115). Arthur Miller was close to the Communist Party’s activities and this fact led to his accusation. However, in several years Miller cleared his reputation, while Proctor was hanged.

Reverend Hale and J. Edgar Hoover are other characters that can be identified with each other. Hoover was the director of the FBI who helped McCarthy to investigate cases of potential communists (Ohio History Central, n.d.). Reverend Hale visited individuals suspected of witchery and conducted investigations. Although Reverend Hale saw the absurdity of the situation, he could not refuse to help the court and assisted the judge with the cases.

One can also notice some similarities between the HUAC in the 1950s and the court in the play. The House Un-American Activities Committee was created to investigate cases of potential communists and determine whether they were guilty or not. In the play, the court with Judge Danforth at its head tried citizens of Salem. Both institutions manipulated the accused people and punished them when they did not confess.

Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible illustrates attacks of mass hysteria and their impact on humans. Hysteria in Salem reminds mass hysteria in the USA during the Second Red Scare. The more individuals were involved in panic, the more victims appeared. However, in Salem people were puritans and believed in witches. They were afraid that the Devil could penetrate into their souls and rule their minds. Once, several young girls, including Abigail Williams, pretended to see witchery in other people in order to be saved from being hanged for wild dances in the forest. The girls used humans’ fear for their personal benefit, calling the name of Tituba (Miller, 1954, p. 43). Tituba was a black maiden; thus, she was in a minority, which made her unprotected among other citizens of Salem. She was the first woman to blame and the first to confess. She confessed to speaking with the Devil and told that she wanted to be a good Christian woman. Later, other names were called and the court trials began. After the girls’ success in the court, they began to use their privilege and blame all people they disdained. During the Second Red Scare, Joseph McCarthy proclaimed the first names to gain a favor of the government and later continued to call names to save his popularity and a full-time job (U. S. History, n.d.). While in The Crucible people were asked whether they had ever seen the Devil, during McCarthyism they were asked whether they had ever been members of the Communist Party. In both cases, when the answer did not satisfy the court, a person was convicted of a crime and punished accordingly. Withal, Miller’s play has very much in common with the Second Red Scare period.

While reading the play, one can notice that citizens of Salem did not realize the difference between the good and the evil. They participated in mass hysteria, welcomed hangings of the accused in spite of the fact that there was no evidence against those people, and truly believed in witchery. Today, one can understand these people since they lived at the end of the 17th century when the church and the state were inseparable. Those individuals who had no faith in God were supposed to be witches. However, in the 1950s the Americans believed McCarthy because they were intimidated by the stories about communist spies. Moreover, an atomic threat was another reason for fear. In addition, as the world’s most populous nation, China, became communist and half of Europe was under Stalin’s control, Americans were afraid of being next victims of the Communist Party (U. S. History, n.d.).

Therefore, constant panic did not allow the citizens of the USA to evaluate the situation and distinguish the truth.
Overall, fear and injustice are the main themes of The Crucible. These themes relate to the House Un-American Activities Committee and the events during the 1950s in the following aspects. The HUAC investigated dissident activities of American citizens, mostly screenwriters, filmmakers, and directors in whose works some hints of communism were observed. Those individuals who refused to cooperate with the HUAC and confess to being guilty were sentenced to incarceration. Moreover, they were not allowed to continue writing and their careers were stained. In Miller’s play, those citizens who were accused of witchery and did not confess were hanged. Those who confessed lost their reputation. Hence, events in the play and the era of McCarthyism have many similarities.

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To summarize, Miller conveyed the following moral statement in his play. People should comprehend that mass hysteria can lead to fatal outcomes. Humans often tend to lose their consciousnesses and minds when they are intimidated or frightened. The government or other representatives of power can use mass hysteria for their personal benefit. Miller wanted to show that communists were not dangerous for the USA. Besides, he emphasized that frightened people tended to believe in someone’s guilt without any evidence. In his play, a group of teenage girls pretended that they saw witchcraft and adult men believed them. In the period of McCarthyism, a group of people, including Hoover and McCarthy, accused innocent men of being communists and the Americans believed them as well. Thus, the power of words and fear can change human consciousness and manipulate minds.

In conclusion, the events of the 1950s became the crucial point in lives of many personalities. Arthur Miller was not an exception. However, he did not want to keep silence and wrote his play with a symbolic title The Crucible. The play has much in common with the Second Red Scare phenomenon. Many characters can be identified with participators and victims of McCarthyism. The author’s main point was to show people that mass hysteria and fear could influence their lives and lead to negative outcomes.

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