The Crucible by Arthur Miller

A true American classic, and a perfect example of an allegory. I think the fact that if you didn’t know the context behind Arthur Miller writing the play, it is still a legitimate thing to read for enjoyment. It’s interesting reading about Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, and hear a story about another time. It’s gripping (even when you know the ending, thanks to a very kindly placed spoiler RIGHT ON THE FIRST PAGE OF THE PLAY IN MY COPY! When you know the ending, sometimes you’re more interested in how it’s going to happen, and you still cling to hope that maybe it won’t happen that way) and moving. But it’s even more interesting when you understand the allegory. If you don’t know what an allegory is, it is where the story represents something else. So it is a story to tell a message. Now in 1950s in America, the Cold War was in its height, and anti-communism was in fever-pitch, and the Federal Government started the Un-American Activities Committee, to investigate so called ‘communist’ activities in America. They did so, and essentially when you were called in, you were asked to admit to the guilt, and name other ‘communists’ or become black-listed and ‘never’ work again. Even Hollywood stars came under scrutiny, and actors like Charlie Chaplin and screenwriters, directors, all were banned from working at the big production houses, for refusing to admit to their ‘guilt’, name names, or show up. Arthur Miller was brought in front of this committee, and found in contempt of congress, for not naming names. These ‘activities’ usually involved attending a Communist Party meeting, which was then outlawed, but these meetings were usually years ago, when the party was legal and ‘big’ in America. Of course the meetings made minutes, so people were documented in attending. Those brought to the Committee, were required to name the other people in attendance, who in turn would be brought in, and forced to name names. Which if you’ve read ‘The Crucible’ you’ll see just how inspired Miller must have been, since in Salem, the accused witches are required to name names, or face death (a punishment more drastic than for being a communist, but that was life shattering too).

And Senator Joseph McCarthy is just a purely evil man, who I equate to Judge Danforth. If you’re interested in just how far McCarthy was prepared to go in his ludicrous questioning, watch this Youtube Video of the actual hearing:

Which is followed by:

He decided to go after one of the lawyer’s  (Welch who stood up to McCarthy, and started his downfall) who were representing the American Army (who were not immune from his communist suspicious), and question the communist sympathies of one of his junior lawyers. He just went too far, which is exactly what Abigail Williams did, she just went a step too far.

John Proctor really is an interesting man (even if in reality he was about 70 and didn’t have a relationship with Abigail, Miller just dramatised that, which was much more interesting), even if he is a flawed protagonist, this story is really his story. Despite his attempts to actually show the girls are all just crying witch, the judges don’t believe him, and eventually declare him to be the Antichrist instead of seeing the truth! Proctor really is a good man, and gives up opportunities to free his wife, and save himself, preferring to end the lies, and help others.

I’ve seen the 1996 film, and that was a pretty good adaptation of the text. And what I find interesting is the further allegory of the whole communist situation, in the film ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ directed by George Clooney. Which allegories the fear of terrorism post 9-11!

If you haven’t read The Crucible, or seen an adaptation of it whether that be a film or a performance, then I highly recommend you do. You’ll see the damage that hysteria can do, and see how easy it is for people to get caught up in hysteria and for others to take advantage of the situation. I think The Crucible is still very relevant today, and will continue to be, well into the future.

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3 Comments

Filed under The classics

3 responses to “The Crucible by Arthur Miller

  1. kirksroom

    Wow, you know so much more about my country’s history than I do. I feel ashamed.

    • Don’t feel too bad, I only know all of this since I studied The Crucible in high school English, and had a knowledgeable teacher, who taught us the context.

  2. Pingback: Bookish Topic Tuesday – Tough Books | daniel is reading

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