Taking as the play’s basis the Salem witch-hunt of 1692, Arthur Miller demonstrates its contemporary social relevance, drawing the parallel between this event and the McCarthyism that gripped America in the 1950s. In this classic parable of communal hysteria Miller depicts not an indifferent society but one in which positive evil is unleashed. This takes the form of the persecution of minority groups and the interference of the state in the conscience of the individual. As a savage attack on the ills of ‘ideological intensities’, The Crucible remains unrivalled.
As the small Salem community is stirred into madness and the play reaches the violent climax, the events it describes become a timeless vision of the evils of mindless persecution.
Comments: I first heard of this play when we studied Arthur Miller in high school. Of course it was the other class that got to study The Crucible – we got stuck with Death of a Salesman. At the time this was cause for jealousy, though the intervening years have taught me the value of Death of a Salesman. Despite a great desire to do so, I never seemed to get around to reading The Crucible. It was worth the wait.
This play is full of drama and suspense, despite the fact that the events it describes are well known. The parallels between Salem and the McCarthy era are obvious, but not so obvious as to spoil enjoyment. Other, more recent (and perhaps more disturbing) parallels can be drawn between Salem’s treatment of their women (and McCarthy’s paranoid witch-hunts) and today’s paranoia about terrorism.
The Crucible was written well before modern events were even predicted, however the comparison remains valid. Today’s society responds to the word ‘terrorist’ with the same knee-jerk reaction as the citizens of the 1950’s did with the mention of ‘communism’ and the good people of Salem with the mention of ‘witch’; and we are just as quick to condemn. This play is definitely worth reading, and I would like to see it performed sometime.
- The highly respected London theatre production company’s staging of The Crucible captures three awards (lfpress.com)