The Crucible was written in 1952 by Arthur Miller
The Crucible was written in 1952 by Arthur Miller. It was written to expel his fury at the McCarthyist trials of 50s America, The play is set in Salem, USA in 1692 during the time of the famous witch trials, which he used as an allegory for the courtroom trials of McCarthyist America. The essay title ‘Moral Crusade or Personal Vendetta’ draws parallels to the McCarthyism of the 1950’s where whole lives were destroyed merely on the strength of accusations. McCarthyism was a movement in America which was obsessed with the fear of communism and “un- American” activity.
‘The Crucible’ is a naturalistic play in which the characters and actions are depicted in a manner which imitates life. The ‘Salem Witch Trials’ are historical fact and the characters in this play all existed, therefore Miller feels it is important to provide a lengthy introduction giving information about the characters and life in Salem. The playwright’s voice is heard many times throughout the play in the form of interruptions to give historical and character backgrounds and detailed stage directions.
It is obvious that Miller wanted the play to be performed exactly as it was written and he felt it important that the reader knew about the character before being introduced to them. Salem is a very traditional, strict town which is very ordered, quiet and occupied by Puritans. The Puritans adhered strictly to religious doctrine and they considered material and physical desires to be the work of the devil and a threat to their society. The Bible and their interpretation of the Bible was used to determine what was socially acceptable behaviour.
Such behaviour that they considered inappropriate or unacceptable was punished both severely and publicly. The play begins in a small bedroom in the house of Reverend Paris who is the local priest. He believes he is being persecuted wherever he goes, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side. Miller’s precise stage directions give the impression of a very claustrophobic room; this symbolizes the narrow-mindedness of the community. It is in this room that the image of a crucible is formed, as the scene is charged with fear, guilt, hate and envy.
There is a series of entrances and exits as all the main characters are introduced. Miller has done this to create the image of a crucible, where basic elements are added, melted and mixed to give an explosive force. The defining metaphor of the play is a symbol that does not appear anywhere but in the title. A crucible is a container used to heat metal to extremely high temperatures, refining it to its barest essence and melting away any foreign substances and impurities. A crucible is also defined as a ‘severe test or trial, especially one that causes a lasting change or influence. ‘
A witch hunt is started in Salem after a group of young girls is discovered by Parris, the parish minister, dancing and performing pagan rites with his Negro slave called Tituba. One of the girls, Abigail, who is Reverend Parris’ niece and a member of his household, has previously had an affair with a local farmer named John Procter. Abigail has asked Tituba for a charm to kill John Procter’s wife Elizabeth, as she has become obsessive about him. It is suggested that the girls have been tempted by witches and a court is set up in Salem to find the witches, with the girls as chief witnesses.
The girls use this accusation as an opportunity to divert attention from themselves and point the finger towards others and therefore make their own accusations about witchcraft. The motive for the witchcraft trial lies in the Christian Puritanical Society where punishment is sought for what is considered to be the work of the devil. However, the witchcraft trial, once in motion, is used as an excuse to pay back all the spite, envy, jealousy and guilt of the community thus resulting in an atmosphere of fear, bigotry and religious fervor which results in many innocent people being condemned to hang as witches.
As the number of arrests increases so does the mistrust within the community in Salem. Everyone is a potential witch. A self-perpetuating cycle of distrust is set up. As Miller states in the introduction to the play – ‘Long held hatred of neighbours… could now be elevated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbour and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. ‘
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