The Crucible Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller n Arthur Miller was an American playwright who was born in 1915. His Death of a Salesman won the Pulitzer prize in 1949. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during the Mc. Carthy period when Americans were accusing each other of Pro-Communist beliefs. Many of Miller’s friends were being attacked as communists and in 1956, Miller himself was brought before the House of Un. American Activities Committee where he was found guilty of beliefs in communism. The verdict was reversed in 1957 in an appeals court.
Plot n The Crucible is set against the backdrop of the mad witch hunts of the Salem witch trials in the late 17 th century. It is about a town, after accusations from a few girls, which begins a mad hunt for witches that did not exist. Many townspeople were hanged on charges of witchcraft. Miller brings out the absurdity of the incident with theme of truth and righteousness. The theme is conveyed through the struggles of Miller’s main character, John Proctor.
Plot (cont. ) n n There is a feud between the Putnam and the Nurse families. They are both wealthy land owners and the Nurses are very respected in town. These families each supported a different minister. The Nurses supported Reverend Parris. The Proctors preferred to worship in their own house. They felt that the church under Reverend Parris was becoming too materialistic and drifted away from the purpose of the church. Rebecca Nurse was the midwife to the Putnams, she aided the delivery of the babies. Mrs Putnam had eight children, seven of which died, and the Putnams felt that Mrs Nurse had put a curse on the children when they died.
Background Information n The play occurs during the seventeenth and eighteenth century Salem Witch trials and involves the Puritan beliefs and religion. They were very religious. They felt that people could form pacts with the devil. The devil would do actions for them in this life and then when they died he would have their souls. They believed in witches and felt that they could cast spells on people. The Puritans believed that there were certain signs of a witch.
Characters n Each character in the play has his own distinct quality. Most characters are distinctly good or evil, though few characters are really developed. The reader is only able to see one side of each character.
Setting n The play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts during the 17 century. Since this play is based on a true story, the setting is real. The events within this play occur in a Puritan society where the community is very superstitious and gullible. Due to these facts, the people are very fearful of witches. People in the story were too supernatural to believe the girls in the play.
Style n Miller’s style is very simple. He uses simple sentences and words which are easy to understand. He brings out the evil quality of Abigail and the other girls as well as the gullibility of the judges. While using a simple style, Miller maintains the suspense in the plot. The dialogues of his characters are created to sound like actual speech.
Theme n The theme of the play is rising over adversity and standing for truth. Through Proctor’s struggle, Miller displays the struggles within each of our own hearts. Many times we witness some sort of wrong-doing to another person and choose to not get involved. However, some people fight to do what is right, just like John Proctor in the story. Would you quit after only saving someone close to you, like Proctor could have done, or would you go for the entire community as Proctor did?
Conclusion n The story reminds its readers of an ugly blemish on human history. It reminds us that man is not perfect, and that we can make mistakes. However, even with these mistakes, we can overcome them by making what is wrong right. The sufferings become to the sufferer like a crucible.
The Salem Witch Trials The people of Salem who believed in witches were no different from their counterparts in England the rest of Europe. Belief in the existence of witches had been prevalent throughout the earlier centuries and continued into the 17 th century. Salem was simply a microcosm of the larger macrocosm.
Mc. Carthy Hearings n During the Mc. Carthy hearings (1950’s) many innocent people were accused of being traitors (communists, mainly) to our country and, while they were not physically harmed, their professional and personal lives were ruined by this adverse publicity, which was often untrue. During this period also (as in Salem) many supposed “good people” participated in the accusations against others because they were afraid that if they refused to do so their own lives would be ruined. Miller is thus drawing a parallel between two periods of hysteria in our country, though far apart in time, that are dangerously close in ideology. (Guidon study materials)
Historical Applications n The Mc. Carthy trials were in full force when Miller wrote this story, so this story closely relates to these trials. During the 1950's, Senator Joseph Mc. Carthy accused many American leaders of being communists. This led to many unfounded accusations of people being communist party members. Some people believed Mc. Carthy because they were fearful of communism and he played on those fears. Mc. Carthy was, in effect, conducting "witch hunts". If any person opposed the Salem Witch trials, he or she was accused of being a witch. If any person opposed the Mc. Carthy investigations, he or she was accused of being a communist.