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Commentary on The Crucible Essay


Arthur Miller was born in New York on October 17th, 1915. When his fathers business failed, the family moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Miller had neither the money nor the grades to attend college. His athletic abilities exceeded his academics. Miller worked for two years to save enough money to be able to attend the University of Michigan. He worked at night as an editor of the Michigan Daily to be able to pay tuition. Miller began writing plays at this time and won multiple awards for his achievements. He married Mary Grace Slattery after graduation from the University. In 1953 the Antoinette Perry Award was awarded to him for The Crucible, which is an analogy between the Salem witch hunts and the investigation of communists. The Crucible has been considered uncomfortable to people, forcing the play to close in 1953 after a few months. Miller was denied a passport in 1954 due to his leftist sympathies. In 1958 The Crucible as a play opened off Broadway. Miller divorced Slattery in 1955. He has seen many problems with his association with communism and McCarthyism. He was denied use of materials for a film project; he was called before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, and he was also cited with contempt of congress for not incriminating his colleagues. His conviction was later overturned. He married Marilyn Monroe and created a movie The Misfits. The movie had much torouble with the death of her costar. They divorced in 1961. Miller is still writing today. He married Ingeborg Morath in 1962, and they moved to a home in Connecticut. He travels to Russia and China dealing with books related to The Crucible. Today he tends to write about Nazi terror and the Depression (MacNicholas 99).

During the 1950s a United States Senator named Joseph McCarthy began a campaign to uncover all Communists and Communist sympathizers living in America. Those targeted by McCarthy not only had to testify about their own activities but were forced to name others who may have been involved in any activity perceived to be anti-American. If a person was called to testify before the government committee headed by McCarthy, and the person refused to testify or refused to name names of others, he or she was sentenced to prison. Arthur Miller was called to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and refused to testify. He received a prison sentence that was later overturned. As a result of his experience, Miller wrote The Crucible, an analogy of McCarthyism. Both the social problems in post World War II America during McCarthyism and those in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1962 resulted in the persecution and banishment of many innocent victims (Reeves 5). After World War II, Americans were concerned about the Soviet Unions nuclear abilities, and Russian spies were discovered in the United States. An atmosphere of hysteria developed. President Truman said the threat of Communism was almost a national crisis and the extermination of democracy the Russians was imminent (Reeves 5). In Salem, the way of life enjoyed by the Puritans was threatened by a new Governor who was an Anglican. Therefore the people were unable to govern themselves or hold clear title to their farms. This was further complicated by a smallpox epidemic in 1691-1692, plus Indian raids on small farms (Reeves 5). There were also many disputes over land and jealousies over wealth. The result was a general feeling of anxiety. it was in such an atmosphere of unrest that such an innocent prank by bored young girls escalated to a hysteria of persecution that left twenty three people hanged, one pressed to death and three to die in prisons (Reeves 5). The victims of McCarthyism suffered unfairly as well. Most were blacklisted, and never worked again. Others committed suicide. Miller wrong The Crucible to call attention to methods of scapegoating used by groups facing a crisis situation (Reeves 5).

The Crucible is a fictional retelling of events in American history surrounding the Salem Witch Trials of the seventeenth century. It is as much a product of the time in which Arthur Miller wrote it, the early 1950s, as it is a description of Puritan Society. The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692, during which nineteen men and women were hanged, while another man, was pressed to death. Many others faced accusations of witchcraft and dozens more languished in jail without trials. The Crucible is a parable for the McCarthy era, in which similar witch hunts occurred targeting citizens as communists rather than disciples of Satan. Arthur Miler himself was questioned about being a communist sympathizer in 1956. His ordeal was his inspiration to research and write the play. In The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, revenge, honesty, and the abuse of authority are important themes throughout the play.

Abigail Williams seeks revenge against Elizabeth for standing the way of her desired John Proctor. Abigail is a young woman who has an affair with John Proctor who is married to Elizabeth. Abigail has very strong feelings for John, and desires to marry John. Elizabeth stands in the way of the relationship, and John wants to save his marriage. Abigail at one point was a house keeper of John and Elizabeth. Elizabeth let her go on bad terms, Abigail believes, and tells John, She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! She is a cold, sniveling woman, and you bend to her (Miller 22)! Abigail is very jealous of Elizabeth and due to that, she tends to believe Elizabeth is a bad woman. Elizabeth has not done anything wrong, and Abigail justifies her later actions on Elizabeth being a bad person. Abigail believes that John really loves her, so she does all she can to seek this revenge on Elizabeth so John might leave Elizabeth for herself. The critic Warshow states Miller makes [Abigail] a young woman of eighteen or nineteen and invents an adulterous relationship between her and John Proctor in order to motivate her denunciation of John and his wife Elizabeth (Warshow 297). Abigail enjoys a fun night in the woods where she practices witchcraft with some girls. The girls get caught up in the hysteria of casting spells, and start accusing innocent people, saying that they saw multiple members of society alongside the devil. One accusation that was made was Elizabeth Proctor. Elizabeth knows of Johns adulterous relationships and realizes that Abigail is out to get her. Elizabeth says to John, There be a thousand names; why does she call mine?... She thinks to take my place, John (Miller 58). Abigail knows that if she were to accuse Elizabeth Proctor, Elizabeth will be hanged and most likely John will be all hers. Abigail also shows her means of seeking revenge when during the trials, [Abigail] falls to the floor. Like a struck beast, he says, and screamed a scream that a bull would weep to hear. And he goes to save her, and, stuck two inches in the flesh of her belly, he drew a needle out. And demanding of her how she came to be stabbed, she testifies it were your wifes families spirit pushed it in (Miller 70). This happens when Cheever, the clerk of the court, finds the poppet that Mary Warren innocently gave to Elizabeth. But, unknown to anyone, Abigail stuck a needle into it to frame Elizabeth for using a type of voo-doo on Abigail. Abigail is doing everything in her power to get rid of Elizabeth so she can have John Proctor for herself.

Rebecca Nurse died maintaining her honesty by not giving a false confession when she could save herself from being hanged. Many of the townspeople throughout Salem see Rebecca Nurse as a great, Christian woman. She is one of the women that are accused throughout the hysteria of accusations going on throughout the town. John Proctor perceives Rebecca just as anyone else in the town does, he states, Its hard to think so a pious woman could be secretly a Devils bitch after seventy year of such good prayer (Miller 61). When John Proctor says this, it reinforces how good of a person Rebecca is, and that she is an honest woman who will not go against her morals. Reverend Hale, the minister in the town, believes that the accusations throughout Salem have gotten out of hand. Hale states, If Rebecca Nurse be tainted, then nothings left to stop the whole green world from burning (Miller 67). This outlook of Rebecca shows how he believes that these accusations have started to turn into a center of lies. When someone who is as good-natured as Rebecca is, there is an obvious problem with how witches are determined. Hales statement parallels with Johns statement of Rebecca Nurse, and when two credible people say that Rebecca would be the last person they would suspect of witchcraft, and then there is someone who has made up a few lies here and there, to say the least. Rebecca shows true adamancy about not confessing to witchcraft when says, Why, it is a lie, it is a lie; how may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot (Miller 129). When Rebecca refuses to confess, she realizes that it is more important to die telling the truth and maintaining her Christian morals, rather than living a lie for the rest of her life. Rebecca maintains her word and her honesty when she is hanged at the end of the play. The critic Ferres says the same thing about Rebecca, A [woman] must be true to [herself] and to [her] fellows, even though being untrue may be the only way to stay alive (Ferres 324).

Judge Danforth abuses his authority by refusing to consider evidence contrary to that put forth by the girls. Danforth is ultimately in control of the persecutions of the accused witches. Danforth is worried about his reputation, rather than trying to bring the much needed justice to the people. When Mary Warren testified against the girls, in which she had made a compact with, Judge Danforth replies No, no I accept no depositions (Miller 82). He will not consider what Mary Warren said since he had already ordered other people to be hanged. It would make him look like he has possibly made a mistake that has cost innocent people their lives. Danforth only believes what Abigail and the other girls have said, and he backs this up by saying, I have until this moment not the slightest reason to suspect that the children may be deceiving me (Miller 84). Danforth knows that these girls stories and others do not match up. He cannot, and will not accept anyones testimony that is different than the girls. He cannot because people will see that he has doubts about his previous decisions. People will see his close-mindedness if people see that he has doubts. So he is adamant about the girls being right. During the trials and the hangings of the witches, a postponement is asked for by Reverend Hale. Danforth says to Hale, Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak Gods law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this-I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law (Miller 119). Danforths view on postponement stems from him knowing that if he were to reprieve or pardon, people would see that he might have made mistakes in the trials of the witches. Danforth refuses to bring justice to innocent people because it would ultimately prove that what he has ruled is false and simply an abuse of his authority. The critic Warshow says, Deputy Govenor Danforth, presented as the virtual embodiment of New England, never becomes more than a pompous, unimaginative politician of the better sort (Warshow 297).

During the witch trials of 1692, the Village of Salem was turned upside down due to hysteria created by young girls lies. Similar paranoia was mimicked with McCarthyism during the 1950s. Fear driven by the ignorance and jealousy of a few people caused many innocent victims to suffer at the hands of the government. Arthur Miller replicates these troubling in his timeless masterpiece, The Crucible. Throughout the play, revenge, honesty and the abuse of authority are prominent themes that contribute to the work as a whole.


Ferres, John H. Still in the Present Tense: The Crucible Today. University College

Quarterly. 17(1972): 8-18. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jean

C. Stine. Vol. 26. Detroit: Gale, 1983. 324-26

MacNicholas, John, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biograpy: Twentieth Century

Dramatists. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981.

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Glencoe Literature. Ed. Beverly Chin. New York:

Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2000. 914-995

Reeves, Thomas C. McCarthyism. Melbourne: Robert E. Kreiger Publishing Co., 1982.

Warshow, Robert. The Liberal Conscience in The Crucible. The Immediate

Experience. (1962):189-203. Rpt. In Contemporary Literary Criticim. Ed.

James P. Draper. Vol. 78. Detroit: Gale, 1994. 296-300.

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