By Arthur Miller
The Crucible deals with a group of young girls living in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s. This was a deeply religious environment where a seemingly minor transgression sparked a catastrophic witch hunt that ultimately led to the execution of over 50 people.
The town of Salem was a small settlement, one of the earliest towns in New England, but at the time the play is set it had been in existence for less than seventy years. The people of Salem were settlers in a hostile environment – a land in which they struggled to establish farms and live off the land; a land which was bordered by vast unexplored areas. Life in this community was hard and there was also an ever present threat from marauding Indian tribes. The religious rigour of Puritanism made life even more restrictive and intolerant for the community.
The Crucible was written in 1953 as a response to the McCarthy trials, which were in effect a witch hunt against communists and those accused of ‘anti-American activities.’ Miller was caught up in this frenzy, being asked to apologise for an interest in Marxism when he was younger. Brought before the House Committee of Un-American Activities, he refused to apologise and was sent for trial. Initially he was fined and given a suspended prison sentence, but he appealed and was acquitted.
Later Arthur Miller wrote: “I had read about the witchcraft trials in my college, but it was not until I read a book by Charles Upham, who was then the mayor of Salem, that I knew I had to write about the period. The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding ages of common experiences in the fifties”.
In the seventeenth century witches were held accountable for nearly every problem, as Communists were during the era of McCarthyism. Today it is all too easy to see similar parallels between the Salem of the 1690s, America of the 1950s and the World of 2006. Twenty First century witches appear every week in the pages of the tabloid press. They are people marginalised by the fears and insecurities of the majority. Beware!
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