The Crucible
Arthur Miller (1953)
1915 - 2005
Arthur Miller’s 2nd wife,
Marilyn Monroe
• He was born in 1915 and died 2005.
• He was born in New York.
• His grandparents came to America from Poland. His
parents, Gussie and Isodore Miller ran a successful coat
making company – Millitex Suit and Coat Co. until the 1929
Wall Street crash. Before the crash, he and his family lived a
comfortable life. After the business failed they moved to
Brooklyn and he worked in a warehouse to earn money to
pay for his university fees.
• He worked for a while as a journalist. Between the years of
journalism and becoming a successful playwright, he
worked on the Brooklyn shipyards for 2 years.
• He was married 3 times, most famously to Marilyn Monroe
but it quickly ended in divorce.
Miller was always interested in the tragedy of
people who, under social pressure, lose their
integrity. The Crucible explores this theme in
the context of the Salem witch trials. Many
citizens of Salem lost their sense of decency
and community when they went along with
the crowd to continue persecution of the
innocent.
• His plays were at times politically motivated.
• America was caught in the grip of the cold war.
He said, ‘people were saying things that were
absurd and based whole political platforms on
them.’ He felt that the political system and
freedoms were under jeopardy and threat.
• His writing is concerned with political and moral
issues. He expressed an interest in how personal
relationships dictate the way one leads one’s life
and about people’s struggles to do what is right.
Miller wrote this play in the late 1940s when
Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired a committee
to rid the United States government, and the
nation, of Communists. During the McCarthy
Era many of Arthur Miller's friends were
attacked for their so-called pro-communist
beliefs. Miller himself was called before the
House [of Representatives] Un-American
Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1956 to testify
against his friends and, like John Proctor in the
play, refused to implicate them.
In 1952, Miller’s good friend, Elia Kazan
appeared before the House Un-American
Committee and, under fear of being
blacklisted from Hollywood, named eight
people from the Group Theatre who in recent
years had been fellow members of the
Communist Party. After speaking with Kazan
about his testimony Miller traveled to Salem,
Massachusetts to research the witch trials of
1692.
‘It would probably never have occurred to me
to write a play about the Salem witch trials of
1692 had I not seen some astonishing
correspondences with that calamity in the
America of the late 40s and early 50s. My
basic need was to respond to a phenomenon
which, with only small exaggeration, one
could say paralysed a whole generation and in
a short time dried up the habits of trust and
toleration in public discourse.’
Arthur Miller
• Miller was deeply concerned with the effect
the ‘spy hysteria’ was having on the lives of
people.
• He intended to warn contemporary America
of the danger of unfounded mass hysteria.
• He wanted to show how fear, suspicion and
insecurity can overcome reason.
• He wanted to show that we should aim to
maintain our integrity, independence, honesty
and loyalty.
• He wanted to show how humans react in such
a crucible or test.
• Miller attempts to demonstrate the existence
of opposites in any society and how this
polarisation of beliefs can lead to conflict
• These ideas are not just tied to Salem and
America in the 1950’s.
How are these ideas relevant to us today?
• In WW2, the United
States and the Soviet
Union were allies.
• After the war was over,
the two countries
became more and more
suspicious of each
other.
• They had two different
ideologies.
United
States
Soviet
Union
Democracy
Communist
Parliamentary
democracy
Dictatorship
Became enemies – did not
engage in open warfare but
did side with different
countries engaged in
conflict. This period was
know as the Cold War.
• America began to worry that the communists
might try to take over the United States.
• Senator McCarthy was made chairman of the
House Un-American Activities committee.
• This committee’s job was to find communists
and communist sympathisers living and
working the United States.
• They were particularly interested in people in
the media as they had influence.
• Arthur Miller was called to testify in front of the House Un-American
Activities Committee to name names of communist sympathizers in 1956
• Miller refused to do so and was heralded by the arts community for his
strength of conviction and loyalty.
• Some who did not provide information were jailed, many lost their jobs
because they were blacklisted.
• Miller chose to be loyal to his fellow artists, but Miller went against the
cultural consensus at the time
• Some like his friend Elia Kazan informed on people in order to keep their
jobs. There was great pressure from the government and FBI and CIA.
Kazan’s betrayal was of great concern to Miller. Miller’s passport was
withheld but he remained steadfast and did not compromise his beliefs.
• In 1957, Miller was charged with contempt, a ruling later reversed by the
U.S. Court of Appeals. He was fined $500.
• Miller used his plays to strongly condemn the McCarthy trials and those who
named the names of innocent artists.
• Republican Senator from Appleton, Wisconsin
• WWII veteran who liked to call himself
‘Tailgunner Joe’
• Made little impact in the Senate until February 9,
1950 when he gave a speech at the Republican
Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, where
he claimed to have a list of 205 Communists in
the State Department. No one in the press
actually saw the names on the list, but
McCarthy's announcement made the national
news.
In December 1954, the Senate voted to
censure him for his conduct and to strip him
of his privileges. McCarthy died three years
later, but the term "McCarthyism" lives on to
describe anti-Communist fervor, reckless
accusations, and guilt by association.
• Exaggerated fear of common evil
(communism)
• Refusing to answer was a sign of guilt
• Innocent people named and persecuted
• Mass over-reaction to a situation due to fear
and suspicion
• Distortion of truth to provide a common
scapegoat
• Insecure times – fear of alternative ideas
• McCarthy's attacks emerged within a climate of political and
social conformity.
• One state required pro wrestlers to take a loyalty oath before
stepping into the ring.
• In Indiana, Robin Hood (and its vaguely socialistic message)
librarians were forced to pull the book from the shelves.
• Baseball's Cincinnati Reds renamed themselves the "Redlegs."
• Cosmetics companies recalled a face powder called "Russian
Sable" and renamed it "Dark Dark."
• Starting in Dearborn, Michigan, and spreading to other parts of
the country, "Miss Loyalty" beauty contests became the rage.
• Events in The Crucible have strong parallels with the
House of Un-American Activities Committee, led by
Joseph McCarthy who conducted witch-hunts
(campaign to find or investigate people considered to
be unorthodox or disloyal) to expose communists or
communist sympathisers.
• Tale of persecution – religious (Salem)
- ideological (USA)
• Used theatre to explore the conflict and present his
point of view about freedom of the individual within
an autocratic society.
‘The witch hunt was a perverse manifestation
of the panic which set in among all classes
when the balance began to turn toward
greater individual freedom.’
Arthur Miller – introductory notes
Just as John Proctor comes to see that reason
fails to protect him and his wife, so too did
Miller
• Based on real events that took place in Salem,
Massachusetts in 1692.
• A group of teenage girls seemed to be suffering from
a strange illness
• Illness blamed on witchcraft
• There was an official investigation
• By April over 300 suspected witches were
imprisoned.
• June – death penalty was introduced and Brigid
Bishop was the 1st hanged.
• Then – 5 more women including the real Rebecca
Nurse and Sarah Good in July.
"Examination of a Witch" in Salem
• John Proctor – concerned at the way torture
was used to make people confess wrote to the
minister of Boston and called for an
investigation
• His claims were ignored
• Hanged with 4 others
• His wife, Elizabeth was pregnant and escaped
punishment
• 8 more hanged before trial ends in Sept. In
total, 20 people were hanged
• Later Government acknowledge convictions
and executions had been a mistake.
• Proctor was an inn keeper
• Abigail was 11
• Escaped Europe as they suffered persecution for
their extreme views.
• 1st settlement was almost wiped out – only about
100 survived
• Strictly obeyed the bible
• Strict and serious lifestyle
• Sensible dark clothing, covered all but hands and
face.
• Forbade ‘vain enjoyment’ – reading, theatre,
dancing, singing (p14)
• The puritans were one of the first European settlers
to live in this part of North America
• They were fighting a physical battle with
environment – wilderness, climate, natives
• P14 ‘edge of wilderness was close by’ and ‘it stood,
dark and threatening.’
• They were under constant threat of losing
everything.
• Tense and paranoid
• p13 – Settlement 1652 (40 years earlier) ‘To the
European world the whole province was a barbaric
frontier inhabited by a sect of fanatics’
• Indian tribes ‘marauded from time to time’ and they
‘lost relatives to these heathens’ (p14)
• They took land from the Indians – were not able to
convert them to Christianity. (15)
• Believed the forest was the Devil’s ‘last preserve, his
home base and the citadel of his final stand.’ (p15)
• Persecuted in Europe and in Massachusetts they
tried to kill off the Puritans so they had to unite.
• Autocracy by consent – from top to bottom of
society
Salem
• Salem was a theocracy – community believed that
God was the highest power and that religious laws
and the laws of the state were one. “…this is the
court of law. The law, based on the Bible, and the
Bible, writ by Almighty God.”(p92)
• Representatives of God were considered god-like and
could not be crossed or questioned (bringing them
into conflict with the honest citizens of Salem)
• The colony was founded and relied on religion.
• Any threat to religion was taken as a threat to the
people.
• P16 – ‘for good purposes, even high purposes, the
people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of
state and religious power whose function was to keep
the community together, and to prevent any kind of
disunity that might open it to destruction by material or
ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary
purpose and accomplished that purpose.’
• So what went wrong? ‘the witch-hunt was a perverse
manifestation of the panic which set in among all
classes, when the balance began to turn toward greater
individual freedom.’ The society had not yet achieved a
balance.
• The witch hunts were an opportunity to publicly express
guilt and sin, express and take vengeance, settle old
scores.
Why do you think Miller explains the
background so carefully and in detail at the
beginning of Act 1?
Salem in the 1760's (School Street)
The Salem Witch House (1642), home of Jonathan
Corwin
Rev Samuel Parris
In 1689 the villagers won the right to establish
their own church and chose the Reverend
Samuel Parris, a former merchant, as their
minister. His rigid ways and seemingly
boundless demands for compensation—
including personal title to the village
parsonage—increased the friction. Many
villagers vowed to drive Parris out, and they
stopped contributing to his salary in October
1691.
• Mid forties
• ‘in history he cut a villainous path, and there was very
little good to be said for him.
• He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went,
despite his efforts to win people and God to his side.
• In meetings, he felt insulted if someone rose to shut the
door or window without first asking his permission.
• Widower
• Proctor says to Parris, ‘There are many others who stay
away from church these days because you hardly ever
mention God anymore.’ (p34)
• Most people believed in witches and witchcraft, not
just poorly educated and superstitious.
• In the 16th and 17th centuries, over 60,000 people
were executed for witchcraft in Europe and United
states. Most were poor, old women.
• Signs of witchcraft – power to fly, reading books,
muttering curses, making potions with live animals,
sending out spirits.
• Fear based on ignorance – anything they could not
explain was caused by Satan and a witch (a young
female) carried out his evil plans.
The June 10, 1692 hanging of Bridget Bishop
"The Trial of George Jacobs, August
5, 1692." By T. H. Matteson, 1855.
Oil painting.
Original
document
convening
the witch
trials
Magistrate
Samuel Sewall
(1652-1730)
• Conflict with their environment – ‘barbaric frontier’,
harsh land, the heathen Indians and the Devil, who
they see lurking everywhere.
• Conflict with each other - Interpersonal conflict –
‘long-held hatred’, ‘land lust’, revenge, ‘suspicion’
and ‘envy’.
• Conflict with religious leaders / individual versus
authority
• Appearance versus reality
• Intrapersonal conflict
A crucible is a melting pot designed to
withstand great heat that contains diverse,
perhaps incompatible, elements. These
elements may ferment to create an adverse
reaction.
Characters:
Good – have positive, unselfish and hones
motives (truth, reconciliation)
Evil – have negative, selfish and dishonest
motives (lust, revenge)
Good
Proctor – admits to his mistakes, refuses
to lie, even though it would save his life,
Evil
• Theocracy (combination of state and religious
power)
• Superstitious nature of people reinforced by
theocracy
• Theocracy felt threatened by good,
independent individuals
• Religion misused to promote witchcraft
• Evil part of human condiction
• Battle between individual freedom and uniformity of
an ordered society (theocracy)
• John Proctor versus the Salem court (private and
public conflict)
• Tragedy and triumphs of individuals over society.
• Witch hunts force the citizens of Salem to make a
terrible choice between compliance to an
uncompromising authority and their own
consciences.
• Courts – inflexible in their pursuit of evil
• Religious zeal gives the authorities moral as well as
legal conviction – Deputy Governor Danforth – ‘while
I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with
whimpering.’ (p113)
• He argues that good Christians can only be
with the court or against it (p88)
• Difference between characters’ public persona
and their private reality
• Society’s public ‘justice’ and private shame
and guilt
• John Proctor’s personal values of reason and
factual truth come into conflict with Salem’s
dominant values of community harmony and
conformity.
• Inner turmoil as a result of his lust for Abigail
and affair with Abigail.
• Conflict with wife, for betraying their marriage
• Religious conflict against the Church’s
teachings.
• THEATRE/ LITERATURE: a serious play with a
tragic theme, often involving a heroic struggle
and the downfall of the main character
• John Proctor is a good man, flawed and
brought down by his moment of weakness. He
suffers inner turmoil as a result of his lust and
guilt for his affair with the servant, Abigail.
• Proctor’s conscience prevents him from lying,
from tarnishing his good name and ultimately
leads to his death.
• That it is better to forfeit one’s life for principles than
to avoid conflict by agreeing to what is a lie.
• Questions how representatives of religious authority
can condone large scale injustices.
‘For good purposes, even high purposes, the people
of Salem developed a theocracy, a combination of
state and religious power whose function was to keep
the community together and to prevent any kind of
disunity that might open it up to destruction by
material or ideological enemies. But all organisation
is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion
and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy
the same space. The repressions of the order were
heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers
against which the order was organised.’
Miller – Introductory notes
• Representative of the ‘highest court of the
supreme government’
• Angry and blindly resolute in his mission to
uphold God’s law and creates more conflict.
• Victim of his own dogmatism and power
• Believes the reasoning, “confess yourself or
you will hang” will elicit the truth.
• Displays some conscience and courage
• Changes from believer to guilt ridden sceptic,
saying, “there is blood on my head.” (p114)
• Ultimately powerless
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