Fear of Witchcraft as Metaphor in The Crucible by Arthur Miller Essay

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Fear of Witchcraft as Metaphor in The Crucible

    The Crucible uses fear of witchcraft in the America of the 1600s as a metaphor for the fear of communism that was widespread in America in the 1950s. Arthur Miller wished to show that the attitudes and behaviour of the villagers of Salem were as irrational and ill-founded as the attitude and behaviour of the committee chaired by Senator McCarthy. Essentially Miller uses the 17th century setting to provide critical distance between the events described and the emotions that they aroused. After three hundred years everyone understands that witchcraft was never a threat to society and we can look at the way people behaved fairly sensibly. The Crucible argues that communism is not a threat to American society, but that the irrational behaviour and injustice that fear of it causes is very dangerous indeed.


The Crucible is thus an attack on the anticommunist powers within 1950s America but its setting in the 1690s allows Miller to be much more forthright than if he had written a contemporary play. Anticommunist hysteria was so strong at the time that a more open attack would probably have ruined Miller's career. As a piece of satire, the play works by undermining key parts of McCarthy's policies, but it is also, to a certain extent, about freedom of thought and non-conformity; the victims in both eras were the ones who refuse to do as the majority demands. Miller uses witchcraft, an 'ideology' that is no longer feared, to stand in for communism and he makes the man who stands up against the witch hunt into the hero of the play.


The play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The town is a Puritan settlement and so, in theory, its religi...

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... as a play. It is a powerful drama with interesting characters trapped in a difficult situation, first and foremost. Otherwise we would not be reading it today after communism itself has collapsed. Miller's final point is that there are always witch-hunts when it is necessary for people to stand up against mass hysteria and moral panic.


Sources Consulted:


The Crucible Project


Maslin, Janet.  "The Bewitching Power of Lies."  New York Times 27 Nov. 1996, late ed.: C9+.


Miller, Arthur.  The Crucible: A Screenplay.  New York: Penguin Books, 1996.


Schrecker, Ellen.  Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998.


Weales, Gerald ed.  Arthur Miller The Crucible: Text and Criticism.  Philadelphia: Penguin Books, 1977.


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