The Importance of Context in The Crucible by Aurthur Miller
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Context influences all texts, whether it be a novel, play or movie. It is the reader’s knowledge of the historical and cultural background influencing a text, which allows enrichment of reading and understanding that can be gained from a text. The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play which is a fitting example of this statement. This is due to the multiple references Miller has made to both the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and to the McCarthy era, the period in which the play was written. Although Miller states “this play is not history”, it serves as an allegory for both time periods and it was the appreciation I had for the historical and cultural context of these time periods which enriched my understanding and reading of the play.
The Crucible was based around the Puritan culture and the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, 1692. There are many representations of themes and issues common to both the Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthy era, which are shown through various scenes in the play. The Salem Witch Trials were a time of hysteria, accusations and unspoken contradicting beliefs. It was during this time in Salem, that several men and women stood trial for witchcraft and consorting with the devil. In the small town settings, the rumours spread about neighbours were commonly believed to be true which inculcated the hysterical demeanour of Salem. The Puritan name derived from the idea to purify and rid society of any Catholic beliefs. The society was very restricted and valued beliefs of God, so much so they established a theocracy in which the church overruled all civil matters. To a Puritan society, their invisible world of God and angels was as real to them as the one they lived in. Yet for someone to have a belief in Luc...
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...ideas have only been extracted and developed from the play due to my knowledge and understanding of the historical context that to me was a backbone of the play.
Miller wrote in the preface of The Crucible, “this play is not history”, yet his play served as an allegorical retelling of the Puritan and McCarthy societies. Knowledge of the historical and cultural influences on a text can alter and enrich our appreciation of themes and issues throughout the play and therefore enrich our reading and understanding. Arthur Miller dramatised social and historical events from both his time and ones in the past which have re-enacted moments of hysteria and social corruption in our minds, moments made to linger in our minds and moments which have allowed us to gain from our reading a powerful and timeless depiction of how intolerance and hysteria can tear a community apart.