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The Witch Hunt in The Crucible and During the Time of McCarthyism

In this essay, I intend to analyse the historical context of The Crucible and its relevance in today’s society. I believe that Arthur Miller’s life and his experience of McCarthyism strongly influenced the writing of The Crucible.

McCarthyism, named after Joseph McCarthy was a period of intense anti-communism, which occurred in the United States from 1948 to about 1956. During this time the government of the United States persecuted the Communist party USA, its leadership, and many others suspected of being communists. The word McCarthyism now carries the suggestion of false, hysterical accusation and large scale attacks on a minority. This anticommunist crusade stumbled in 1954, when the hearings were televised allowing the press and public to view McCarthy’s bullying tactics. He suffered a backlash in public opinion, and was then, himself investigated and McCarthy faded from the spotlight overnight.

In my opinion, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible takes two of the worst moments in American history, and uses them to demonstrate the pressure on people from society, to conform. Miller takes the Salem Witch trials and uses them to reflect on the McCarthyism period. By using religion as a sort of substitute for politics, Miller was able to see the similarities between the McCarthy era and the actions of the Puritans in Salem. Each event was just as cruel and merciless as the other, and even though the Salem Witch trials had occurred over 200 years before The Crucible was written, by using it to mirror the McCarthy era, the spirit of persecution was re-awoken. Just as McCarthy considered everything “Un-American” to be Communist, the Puritans in The Crucible thought everything un-explainable to be the work of the devil, and in both cases, the authorities demanded conformity.

In The Crucible people were put on trial and killed when they did something “un-explainable”. I think part of how Arthur Miller put this across as them being killed over whether or not it is a human right to resist conformity, for example in act three when John Proctor produced evidence that the very core of the Witch trials was a sham, he was accused of trying to overthrow the court and associating with the devil. His evidence was consequently discredited and he was executed. The only reason he “attempted to overthrow the court” seems to be because he took it upon himself to stop the ...

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...ss. Arthur Miller, on the other hand, was disappointed by critic’s reactions. He claimed, “No critic seemed to sense what I was after, which was the conflict between a man’s raw deeds and his conception of himself”. Not only was he disappointed by critic’s reviews, he was disappointed by the “hostility of New York audiences”.

In conclusion, I do not think that there can be any doubt in the fact that Arthur Miller has made an effort to link McCarthyism and the Salem Witch trials in the writing of The Crucible, in order to show the cycle of human morality, and the characteristics of a period of mass hysteria. Literature is a very powerful way of highlighting our mistakes of the past, and making sure, or at least attempting to make sure that we do not repeat them in the future, and The Crucible is a good example of that. I do not think, however that you can look to The Crucible if you are looking for a perfectly accurate historical story, as Arthur Miller has taken his view of one event, and slipped it into another, obviously altering some of the details in order to make The Crucible believable, and an accurate representation of his view, not of the actual Salem witch trials.
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