Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: An Allegory of the Communist Witch Hunt

It is the rare case indeed when a work of literature’s genesis can be traced to a singular event. The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, is one of those cases. There is only one reason that this play exists. The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s literary response to what still remains of most intensely disgusting episodes in all of American history.

After defeating the true demon ideology during World War II-fascism-American lawmakers for some reason embraced that very same ideology and began a furious and illegal assault upon those who embraced communism. It was during this dark time that several screenwriters, directors and actors making Hollywood movies were blacklisted simply because they refused to be a rat bastard like their friend Elia Kazan and reveal the names of friends who had attended meetings at which communist policies were discussed to a Congressional committee investigating the wholly legal and American concept of belonging to a political party, in this case the Communist Party. These actors, directors and screenwriters who refused to cave in to pressure and personal fear like Elia Kazan were denied the right to work despite having done nothing illegal.

Because it serves to comment on the historical context of the communist witch hunt while telling the story of the actual Salem witch hunt, therefore, The Crucible is technically an allegory. An allegory is basically a work of literature that tells one story on the surface while referring to another sub textually. Unlike the majority of other allegories, however, Arthur Miller peoples his play with fully fleshed-out three dimensional characters, and not just caricaturized puppets going through the motions.

The Crucible takes place in the historical Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It begins with the image of several teenaged girls dancing in the woods to the accompaniment of chants sung by a black slave. Making matters even worse, one of these girls is spotted dancing naked by none other than Rev. Parris. Being the fundamentalist Christian that he is-you know, full of superstition-he immediately concludes that the only possible explanation for teenage girls living in a repressive atmosphere like Puritan Salem to be in the woods at night dancing is�witchcraft.

After this eventful night, two young girls have fallen ill, including Parris’ own young daughter Betty. Parris sends for Rev. Hale, an expert on witchcraft. Yeah, isn’t that kind of like being an expert on fairies, leprechauns, or Katie Co uric? None of those things really exist so, well, you get my meaning. Betty begins screaming amid a roomful of people, raising the hysteria level to the point where Betty and Abigail Williams, who works for Parris, suddenly turn on the one person in the room who looks like a witch.

Yeah, just another case of whitey keeping the black woman down. Poor Tituba gets accused of being a watch on account of being black. (In reality, she was more Native American than African-America.) In order to distract attention from themselves-shades of Elia Kazan-they immediately begin calling out the names of other women in the community who they claim to be witches.

This is a time honored American sport. When the hammer is about to come down on you, shift the blame to other people. As just the most recent example, consider how when it was discovered that Pres. Bush had once again been lying about the extent of his domestic spying program in that he was spying on the bank accounts of American citizens. Caught with his pants down once again, what did our esteemed leader do? He blamed the messenger. What a guy!

In keeping with the allegorical intent, the House Un-American Activities Committee is symbolized in The Crucible as the court convened to examine the charges of witchcraft that is sweeping through Salem. The court closes its eyes to reality and refuses to accept anybody’s word except the young girls. Why? Why accept the hysterical rantings of young girls against the word respected citizens? Because the girls were saying exactly what they court wanted to hear. It was an early case of conforming facts to fit policy. Sound familiar?

Miller’s point is that those who refused to be cowered by authority that has run amok, and who maintain loyalty to their friends in the process are better than people like Elia Kazan who cave in, and they are also better able to live with their real mistakes than those who turn rat on not only their friends, but their former beliefs. It is better to die with a clean conscience than live with a dirty one.

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