Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ explores the controversy, mayhem and confusion of the Salem witch trials and the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s. ‘The Crucible’ concentrates on the fate of some of the key figures caught up in the persecution. It powerfully depicts people and principles under pressure, and the issues and motivations involved. Miller uses several techniques in order to enhance dramatic tension throughout the play. One of the tensest scenes is in Act 3, Scene 3 focusing on the court scene between John Proctor and Mary Warren.
A crucible is a container in which metals are heated to extract the pure element from dross or impurities. This definition is easily connected to the play. To start with, witches supposedly use cauldrons to brew their magic potions, and a synonym for cauldron is crucible. Not only do witches use cauldrons, but also the word crucible could have some metaphorical meaning. The actions in Salem were like that in a brewing cauldron, there were many heated arguments, and people were being ‘stirred’ and ‘mixed’ around like a vile potion, the pure elements being extracted are like John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse.
One of the techniques Miller uses is that of allegory, the similarity between his play and McCarthyism. During the 1940s and 1950s Joseph McCarthy was senator in America, he was the chairman of the house of Un-America Activities Committee. His job was to investigate any movement of person who threatened the safety of the state. At the time of Arthur Miller’s birth, in 1915, a great depression had hit America; everyone had significant financial hardship. During this time some people took up the belief of Communism, an idea that everything should be shared equally, both money and property.
Those who hard more than others feared communism and did what they could to stop it. Years later when McCarthy became Senator he took things one step further. He worked hard to hunt down any communists, or communist sympathisers to punish them. Any who were proven to be guilty were isolated in society; they were not allowed to work in the theatre or film industry ever again. Those accused were asked to name other communists and things escalated from here. Miller was accused but refused to name other communists. A few of the events of communism bear an amazing resemblance to what happened in Salem.
In the 1950s people feared communism, because they thought it would destroy capitalism and the American way of life. In 1692 people feared witchcraft and the devil. They thought witches would destroy God and the Puritan way of life. When Miller was brought to trail for communism he refused to name other people. The exact same thing happened with John Proctor when he refused to take the easy way out. John Proctor was a very honourable man who stood by his principles, and it can be said that Miller reflected his own character in this man.
At both of these periods in history people were wrongly accused, and proved to be guilty with little or no proof. Without the knowledge of McCarthy hearings ‘The Crucible’ could be seen as a melodrama and the events in the play may be sensationalised. It is not a melodrama because it is not over dramatic. The McCarthy hearings add realism. The play deals with historical events and characters that had an historical context. When the play was watched for the first time, the audience would have probably been a mix of communists, anti-Communists and communist sympathisers.
Those against communism might have been quite angry as the play made them seem irrational and paranoid. This would have made it tense within the theatre and in America in general once enough people had seen it. Throughout the play it is apparent that the Community of Salem becomes more divided. In the beginning there were arguments about ownership of land between some of the villagers. As the story progresses people for their own safety and begin accusing their neighbours of witchcraft in order to escape being hanged, or seek revenge.