I'm working on an essay that will draw parallels between the Salem Witch Trials and the blacklisting of the McCarthy era. Any ideas on where to start?
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One thing I know for sure is that Arthur Miller never consented to "name names" before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. He felt the whole thing was a "witch hunt" based more on fear and hysteria then reason or logic.
We were studying this play last semester. In the 50s, there was a huge "red scare." People in the government, like Senator McCarthy, became obsessed with the idea that there were communists infiltrating the govenment and society. This is just like what happened in the Purtian times, when innocent citizens were being accused of witchcraft.
Miller wrote his play in response to the hysteria about the supposed "reds" (of which he was one of the accused.) People were confessing left and right in order to save their careers and reputations, and most were completely innocent of the charges.
The relationship between Elia Kazan and Miller was ruined by the hearings. Kazan directed a couple of Miller's plays. When Kazan named names and Miller refused ,their long friendship was over. They did not speak for ten years. I believe Miller would not address his distress at his friend's betrayal, although he did publicly praise his work. I find the HUAC hearings and Miller's refusal to cooperate fascinating.
You can draw the parallels between the way in which people were compelled to testify against friends and loved ones. In both Salem and the McCarthy hearings, people were brought forward on mere accusation. In one instance, you would not be considered a good Christian if you did not name names and perhaps even be branded as working for the Devil, in the other, you would not be considered a patriotic American if you did not name names, and might even be labeled a communist. The spiral of fear associated with both is the same, which was Miller's point.
The play matches the politics in the way that a political/communcal body attempted to define the community norms rather stringently, threatening the well-being of those who chose not to cooperate with the normalizing system.
The power rested with the group - or those who claimed to represent the group - and that power was inflicted on the individuals who did not visibly and volubly conform.
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