What do you think Miller meant when he wrote, ''this play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian"?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This question is one which is open to personal interpretation. What this means is that the question is subjective and, therefore, deems a subjective answer.

What can be assumed by the statement by Arthur Miller ("this play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian") is that he did not want the play to be examined as something factual. While the Salem witch trials did take place, Miller wants readers, and watchers, of the play to understand that it (the play) is his interpretation of what led the hysteria to break out in Salem.

Academic history is written in a completely factual way (think dictionary or encyclopedia). Nothing is left to true criticism given texts written in this (a historically academic) way are interpreted as how it really was when it happened. Given that these texts are references, many simply accept what they say as truths. Miller wants readers to know that his play is a history given it provides information on the witch trials, but the play is not a completely accurate telling of what happened.

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favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Miller has made a great many changes to the facts of history in constructing this play.  It is a work of literature and not a work of history, and, while he is somewhat concerned with history, providing a strictly accurate version of it is not his intention.  For instance, in real life, John Proctor was much older than he is in the play, and Abigail Williams was much younger; there was also no romantic relationship between the two.  Moreover, historically, the beginning of the witch trials was very different from the way it was presented in the text: there was no dancing in the woods and conjuring spirits of dead babies.  Instead, scholars believe that the trials resulted from the practice of folk magic in Parris's home with his slave, Tituba.  She told Betty and Abigail that they could crack an egg into a glass of water, and it would form a shape associated with their future husband.  They see a coffin, and they become riddled with guilt and anxiety, eventually leading to accusations.

In part, Miller is also concerned with comparing the hysteria associated with the Salem Witch Trials to the Red Scare associated with the McCarthy hearings in 1950s America, a kind of 20th century witch hunt.  For this reason, he makes some changes to the history in order to make the parallels more apparent to his audience: making Abigail older, a skilled manipulator, and a crook, willing to injure the innocent for her own gain allows readers to see, more clearly, her connection to Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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