A primary inspiration for The Crucible was the search by the U.S. Congress for “communist sympathizers” in the 1950’s, the time when Miller was writing the play. Those hearings were often denounced as a “witch-hunt,” and audiences in 1953 instantly recognized the implied analogy between the Salem witch trials and the current “red scare.” In both cases, accused persons were assumed to be guilty but, ironically, were excused from punishment if they were willing to accuse others. Many critics attacked Miller’s analogy with an argument that there are communists in America but no witches. Miller’s counterargument was that, regardless of whether witchcraft actually works, there are people who practice witchcraft. (In the play, Abigail has put a hex on Elizabeth.) Although many details in The Crucible are invented for dramatic purposes, such as the affair between Proctor and Abigail, the play can serve for young people as a powerful illustration of how paranoia can affect history.
It would be a mistake, however, to limit the play’s relevance to the Salem trials or to the congressional hearings. Miller wants the audience to respond to the play’s themes on a more universal level. He is perhaps primarily concerned with the conflict of the needs of society with those of the individual. It is the repressive atmosphere in which Abigail lives that causes her to rebel—by having an affair, by dancing naked in the woods, by...
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