Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was first presented at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York on January 22, 1953, when Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities was casting a pall over the arts in America. Writers, especially those associated with the theater and the film industry, came under the particular scrutiny of the committee. Those who were blacklisted as Communists were banned from employment. Guilt was a matter of accusation, of being named. The parallels between these two periods of social and political persecution in American history were obvious to playgoers in the 1950’s. In both the witch trials and the committee hearings, people were summoned before an unchallengeable authority, interrogated, intimidated, and frequently coerced into the betrayal of others in order to escape being persecuted themselves. Miller’s work may also be examined for its intrinsic merit rather than for its status as a political tract. With the passage of time, it becomes clear that The Crucible is more than a polemic. It transcends its topical boundaries and speaks of universals common to the human condition. In The Crucible, Miller balances the social tragedy of the Salem community against the personal tragedy of John Proctor, whose triumph over self restores a sense of moral order in a community torn apart by ignorance, hysteria, and malice. The superstitious ignorance of the Salem villagers transforms a youthful escapade into a diabolic act. Despite Ann Putnam’s staunch religious beliefs, she admits to sending her daughter Ruth to Tituba to conjure up the souls of her dead babies so that Ruth, her one remaining daughter, may discover the cause of their seemingly unnatural deaths. Abigail Williams’s motives are darker yet. She seeks Tituba’s aid to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor’s life so that she can replace her in John Proctor’s affections. The villagers’ religious beliefs are so suffused with superstition that the villagers readily accept the notion that the girls are bewitched. No one questions the assumption that the girls are under the spell of supernatural forces except Proctor, whose...
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