Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Crucible is a play about a man’s refusal to lie in order to satisfy phony claims enforced by the establishment; it portrays mass paranoia and the struggle to maintain human dignity in the face of a universe bereft of reason and order. The play’s attitude to the specific topic of witchcraft, however, is thoroughly naturalistic. Characters are motivated by rational economic concerns, jealousy, or a juvenile passion for the forbidden; even the religious zeal of Parris has its deeper roots in the minister’s wish that he could continue to “preach nothin’ but golden candlesticks until he had them.”
In this climate, The Crucible focuses on how man can deal with a fierce authority which demands that he perform immoral acts in order to maintain a hypocritical status quo. The “theocracy” of the Puritan settlement will not allow any cracks to appear in the facade of traditional religion behind which the powerful guard their position of advantage. In the key scene of Proctor’s confrontation with Deputy Governor Danforth, the playwright shows that, like the Roman Catholic inquisitors of Giordano Bruno and Galileo, Danforth has an inkling that to reverse the court’s judgment would be to open the door to broader implications, since “the entire contention of the state in these trials is that the voice of Heaven is speaking through the children.” Repeatedly, Danforth asks Proctor, “There lurks nowhere in your heart . . . any...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
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In the early 1950s, hearings at Senator Joseph McCarthy's powerful House Un-American Activities Committee had decided that the American Communist Party, a legal political party, was compromising the security of the nation by encouraging connections with Russia (America's ally during the Second World War but its enemy afterwards). Those who were sympathetic to the communist cause, or those who had connections with Russia, were summoned before the committee to explain their involvement, recant their beliefs, and name their former friends and associates in the communist cause. Miller himself had to attend a Senate hearing in 1957. He admitted that he had been to communist meetings—of writers—but refused to name anyone else. He denied having been a member of the Party and was eventually found guilty of contempt.
The McCarthy Committee's antagonism of innocent (and in most cases harmless) citizens—and politically-motivated persecution in general—is explored in The Crucible through the subject of witchcraft. Particularly, through the dramatization of events which took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in the seventeenth century. The town's hysteria at the beginning of the play has a direct parallel in the frenzy that communist "witch-hunting" caused in America in the 1950s. Further, John Proctor's trial, confession (obtained through antagonism and threats), and ultimate recantation conjures a scene similar to the ones...
(The entire section is 962 words.)