McCarthyism and the Red Scare Questions and Answers

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Compare and contrast the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism.

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Mary Sutton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Another common thread between the two eras—separated by 250 years—was the desire to punish and ostracize people whose beliefs or habits disrupted convention.

Though some men—and even children and pets—were accused of witchcraft, the Salem Witch Trials punished mostly women. Given the strictures of Puritan society, which seldom allowed for moments of revelry and required strong limitations on personal expression and sexuality, it must have been difficult to maintain social norms. Arthur Miller uses this theme in The Crucible. He takes the real-life figure of Martha Corey, Giles Corey's wife, and has her husband claim that she reads "strange books" that keep him from praying. The actual Martha Corey was well-known and highly regarded for her piety. However, if she was intelligent and curious about matters outside of Scripture, this may have given some—even her own husband—cause to suspect her of supernatural powers.

Those accused of Communism in the 1940s and 1950s had views that separated them from mainstream America. They were vocally in opposition to segregation, may have had more progressive views about women's roles in societies, and may have been accepting of homosexuality. Many were drawn to Communism for its egalitarianism and its desire to eradicate systemic oppression, allowing all people to be more equal. 

In both Puritan New England and McCarthyist America, the desire to maintain a social order, predicated on the dominance of white, property-owning males, was very strong. Both eras were also characterized by strong conformity and little overt dissent.

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Jamel Bandy eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The connection between Salem in 1692 and McCarthyism during the 1950's was primarily due to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Miller wrote the play as a response to what he viewed as a 'modern' day witch hunt. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, the House Committee on Un-American Activities sought to weed out and expose so-called communist sympathizers in the U.S. Although Miller researched several historical records of the 1692 trials, the similarities between the destructive trial of Martha Carrier and those 'blacklisted' by the House Committee can not be denied.  In the The Crucible those in power in the Salem hierarchy used their political position to impose fear within the Salem turning neighbor against neighbor and destroying lives. Ironically, according to Miller, the hearings led by Senator McCarthy had the same agenda; discrediting the reputations of some in order to instill fear in others.

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Inuk Lee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a really a good comparison. Both The Salem Witch trials and the era in which Joseph McCarthy was in influence are unfortunate times in history. They both had many things in common, but I will name only two of them.

First, they both accused people of certain things without grounds for evidence. In the Salem Witch trials (1692-1693), people were accused of being witches and many were hanged. In the 1940-1950's people were accused of being sympathetic to and involved with communism. Again these people were accused without much evidence. All of this was an example of mass hysteria.

Second, the upshot of all of this was that innocent people were persecuted all because of fear. Civil liberties were also called into question. Indeed, these were dark days for America.

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