How did Arthur Miller’s real-life experiences with the anti-communist hysteria of McCarthyism influence the story and characters of the play The Crucible?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Miller's decision to write an allegorical play about the Salem witch trials of the late-17th century was entirely influenced by his personal experiences with the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the period known as McCarthyism.  Miller, along with a large and distinguished number of personalities from the worlds of film and theater, were subpoenaed to appear before that committee during the late-1940's and early-1950's. Many of them declined the committee's demand that they testify regarding other individuals who may have been affiliated with the Communist Party of the United States. Their punishment for doing so was to be blacklisted from their chosen professions.  The connection between Miller's 1953 play The Crucible and his experiences during that painful era in modern American history was reaffirmed by the playwright in a June 17, 2000 column he wrote for the British newspaper The Guardian:

"It would probably never have occurred to me to write a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 had I not seen some astonishing correspondences with that calamity in the America of the late 40s and early 50s. My basic need was to respond to a phenomenon which, with only small exaggeration, one could say paralysed a whole generation and in a short time dried up the habits of trust and toleration in public discourse."

Interestingly, Miller's decision to write this particular play preceded his own punishment at the hands of the U.S. Government.  As the period of McCarthyism continued well-into the 1950s, Miller would be pressured to "name names" and would be convicted of the the crime of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the identities of members of the entertainment industry suspected of or acknowledged to hold communist sympathies and/or connections. []  As Miller noted in a brief preface to The Crucible, the characters are based closely on the real-life individuals involved in the witch trials. The relationship between the play and the anti-communist fervor that gripped the nation during that early period of the Cold War, however, is a matter of fact.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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