How does Arthur Miller's The Crucible expose the suppression of the individual American self?
The fundamental paradigm Miller offers is how individuals stand up to the forces of an unjust social or political order. By definition, these elements are larger than the individual American self. They stand as forces of totalizing and collectivity in the face of individualism. This tension is not as apparent when individuals have their social and political orders reflect their own wishes and desires. Rather, this tension is magnified when the individual believes one truth and the social and political order either neglects it or advocates its opposite. For example, when individuals like John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, and Giles Corey represent courage and the sense of truth regardless of consequence, and the social/ political order is advocating silence, acquiescence, and seeking to repress dissent in the name of the consolidation of power, then there is invariable tension in the desire to suppress the individual self. For Miller, writing in the time of the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, there was a strong parallel between the environment of Salem and the American climate of the time, when in both the social and political orders sought to suppress the individual American self.
The time in which "The Crucible" takes place was a time when many people in America were getting over the sting of persecution experienced in other countries. The Pilgrims had come to America to obtain freedom from restriction on the religion. However, in their effort to maintain the strict policies and expectations of their religion, they suppressed the rights of the people around them.
What was meant to be freedom from persecution led to persecution for not following the Pilgrims rules and values. In addition suspicion could be applied easily towards people because there were so many events that occurred that had no explanation.
People were suppressed from expressing their emotions. They could not demonstrate public displays of affection. Adultery was punishable and self-expression only served to make one a target for other allegations.
Women were particularly suppressed as they were expected to allow the men to tell them what they could do, and they were there to care for the family unit. John Proctor could not share his affair for fear of serious consequences. Therefore, his wife had told him to be quiet because she wanted her sons to have their father since they were not going to have their mother with them.