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Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is an allegory about the Red Scare of the late-1940s and early-1950s. When Miller was writing his play, “paranoia” regarding communism was at its peak, and allegations of communist sympathies was sufficient to have one blacklisted from one’s profession. A thesis statement, of course, is an author’s declaration of intent; it expresses the writer’s statement of purpose or asserts a position the following text of which will presumably support that assertion. A “self-interested” thesis statement is a vague concept but generally, in this context, probably refers to Miller’s motivation for writing this particular work. Miller was politically active and, like many in his line of work, was considerably more sympathetic to the left side of the ideological spectrum than to the right. He wasn’t just politically active, however; he was also intrigued, and more than a little disturbed, by the theatrics that seemed to intrude on the nation’s politics in a way that blurred distinctions between fantasy and reality. In a speech delivered in 2001, Miller commented on the way in which politicians attempted to package themselves to target audiences in a way that merely served to emphasize their facile politics. It was in a brief reminisce about the early 1950s, however, that he revealed the roots of this concern, and in a manner that bared directly on the topic at hand:
“I recall the day, back in the Fifties, during Eisenhower's campaign against Adlai Stevenson when I turned on my television and saw the General who had led the greatest invasion force in history, lying back under the hands of a professional makeup woman preparing him for his TV appearance.”
Miller’s purpose in relating this story is to illuminate the extent to which our leaders posture themselves for greatest dramatic effect. Once again, in his 2001 speech, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a link to which is provided below, Miller contemplates the duplicitous and often hypocritical nature of our political system. Comparing the preparation routinely undertaken by actors preparing for a play with politicians preparing for their public performances, he noted that increasingly blurred distinction between artifice and reality:
“So whether for good or evil, it is sadly inevitable that all political leadership requires the artifices of theatrical illusion. In the politics of a democracy the shortest distance between two points is often a crooked line. While Roosevelt was stoutly repeating his determination to keep America out of any foreign war he was taking steps toward belligerency in order to save England and prevent a Nazi victory. In effect, mankind is in debt to his lies. So from the tragic necessity of dissimulation there seems to be no escape.”
In short, Miller was very conflicted about politics and humanity in general – a hardly unique conundrum. The Crucible, however, was intended as a warning against that artifice and about the dangers inherent in the hypocrisies that seemed interminably intertwined with politics. Miller’s play opens with Reverend Parris, the town’s pastor, whose paranoia about witchcraft and sorcery, much representative of society at large, and whose spiritual responsibilities belie his less-than-virtuous nature. In an opening prologue setting the stage for Act I, Scene I, Miller describes this character, based, as with many depicted in this play, on a real-life figure from the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, as follows:
“At the time of these events Parris was in his middle forties. In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side.”
All of this is intended to help conceptualize a thesis statement reflecting the author’s “self-interested” nature. Miller was acutely aware of the parallels that existed between that travesty of justice hundreds of years earlier born of sanctimonious moral piety, and the machinations of Senator Joseph McCarthy and others during the period in which The Crucible was written. As his 2001 speech reaffirmed, he was more than a little cynical regarding politics and politicians, although he came by that cynicism honestly. His play was deeply personal in the degree to which it did constitute a warning against the excesses of that earlier period.
I need just one sentence for the thesis statement that has the self interest that include the angle and claim to the Arthur name is Miller.
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