Discuss the meaning of the following quotation from Arthur Miller's play The Crucible: “…for good purposes, even high purposes, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combination of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies.”
The Salem witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600's were the foundation of Miller's play, which reached its greatest popularity around the time of the McCarthy hearings, which were also more or less a witch hunt in the United States after World War II. Looking specifically at Salem, Miller's quotation is referring to the tenuous existence of all of the relatively few American colonies in the late seventeenth century; from the time of the first Pilgrims and Puritans, the colonies of the "New World" had been created quite literally from scratch, and survival of both the colonies, and the people in them, was never a foregone conclusion. Starvation, disease, and conflicts with Native Americans were just a few things that frequently threatened colonies like Salem. Because survival was the primary, or perhaps, only real goal, and because of the strict religious backgrounds of the inhabitants, there was no real interest in extending freedom of thought to anyone who might have some different ideas. Although the "founders" of the "New World" came seeking religious freedom, they weren't exactly promoters of the same in their new locale, and it's possible that they were correct in assuming that lack of unity among the residents might result in the collapse of a community that was already on the brink most days.
Miller's play is usually seen as a metaphor for any situation in which independent thought is frowned upon, stifled, ridiculed, or persecuted, and as stated above, this work particularly during the "hunt" for suspected Communists in the Senate hearings following World War II. The similarities between the Salem of the late 1600's and the United States mid-twentieth century are not hard to find; although the United States was experiencing a post-war economic boom that had people buying cars, houses, and anything they could find on credit, a darker force threatened on the horizon in the form of the Soviet Union. America's ally during the war became her enemy thereafter in the post-war division of Europe, a situation that was not helped by the new "elephant in the room", that is to say, the development of nuclear weapons. The USSR had seen what the United States had done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was determined not to be left behind in this new "race". Now that everyone knew the threat that the atom bomb posed to the world, coupled with the new antagonism toward America exhibited by the Soviet Union, the atmosphere became one of fear of the Soviets in general, and communism in particular as it became apparent that it would probably be spreading into other nations--or already had. Thus, Mc Carthy's witch hunt for suspected communists reflected on an atmosphere of fear of an outside force destroying American society, just as the Salem witchcraft trials reflected--as stated in Miller's quote--a fear of disunity, which could weaken the colony and make it vulnerable to destruction.