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The previous post was quite strong in its assertion. I would also suggest that the historical and cultural context of Miller's work can apply to any setting where fear and accusation replace truth and connective threads to one another. One of the strongest elements in the work is the idea that individuals can manipulate public fear and insecurity to their own benefit. We see in the play this demonstrated when leaders of the people do not seek to establish "domestic tranquility" or "promote the general welfare," but rather exploit the situation to help their own political or social status. In Miller's Salem, the townspeople are not inherently evil, nor are they intrinsically predisposed to malicious intent. Rather, they are individuals who have fears about elements, and rather than seek a teachable moment where these fears can be exposed and resolved in a public and discursive manner, leaders of the townspeople exploit these fears in order to "demonize" certain people and extol others. Miller's historical and cultural context can not only apply to McCarthyism in the 1950s, but can also apply to any situation where individuals in the position of power seek to cement their own control through the exploitation of public fears and concern.
The village Salem in the 17th century was a theocracy (no separation of church and state), so spiritual reputation was an important status symbol. Salem made not distinctions between public and private affairs, so what was going on behind closed doors or in even a person's "soul" was a matter of public record. The village was, of course, male dominated, so women (especially foreign, non-Christian) and children were meant to be seen and not heard. The church preached the concepts of total depravity (man's soul is born sinful), predestination (God knows who's going to heaven before they're born) and the unconditional election (only a select few could enter into heaven). What's more, the church stressed that the devil was loose on the earth and in competition for souls, so evil was a real force.
In The Crucible, Arthur Miller wanted to parallel the religious mass hysteria from the Salem Witch Trials with the pandemonium of the Red Scare McCarthyism of the 1940s and 1950s. So, you can substitute "communist" for the "devil" or "witch," and the results will be about the same.
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