In my mind, the idea of politics being representative of power would be one critical element of the story that allows it to be universal. We are taught at an early age that government and social orders are meant to be wholesome and good, elements that can help individuals and act within the interests of social justice. The play explores this theme with its most obvious negative element: What happens if government is motivated by an ulterior motive? What happens in society if in-authenticity wins out? This is where the strength of the play lies, as individuals have to identify who they are and in what they believe, and must stand up to those in the position of power. When the government becomes corrupt, moving away from the social notion of the good, and abuses power, it is up to the individuals such as Proctor or Giles Corey who must become the moral and political compass and demand that their voices be heard. To simply capitulate and acquiesce only emboldens the aggressors, benefiting the perpetrators.
The Crucible also deals with the corrupting nature of power. Abigail gets a little taste of the power that comes with her ability to designate witches and enjoys pointing fingers at whomever she desires to hurt, namely Elizabeth Proctor. Parris, Hale, and Danforth let the power of their offices cloud their ability to discern good and evil; sinners and and saints. Their church positions make them eager to judge others and in doing so feel superior to those they are supposed to show compassion.
Hypocrisy and the dangers of following the crowd are both themes that are sewn into the very fabric of The Crucible. Because both of these ideas still hold relevance to modern audiences, and because our world is still largely influenced by "fitting in with the masses" and judging others before ourselves, the story is both universal and timeless in its application of those themes. Another thing that makes this story timeless/universal is its ease of comparison to other literary works that feature similar messages -- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton also deals with the dangers of fitting in with a certain group, as do countless other literary works. English teachers, in particular, like to tie pieces of literature together that share a common message or theme.
Its themes make it universal and timeless. There is fear, racism, prejudice, superstition, betrayal, love, hatred, lust, loyalty, and power. All of these themes are still around today, and play a large role in all of our lives. It tells a story where a bunch of people, who are afraid of getting in trouble, blame someone else. That is something that happens all of the time, that all of us have done. Others, who are upset because of their life circumstances, look for answers and other sources for their pain. We do that too.
Another things that makes this play universal is the characters. They seem like real, well-rounded characters with strengths and weaknesses that we all can relate to. John is a stubborn, proud man who is trying to fix mistakes that he has made and do the right thing. He is real, grounded, and relatable. Abby is a very dynamic and dividing character, easy to hate and a perfect villian on which to fix our frustration.
A last way that this story is timeless is that its major theme, that of a witchhunt, is still applicable today. In the 1950's, we had the red scare, in the 1980's we had the cold war, and even today in underdveloped parts of the world, actual witch hunts are still happening. Mass hysteria continues to ransack towns hit by disaster, and even sporting events.
Because of its applicable themes, great characters, and recurring situations, this play is timeless, and a great tool for discussion and connections in classrooms.