"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller was written during the 1950s when the House Committee on Un-American Activities was persecuting many intellectuals as part of an anti-Communist frenzy at the height of the Cold War. Miller uses the story of the Salem Witch Trials as a way to examine the sort of mob psychology that leads to ideological persecution. The particular problem the play poses, both in the context of the trials and his own period, is the conflict between moral ideals and self interest.
Perhaps the central ideas or questions of the play revolve around how essentially flawed people manage to hold on to their ideals in the face of persecution. The protagonist, John Proctor, believes deeply in his Christian ideals, but at the same time is a flawed human who is guilty of adultery. He eventually decides that it is worth dying for his ideals, as opposed to Mary Warren who eventually lies to save herself.
As you work on the assignment, you might focus on the psychology of one character, showing how that character comes to the decision of whether to follow a moral ideal or to sacrifice the ideals for the sake of survival or self interest.
The pursuit of ideals are the morals and principles which guide a society. Miller suggests that the degradation of a society begins with the loss of its guiding morals. Miller uses his lead character, Abigail, as the strong-willed girl who leads the weak-minded girls of the town in a mob mentality. As she creates hysteria the town follows suit. At the beginning of the play, Abigail Williams does not have any morals but a disregard for society and religion. Abigail Williams is the direct counterpart of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the second Red Scare that the United States faced. Miller associates McCarthy with Abigail as having no scruples and taking the rest of society on a “witch hunt” to find “guilty” people.