What is the deeper meaning of The Crucible?

The deeper meaning of The Crucible is that the play is an allegory for McCarthyism, a modern "witch hunt" that was taking place when Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1953. Deeper meaning can also be found in the play's title, which plays on both definitions of the term "crucible."

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There are multiple ways to explore the deeper meaning of The Crucible: we can analyze how the play reflected the time period in which it was written, and we can examine at the deeper meaning of title itself.

The Crucible was written and first performed in the early 1950s....

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There are multiple ways to explore the deeper meaning of The Crucible: we can analyze how the play reflected the time period in which it was written, and we can examine at the deeper meaning of title itself.

The Crucible was written and first performed in the early 1950s. It is a play about events that occurred in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, yet it also effectively mirrors what was happening at the time in the United States. Though the play is literally about hunting actual witches, the term "witch hunt" can also refer to the persecution of those suspected of holding unpopular or subversive views. Indeed, this very type of witch hunt was happening in the United States in the 1950s during a scary period known as "McCarthyism" or the "Second Red Scare." After Senator McCarthy set off a moral panic with his false claim that communist spies had infiltrated the government, many people were falsely accused of being communists—accusations that permanently destroyed their reputations and careers. Despite the lack of evidence backing up these claims, many individuals, including Arthur Miller himself, were still investigated and prosecuted. In this sense, the deeper meaning of The Crucible is that it's an allegory for McCarthyism that exposes the destructive forces of witch hunts, moral panics, and mob mentality in general.

It's also possible to find deeper meaning in the title itself. A lot of my students find the title The Crucible an odd choice, as a physical crucible doesn't appear in the play. A crucible is a vessel that is can be heated to extremely high temperatures and used to melt substances like metal. The crucible withstands the temperatures while the other substance melts inside. A "crucible" can also refer to a test or trial. Either definition fits the play quite well. John Proctor is tested by the community in an extreme way, yet John holds fast to his beliefs; he doesn't "melt" under the pressure to falsely confess to witchcraft, preferring to die rather than confess to a lie and ruin his good name.

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