What is the main message of The Crucible?

The main message of The Crucible is that mass hysteria destroys lives. We might like to think of ourselves as living in a more enlightened time than the inhabitants of seventeenth-century Salem. And yet, at the time when The Crucible was written, McCarthyism and the "Red Scare" were in full swing, destroying the careers, lives, and reputations of many innocent people.

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The Crucible is a savage indictment of humanity's penchant for mass hysteria, especially at times of great social tension. To that end, Arthur Miller wants readers to realize that the famous Salem witch hunt of the seventeenth century depicted in the play is by no means an unusual occurrence. There...

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The Crucible is a savage indictment of humanity's penchant for mass hysteria, especially at times of great social tension. To that end, Arthur Miller wants readers to realize that the famous Salem witch hunt of the seventeenth century depicted in the play is by no means an unusual occurrence. There is clearly something in human nature that makes people turn to scapegoats when society is experiencing difficult periods.

As is well-known, The Crucible is an allegory for McCarthyism and the "Red Scare" of the early 1950s, when many Americans' lives and careers were ruined by false accusations of communism or communist sympathies. The term "McCarthyism" comes from Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose false claims about communists infiltrating the government fanned the flames of the communist scare and caused widespread suspicion. Like the Salem witch hunts, McCarthyism is an example of the deeply damaging effects of mass hysteria on society, showing how mass hysteria can destroy innocent lives, leaving chaos, disorder, and injustice in its wake. In writing The Crucible, Miller hoped to draw attention to this fact, using one famous mass hysteria from history to challenge the mass hysteria that was gripping the United States in the early 1950s.

Miller's aim in writing The Crucible wasn't simply to point out that McCarthyism was a modern-day witch hunt, however; through the play, he explores the difficulty of combating mass hysteria, especially when it is enabled by those in power. In both seventeenth-century Salem and mid-twentieth century America, those in positions of responsibility chose to look the other way or even participate in the mass hysteria themselves rather than challenge it. That's not to say that Miller believes it's easy to stand up against such evil—one only has to look at the fate of John Proctor to see this. Ultimately, by showing the destructive and corrupting effects of mass hysteria, The Crucible delivers a message about the importance of staying faithful to the truth and refusing to bow to the pressure of mass hysteria—even at great personal cost.

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