To understand what motivated Arthur Miller to write The Crucible, it helps to understand what was occurring in the United States in 1953, when the play debuted. Ostensibly, The Crucible is about the Salem witch trials, which happened in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, when people were suspected of and put on...
To understand what motivated Arthur Miller to write The Crucible, it helps to understand what was occurring in the United States in 1953, when the play debuted.
Ostensibly, The Crucible is about the Salem witch trials, which happened in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, when people were suspected of and put on trial for being witches. Several people were put to death because they were found guilty of conducting black magic, and the term "witch hunt" has since come to refer to the search for and persecution of people who hold unpopular views.
Roughly fifteen years before the play was published, the US government created the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to find and investigate people who were suspected of being disloyal to the country and of having ties to communism. Under the guise of working with the HUAC, ambitious politicians and members of the judiciary conducted massive and very public investigations into the lives of many people and also put many on trial for failing to help root out communists in the US. The hysteria surrounding communism was bolstered by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who falsely stated that communist spies had infiltrated the federal government. The investigations and trials during this period have, in retrospect, come to be viewed by most modern scholars as a witch hunt—which is exactly the point Arthur Miller hoped to make through The Crucible.
Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible during a period when these investigations hurt not only him, but many of his colleagues and friends as well. In the theater and film community, there were hundreds of people who were investigated by the HUAC, and many were put on a blacklist that prevented anyone from hiring them. As a result, many writers, playwrights, actors, and others lost their livelihoods as well as their reputations. For example, the same year The Crucible premiered, Dalton Trumbo's screenplay for Roman Holiday won an Oscar. Because Trumbo was blacklisted, however, he was not officially credited for his work on the film until nearly forty years later, when he was awarded a posthumous Oscar.
In The Crucible, Miller metaphorically likens the actions of the HUAC and the hysteria stemming from McCarthyism to the Salem witch trials. In a 1996 article in The New Yorker magazine titled “Why I Wrote The Crucible,” Miller even reminisces about the fear he himself felt at the time.