Why might Arthur Miller have chosen to write a play about the Salem Witch Trials in the year 1952?

1 Answer | Add Yours

katwood001's profile pic

katwood001 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

Arthur Miller's play The Crucible was more than a play in 1952.  It was a political statement against the McCarthy hearings.  Arthur Miller likened the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to the Salem Witch Trials that happened in 1692-1693.  Miller and nine others were called before Congress after attending a communist rally.  All ten, including Miller, refused to testify and were blacklisted in Hollywood.  (Blacklisted means that they couldn't work in Hollywood.)

With the end of World War II in 1945 and the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, the United States was deeply concerned about the spread of communism in the world, let alone the US.  In February of 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed on television that he had a list of 200 communists that had infiltrated the United States government.  This was the beginning of his rise to power.  Joe McCarthy told television, newspaper, and radio reporters wild stories about how the communists had been plotting to take over the United States government; however, he refused to show the list of names or give any names at the time of his statements.  According to McCarthy, doing so would allow them to escape or come up with an alibi.  For three years, McCarthy accused person after person in the United States government of being a communist.  Opponents that spoke out against McCarthy became the next name on the infamous "list."  

The McCarthy hearings were similar to the witch trials.  Arthur Miller recognized it and explored the similarities in the play The Crucible.  Like McCarthy, the girls in the Crucible made unsubstantiated claims about members of the village.  As in the McCarthy Hearings, these people were put on trial without any way to defend themselves.  It was the word of McCarthy against their own.  This is very similar to Abigail Williams and the girls.  Their testimony was something only they could see, similar to the list that McCarthy refused to show others.  In both historical accounts, those accused were asked to give conspirators' names in order to make their sentences lighter.  Finally, both during the McCarthy Hearings and during the Salem Witch Trials, the general public was so afraid of being accused of being a communist or a witch respectively that they did not dare question what was going on, nor put a stop to it.  

Interesting note: 

Arthur Miller could not know when he wrote the play that the fate of McCarthy and Abigail Williams would be similar.  In 1954, McCarthy made the mistake of accusing the United States Army of being "soft" on communism.  This led to an investigation, hearings, and eventually he was censured for his conduct.  Three years later he died, probably from his alcoholism.  Likewise Abigail Williams disappeared from the Salem Witch Trials in June, 1962.  According to colony records, Abigail never married and died in 1967 at the age of seventeen.  One of her co-conspirators, Ann Putnum, wrote The Repentance of a Witchcraft Accuser in 1706, which revealed that, as in the McCarthy Hearings, there was no substantiation for the accusations and lives were ruined during these events.  Likewise, the Senate Hearings regarding Joe McCarthy proved the same.  

I'll put the link to Ann Putnam's confession and the link to the McCarthy hearing transcripts in the references section.   

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question