Why did Arthur Miller write The Crucible?

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible both because he perceived parallels between the Salem witch trials of the 1690s and the Red Scare of the 1950s and because the witch trials fascinated him. He likely hoped that in telling the story of the witch trials, he could help prevent similar attitudes and behaviors in the present and future.

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The most obvious reason Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible (or anything else, really) is because he had a story to tell. Without that, he would not have been inspired to write. It is true, however, that what inspired him to write this particular story is quite personal.

As a Jewish...

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The most obvious reason Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible (or anything else, really) is because he had a story to tell. Without that, he would not have been inspired to write. It is true, however, that what inspired him to write this particular story is quite personal.

As a Jewish man, Miller was a political advocate against the inequalities of race in America, and he was vocal in his support of labor and the unions. Because he was such an outspoken critic in these two areas, he was a prime target for Senator Joseph McCarthy and others who were on a mission to rid the country of Communism.

Miller was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities because of his connections to these issues but refused to condemn any of his friends. This experience, a rather blind and sweeping condemnation of anything even remotely connected to Communism without sufficient (or any) evidence, is what prompted him to write about the Salem Witch trials.

In a later interview, Miller said the following:

It would probably never have occurred to me to write a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 had I not seen some astonishing correspondences with that calamity in the America of the late 40s and early 50s. My basic need was to respond to a phenomenon which, with only small exaggeration, one could say paralysed a whole generation and in a short time dried up the habits of trust and toleration in public discourse.

However, the more he began to study the tragic events in Salem, the more he understood that McCarthy's hunt for Communists was nothing compared to the fanaticism which reigned in Salem in the 1690s.

In time to come, the notion of equating the red-hunt with the witch-hunt would be condemned as a deception. There were communists and there never were witches. The deeper I moved into the 1690s, the further away drifted the America of the 50s, and, rather than the appeal of analogy, I found something different to draw my curiosity and excitement.

Anyone standing up in the Salem of 1692 and denying that witches existed would have faced immediate arrest, the hardest interrogation and possibly the rope. Every authority not only confirmed the existence of witches but never questioned the necessity of executing them. It became obvious that to dismiss witchcraft was to forgo any understanding of how it came to pass that tens of thousands had been murdered as witches in Europe. To dismiss any relation between that episode and the hunt for subversives was to shut down an insight into not only the similar emotions but also the identical practices of both officials and victims.

In his note about the historical accuracy of the play, Miller writes:

I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history.

Though his interest in the comparisons between the trials and McCarthyism began with his own experience, it was the horrific nature of the trials themselves which motivated Miller to write The Crucible.

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Here's a great interview with Arthur Miller about why he wrote The Crucible and its parallels to modern life.

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Arthur Miller is an American playwright who wrote The Crucible in 1952. Thus, the play was written on the heels of World War II, which ended in 1945, and was written during a time in which the United States was becoming increasingly concerned about the rising power of the Soviet Union. Worries that the Soviet Union's communist ways would infiltrate the United States led to a significant amount of paranoia within the American government (compare the paranoia about witchcraft in Miller's play).

Accordingly, a number of governmental committees and investigations arose. The most famous of which were those conducted by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, early in 1950, just two years before Miller's play, claimed to have a list containing the names of many communists and Soviet spies who worked for the American government.

Given the air of paranoia present in the late 1940s and early 1950s about America being infiltrated by communists, it is easy to see why Miller could comment on this societal situation by comparing it to the witch trials that occurred in America some two and a half centuries earlier. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Miller himself became the target of one of these anti-communist investigations four years after The Crucible appeared.

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Miller wrote his play about unwarranted persecution in response to the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, in which many artists (himself included) were accused of Communist ties or at least Communist sympathies, spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy (in the play, McCarthy's role is analoguous to that of Revered Paris).  Many a career was ruined by these largely unfounded attacks.  Miller saw many parallels to the attacks of his time and the Puritan witch hunts.  He hoped that by presenting our past, the future might not continue to repeat itself. 

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In 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, one of the most distasteful times in America occurred.  There were nineteen people hanged as witches.  Each had been accused of witchcraft. For various reasons and testimony by hysterical children and wicked people, innocent people were found guilty.  Many more had been imprisoned; but when the governor’s wife was accused, the hysteria came to an end.

The play The Crucible by Arthur Miller is an historical fiction drama based on the events in Salem in 1692.  Using dramatic license but based on historical facts, Miller consolidated characters and changed the ages so that fewer actors would be on the stage. 

Written in 1952, Miller intended his play to be an allegory of the current times.  The anti-communist congressional hearings were taking place at the time with Senator Joseph McCarthy as the leader. Realizing that the verbiage thrown around by this UnAmerican Activities Committee sounded similar to the language used in the Salem Witch Trials. From the government to Hollywood--McCarthy convinced America that communists had infiltrated everywhere.

His scare was not entirely an illusion. The Soviet Union was growing, and their government was in direct opposition to America.

In an article for the New Yorker magazine, Miller explains his reasons for writing the play:

…by 1950, when I began to think of writing about the hunt for Reds in America, I was motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if  they should protest too strongly.

In the early 1950s, the Red hunt, led by the UnAmerican Activities Committee and McCarthy, was dominating the American psyche. It reached Hollywood when the studios agreed to submit actors’ names to the House Committee for "clearing" before employing them.

There were actors who named other actors.  Some writers were charged with being communists who had signed up in the 1930s but had since served in the army in World War II.  There were blacklists of writers and actors who were not able to work in the movies for many years after the end of the committee's work. This was the climate in which Arthur Miller wrote his play.

One of the things that The Crucible drives home is how often history repeats itself. Senator  McCarthy tried to find every single communist in the U.S.  There seemed to be a moral upset that would allow suspects to be put on trial and forced to “name names” in order to keep from going to prison. 

To prove the futility of charging the innocent and the repercussions that it rains down on their lives forever, the protagonist of the play, John Procter answers why he will not sign a confession that he was a witch:

Danforth: You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope.

Proctor: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name!

The play’s intent was to make the audience examine how they would handle themselves if they were accused but innocent.  Miller also wanted  the audience think about the emotional makeup of a human being when he is accused of something that he did not do.  If justice and truth are on the line, those who are innocent will rise to the occasion and stand up for what is right.

 

 

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Arthur Miller wrote his second play, The Crucible, as a response to his distaste of McCarthyism during the 1950s. Miller believed that people were getting worked up and blaming others without any real reason or evidence. He wanted to show how irrational the large fear of Communism was and demonstrate that people were getting to the point where it becomes violent and destructive. He wrote the play as a means to set up a mirror in which the public could see that what the Puritans did in the 1600s, pointed fingers without evidence, let their long-standing feuds be a basis for false accusations, let boredom, ignorance, jealousy, and money become sufficient for sentencing and murdering, was being repeated in the modern day with accusations of Communism.

Miller was accused of being a Communist but never actually joined the Communist party.

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