Why would the playwright choose to use Puritanism as a backdrop for a comment on hysteria in The Crucible?

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Miller likely chose the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in order to comment on the hysteria created by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s because they have several elements in common. First, both populations feared an enemy they could not identify by sight: anyone could be a witch, according to the Puritans, and anyone could be a Communist. It was simply impossible to look at someone and know their motives and allegiances. Moreover, both populations feared terrible and immediate personal harm from these antagonists; both felt that their community's security was at risk as a result of their presence. In both communities, then, paranoia led to hysteria, and people began to turn on their neighbors. In the Salem Witch Trials, the testimony of children was used to condemn innocent men and women to death, and during the Red Scare, the testimony of schoolchildren might be enough to get a teacher believed to have Communist sympathies fired. Finally, during both episodes in American history, it was not enough to simply confess to wrongdoing; the convicted had to name names of other guilty parties in order to be considered credible. Though no one was put to death as a result of the McCarthy hearings, the rampant hysteria created an environment of fear that matched, in many ways, the emotional environment created by the girls' accusations in The Crucible.