What is the importance of the setting in Arthur Miller's The Crucible?

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller falls under the category of historical fiction.  It is based on actual events. The author used dramatic license in combining characters and events in order to lessen the number of characters and the setting needed to produce the play. 

Miller warns in the preface to The Crucible that "this play is not history," but it is certainly dependent on historical events for its story

The importance of the setting cannot be overstated. The basic setting for the play is Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692.  The first three acts are during the spring and the fourth act takes place in the fall.

At the time, Salem was a small colonial town or settlement.  Actually, there were two Salems—Salem Town and its tiny suburb, Salem Village.  

Reverend Parris’s house was in Salem Village.  It was in the Parris house that the girls, who were the accusers, and Tituba became involved in witchcraft; then, later when they had their witching dance, it was in a nearby forest.

The trials, however, were set in a large meeting house in Salem Town.  Each act takes place in a fairly small room.

          Act 1-a bedroom in Reverend Parris’s house

          Act 2-the Proctors' “parlor”

          Act 3-an anteroom before the main hall of the “meeting


          Act 4-a cell in Salem jail

The last two acts are in small rooms to give the impression that the characters are caught in a trap. The writer’s settings helped the audience identify the characters by feeling as though they are in the same room with the characters.

The setting is vital to The Crucible. It has to take place in Salem and at that particular time because of the events that Miller is trying to point up in similarity to the events in 1952 from the UnAmerican Activities Committee Hearings. 

In addition, the religion had to be a theocracy and tightly bound to strict Christian, puritanical rules.  The meaning of the play would change completely.  The events in 1692 in Salem have entered into American history and folklore.  Salem was the place in which the trial took place and has become a symbol for witchcraft, injustice, and superstition.

Miller had two distinct reasons for setting the play in Salem other than its historical value.

  1. He could not actually write a play about the events in 1952 because it would have been dangerous. It would have put his entire career in jeopardy.
  2. The Salem witch trials were accepted as foolish superstition which had caused over three hundred to be jailed in horrific conditions.  Then, there were 19 who were hanged and one pressed to death, who were entirely innocent.

If Miller could get the audience to see the similarities and connections between the events in 1692 and the ones in 1952 concerning the communist witch hunts, then the investigations might stop. 

If a person is watching Abigail’s performance of her seeing the bird incident and wondering how intelligent people could believe this and accuse others, then the same person might see the same thing happening in Washington D.C. in the House Activities committee.

This was a dangerous endeavor that for the sake of the country and to stop Joe McCarthy and his terrible committee  Arthut Miller was willing to take.

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