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The Crucible is intended to be an allegory on the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s. This was a time in American history when the United States was steeped in anti-Communist paranoia. At the height of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union, it seemed to many that Communists had infiltrated every branch of government, especially the State Department, where Communist subversion was blamed for a supposedly weak foreign policy.

Communist influence was also alleged to have taken hold in the entertainment industry, and the House on Un-American Activities (HUAC) vigorously pursued allegations, no matter how flimsy or absurd, against anyone in Hollywood, the TV industry, or the theater vaguely suspected of Communist leanings. As very much a man of the political Left, Arthur Miller found himself caught up in this maelstrom. Like many others in his position, he was called to testify before HUAC, where he pointedly refused to name names and implicate others who might then be accused of Communist subversion.

Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress and sent to prison for 30 days, but his sentence was overturned on appeal. Compared with others, Miller had gotten off lightly. Many others had had their lives and careers ruined by false accusations of Communist subversion. Nevertheless, his experiences in front of HUAC had provided Miller with sufficient material for his next play, The Crucible.

Like Salem in 1692, the anti-Communist witch-hunt of the 50s was based largely on lies, innuendo, and vicious gossip. Just as there was no real Communist threat to speak of—at least not domestically, at any rate—there was no real threat of witch-craft in Salem. Even if there really were such a thing as witches and evil spirits, they had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the historical events recounted in the play. In The Crucible, Miller draws on his own personal experiences and those of the people he knew to highlight the dangers of mass hysteria on society: how it can so easily get out of hand, and in the process, destroy countless innocent lives and reputations.

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