The Crucible is considered an important work in American drama. The history related to this play and the themes that it encompasses, make it a great high school English text. Since I will be teaching this text this term, I needed to read it (obviously!).
Genre: Drama, Play, Tragedy
Arthur Miller's classic parable of mass hysteria draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 - 'one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history' - and the McCarthyism which gripped America in the 1950s. The story of how the small community of Salem is stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and malice, culminating in a violent climax, is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations.
As stated in the blurb above, Miller uses his retelling of the Salem witch-hunts as a parable to show the parallel to McCarthyism. I feel this play can be related to any such situation where false accusations, mass hysteria and persecution of a supposed threat take over from reason. I am sure we can all think of current examples of this happening in our society.
The play begins with a group of teenage girls being caught out dancing in the forest. In the puritan town of Salem, dancing is not permitted. Two of the girls fall ill and the towns people want answers. They are a superstitious, god-fearing group and soon whispers of witchcraft and the devil make their rounds. The girls themselves confess to seeing the devil and hysteria takes over the town, with horrendous consequences.
The Crucible brings together the themes of intolerance, power, belonging, the consequences of religious beliefs in the court system (historically speaking) and the lengths 'good Christians' will go to seek revenge or to enable personal gain. Although a short and quick read (it's only 126 pages long), this play really warrants a second reading to understand and appreciate its complexities. Miller really did put a lot into those 126 pages!
This play isn't entirely historically accurate. Miller took some creative license and changed some facts to suit his purpose but this play is still a good place to start when learning about the Salem witch-hunts. This is something I have always found interesting, but I have never bothered to read much about the witch-hunts before. After reading The Crucible, however, I feel more inclined to learn more about this chapter in American history.
I really enjoyed this play and I am looking forward to teaching it in the coming term and analysing it in detail, with my students.