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“The Crucible” study help

Grace Chalhoub, Staff Writer

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Background

Arthur Miller largely wrote “The Crucible” in response to the paranoid politics of the 1950’s, namely the practices of Senator Joseph McCarthy and a debacle involving the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee within the House of Representatives which was responsible for investigating convicted communists or communist organizations within the United States. In 1952, Miller’s close friend Elia Kazan testified to HUAC and named several accused members of the Communist Party, including playwrights Clifford Odets and Lillian Hellman, and the actors Paula Strasberg, J. Edward Bromberg and John Garfield. Shortly after confronting Kazan about his betrayal and breaking off their friendship, Miller traveled to Salem, Massachusetts, and was fascinated by the primary documents recounting the Salem Witch Trials, which he saw as a predecessor to McCarthyism. HUAC began monitoring Miller after “The Crucible” premiered on Broadway, and denied him his passport when he attempted to travel to England. Three years after “The Crucible’s” opening, Miller applied for the renewal of his previously denied passport and the House Un-American Activities Committee took advantage of his request, presenting him before the committee for questioning, to which Miller refused to offer names.

Why “The Crucible” is important for American literature

Miller was known for writing about the American experience, typically depicting the lives of working or middle-class Americans living secretly tumultuous private lives behind their suburban façades. “The Crucible” not only represents one era or event in America’s history, but two, as “The Crucible” serves as an allegory for McCarthyism. Both the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism bred paranoia that resulted in hysteria and hasty imprisonments and executions. Miller’s play serves as a warning against that dangerous fear and fanaticism that America has experienced more than once and the panic that ensues.

Historical inaccuracies

The play is fictitious, and there are several major events or characters in the book that veer from the truth. The crux of the play—that the Salem Witch Trials began because a teenager in love with a married man wanted revenge—is inconsistent with history. In real life, Abigail Williams was around 12-years-old when she began accusing the inhabitants of Salem of witchcraft, along with her cousin Elizabeth Parris, the daughter of clergyman Reverend Samuel Parris. Williams never served the Proctor family. Miller, for the purpose of simplifying the drama, reduced the amount of characters, resulting in less girls and less judges, and also changed some names to avoid confusion, such as Ann Putnam, Jr. to Ruth Putnam.

Many of the villagers involved in the Salem Witch Trials died in obscurity, such as Abigail Williams, most records of them disappearing after the trials.

Miller’s place in pop culture

  • Miller was married three times, his second marriage to Marilyn Monroe.
  • The band Twenty-One Pilots takes its name from Miller’s drama All My Sons, in which one of the main characters knowingly sells and ships off damaged airplane parts during WWII, resulting in in-flight malfunctions and the deaths of twenty-one young pilots.

Adaptations

The 1996 adaptation, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor and Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams, largely remains faithful to the play, and therefore is helpful as a supplement after reading (although there are some variations).

“The Crucible” remains a popular play since it was published 65 years ago, especially around Halloween. Many different versions can be found on YouTube (the 2016 Broadway revival and Old Vic Theatre have interesting snippets that summarize the tone and themes of the play, as well as interviews with actors regarding their characters) and in local theatres.

Works Cited

http://www.17thc.us/docs/fact-fiction.shtml

http://celopsummerscitech2012.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/57093189/A%20Brief%20History%20of%20the%20Salem%20Witch%20Trials%20_%20History%20%26%20Archaeology%20_%20Smithsonian%20Magazine.pdf

http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people?group.num=all&mbio.num=mb33

http://www.arthurmiller.org/

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-journey53.html

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-case.html

https://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/arthur-miller-biography

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-Miller-American-playwright

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/twenty-one-pilots-inside-the-biggest-new-band-of-the-past-year-49706/

 

About the Writer
Grace Chalhoub, Staff Writer
Grace is a junior and returning staff member. She is a member of the Literary Magazine and enjoys writing articles pertaining to literature and theater.
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“The Crucible” study help