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Context in The Crucible

This essay is a description of the context in which Arthur Miller wrote the play The Crucible. It includes references to the mass hysteria of the 1950's created in America by Senator Mcarthy, due to Communism, the time when Miller wrote the play.

Any form of literature always influences the target audience for which it was produced in some way. This includes texts, television and movies, and even plays. People watching or reading literature are presented with messages about life, and are often led to think about social and political issues dealt with in their society. The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller during the 1950?s, a time of much disruption in the American society due to the Cold War. He wrote the play to warn people of the dangers of mass hysteria, and to attempt to get them to speak out against authority when they are in the wrong. He also wanted to show how people can abuse their power, and that the power of fear can be extremely dangerous. In writing this play he wanted to make people aware of the consequences of their actions, and of their responsibility to speak up in society, in the hope that history would not repeat itself. The result was a powerful play about a puritan, theocratic community during 1692 in Massachusetts awash in lies, denial, and hysteria when a ring of lustful teenage girls begins accusing its citizens of witchcraft. When one man fights to preserve his integrity, he is also accused. It successfully portrays the themes and issues Miller desired to the target audience of the adults of the 1950?s, in an attempt to criticize the activities of Joseph McCarthy, who was leading a movement to find and prosecute suspected communists as if he were carrying out a witch trial at the time. The Crucible is an excellent example of how playwrights can use the stage as a way of challenging the audience to think about issues that they must deal with every day in life.

Playwrights direct the messages and themes of their scripts at specific groups of people to which they apply. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller was trying to show the majority of American citizens during the early 1950?s the effects of the mass hysteria that they were creating, the power that fear can have over people, and he was also trying to get them to speak out against the authorities of the time. Miller wrote the play during the brief control of Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose vicious anti-Communist ideas and suspicions led to special congressional committees being formed which conducted highly controversial investigations intended to root out Communist sympathizers in the United States. As with the alleged witches of Salem, suspected Communists were encouraged to confess and to identify other Communist sympathizers as means of escaping punishment. The policy resulted in a whirlwind of accusations. As people began to realize that they might be condemned as Communists regardless of their innocence, many "cooperated," attempting to save themselves through false confessions, creating the image that the United States was overrun with Communists and causing mass hysteria. Miller saw many similarities between this event and the witch trials of Salem in 1692, and he linked the two events together in his play to show the effects of such means of prosecution and accusation within a society, in the hope that his target audience, the people at that time, would take notice and stop what they were doing. In The Crucible, Miller attempted to show how people will give in and falsely confess to a crime in many circumstances, and that their word cannot always be trusted when under pressure, as it was during 1953 America. These lies then lead to other conflicts within society, which are excellently portrayed and shown as universal in this controversial play.

A critical message Miller attempts to portray in The Crucible is that the power that mass hysteria can be dangerous and easily created in an atmosphere of fear. It is vividly shown in the play how hysteria displaces logic, even enabling people to believe that their neighbors, whom they have always considered upstanding people, are committing absurd and unbelievable crimes such as communing with the devil, killing babies, and so on. In The Crucible, the townsfolk accept and become active in the hysterical climate not only out of genuine fear, but also because it gives them a chance to express repressed sentiments and to act on grudges. The most obvious case is Abigail, who uses the situation to accuse Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft and have her sent to jail, so that she may win back John Proctor. Eventually, the accusations and hangings are absurdly high and beyond control, the village is completely caught up in the hysteria. Written for people during the time when McCarthyism started and a mass hysteria of fear and accusations arose, Miller uses the stage as a way of making the audience think about their actions, and the consequences. As all playwrights do, he wanted to challenge the people of this time to think about the social and political issues present in their society, in the hope that they may be careful and avoid a repetition of the events that took place in Salem in the 1600?s.

An issue that we must all deal with at some stage throughout our lives is our conscience versus authority. Governments have always been known to be corrupt in some ways, and it is common knowledge that the authority within any society is not always fair and correct, they make mistakes too. The only thing that can keep authority just and under control is if individuals speak out against them when the are wrong, even if it means condemning themselves. This is a major theme that Miller deals with in his play, as he wanted his primary target audience to think about what he was saying, and perhaps decide to speak out against the authority of the time. His target audience being the people of the 1950?s, Miller was trying to get people to be truthful when being questioned about Communist support, and not just lie to save themselves. He tried to show that this was the only way Senator McArthy, as an authority figure, and the American government could be kept under control, avoiding the mass hysteria and false accusations which were ruining peoples careers and lives for years to come. In the play, Proctor is crucial in illustrating this idea of the individuals responsibility to speak up against authority when they are in the wrong. In the theocratic Salem, Proctor is placed in conflict with the authorities and his conscience. He needs to speak out against Abigail?s lies, and put an end to all the madness that is happening such as the countless trials and hangings. But in doing so, he knows he must condemn himself. Miller shows how difficult this personal struggle is for Proctor throughout the play, and it is only towards the end of act three that he realizes he must speak out, as he has already waited too long. He does this with his speech:

??Lucifer?I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in your black hearts that this be fraud ? God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!? (page 105)

In saying this it shows he now knows he questioned and spoke out against the authority too late, and that he will ?burn? for it in hell, as well as the officials of the corrupt government. The Crucible demonstrates just how important it is for people to speak out against authority if they are in the wrong, and shows that it is everyone?s responsibility too keep order within their society.

Fear is a very powerful emotion, which can cloud judgement and control a persons logic and thinking. Some people even use fear to gain power. This is what Arthur Miller tried to show when writing The Crucible. Not everyone?s judgement can be trusted when they are scared, people will even falsely accuse others in order to save themselves. This leads to wild finger pointing, and eventually mass hysteria, as shown in the play. As Senator McArthy used the fear that he created by condemning and punishing Communists to aid his rise to power, in the play, the authority figures such as Putnam, Parris and Danforth use fear to make people confess, without considering that they might be confessing just to save themselves. For example, Parris says, ?You will confess yourself or I will take you out and whip you to your death, Tituba!? Tituba falsely confesses to witchcraft. She is not left with much choice. Miller tries to show that this is virtually the situation many people are put in, and they will just lie out of fear to protect themselves. Abigail also uses the power of fear in the play to frighten the other girls into lying, to protect herself. She says to them:

? And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word?I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you all know I can do it?I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!? (page 27)

Once again, the girls are so frightened that they do as she says, they wield under their fear. Miller tries to show the audience of his play that fear will quite often lead people to lie to protect themselves, and to get them to think about the consequences of these lies.

Playwrights often use the stage as a way of challenging the audience to think about social and political issues within their society. Arthur Millers play The Crucible was written to warn people of the dangers of mass hysteria and of the power that fear can have over a person. He wanted to get people to speak out against the government of the time, as all of these problems were being created when people would confess to the committees of Senator John McArthy of being communists just to escape punishment. Miller saw the same sort of thing happening in 1950?s Cold War America as in 1600 Salem, the time of witch hunts. He drew parallels between the two events in the hope that people could see what happened in Salem, and learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately this play was obviously not provocative enough, as the trials went on for another few months, during which time many peoples careers and lives were ruined, and Miller himself was actually questioned by the committees.

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