Everyone has lied before in life, and it seems as if lies always create more trouble. Author Samuel Butler once observed how “the best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying goes the longest way.” This is very true because what is thought to be a small lie can develop into a much larger lie and go a very long way. Once one tells a lie, she or he must come up with more lies to cover up the first one, and if people believe those lies, the liar has the advantage of convincing that she or his is telling the truth about certain subjects when the opposite is true. Dishonesty is never respectable, and an ideal example of a good liar is Joseph McCarthy. In the United States during the 1940’s and 1950’s, he told lies about people and it turned into mass hysteria. Numerous people’s lives were ruined because they were thought to have had ties to Communism. Similarly in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, an antagonist in the story, Abigail Williams, is an allegory figure for Joseph McCarthy. Like McCarthy, she plays into people’s suspicions, only in this story it is witchcraft, not communism people fear. Abigail creates the lie that there are people in Salem who have connections with the Devil. A horrendous witch hunt is caused by her dishonesty and people’s lives are ruined. Their lives resemble the lives of individuals accused of Communism during the McCarthy era. Families were torn apart, careers were ruined, and reputations were destroyed because of McCarthy and his treachery. Throughout The Crucible, people lost their land and possessions and even their lives. The metaphorical fundamentals, symbolism, and the many allegorical components of The Crucible relate to actual events that transpired during the McCarthy era.
Metaphors assist people to understand ideas more easily because they are compared to more uncomplicated entities. Arthur Miller uses metaphors in The Crucible when Danforth told Francis Nurse, “You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between…We live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world” (99). Clearly, Danforth creates the notion that life in Salem is separated by a metaphorical road, and depending on one’s belief regarding witchcraft will determine what side of the road that person is in regard to the court. In effect, there is only one road to justice, the court’s road, and the people of Salem can choose if they want to be with the court or not, since there is no other way. Another metaphor used in the play was when Francis Nurse described to Mr. Hale, “My wife is the very brick and mortar of the church…You cannot mean she will be tried in court” (75)! This metaphor describes Rebecca Nurse as the foundation of the church in Salem. She is a very prominent figure in the community and has the respect of the citizens. Abigail began to get braver with the people she accused of witchcraft and McCarthy did the same thing. The threat of witch craft became serious and more known when Abigail accused people such as Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey. When she accused such people, she got more attention from the people of Salem. McCarthy also knew that if he accused more famous and well known people, he would be in the spot light. He announced certain phrases and used metaphors to convince Americans that Communism was a major threat and the country was at risk.
There are signs of symbolism in The Crucible that display events of McCarthyism. In the film, also written by Arthur Miller, when John Proctor has all the fingers pointing at him, he is standing in the water surrounded by all the people of Salem. This is symbolic because water signifies the cleansing of people or baptizing. With such anger towards the girls for accusing him, John exclaims, “I say- I say- God is dead... You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore” (126)! In The Crucible John Proctor symbolizes a Christ figure because he dies for what he believes in and for a good cause. By sacrificing his life for the sins of others, John Proctor’s death is not in vain. The sins in this case were the sins of the members of the court who falsely accused innocent people of witchcraft. Ultimately, John Proctor knows the truth and would not tell a lie to escape punishment because he had too much self respect to let that happen. Elizabeth Proctor describes this when she says, “He gave his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him” (152). John Proctor would not go along with such a lie as ridiculous as being connected with the Devil or witchcraft. He knew when he was accused that the lie had gotten out of control, and if anyone was innocent of witchcraft, it was him. Abigail and the girls feared that if the truth came out, there would be a hug dilemma. The lie McCarthy told about Communists had gotten out of had also. He began accusing the wrong people and lost the trust of the American people, and once this happened, like the people’s response to Abigail Williams in Salem, they shunned him, and he left the public spotlight in disgrace.
In The Crucible the devil or witchcraft is an allegory of the McCarthy era because it corresponds to Communists and the concept of Communism. When Mary Warren declared, “The Devil is loose in Salem, Mr. Proctor; we must discover where he’s hiding” (63), it is just how McCarthy explained that Communist traitors were in the United States. He convinced the nation that these traitors must be found and punished because they might have been handing over classified information about atomic bombs to the Soviet Union. There are very many circumstances in The Crucible that are allegorical to the McCarthy era. A great amount of people were asked questions having to do with witchcraft in Salem. People were also questioned during the McCarthy era about their backgrounds and if they were involved with Communism. They were examined by the House Un-American Activities Committee and were asked if they knew anyone tied to Communism. If those being questioned gave the names of people they would be off the hook, but the people named would be under suspicion. Likewise, this is portrayed in The Crucible when Hawthorne questions Giles Corey, when he asks, “And the name of this man?”
Giles responds, “What name?”
“The man that give you this information.”
“Why I-I cannot give you his name,” Giles nervously responds.
“And why not?”
Giles exclaimed, “You know very well why not! He’ll lay in jail if I give his name!” (101) Innocent people would be punished if Giles gave names to the court. Instead, Giles chooses to be pressed to death, in which an official of the court placed slaps of stone on his chest as he was strapped on a plank, adding stones each time he refused to answer. Eventually, Giles lungs were crushed and he died, yet he never revealed the name the court wanted. Similarly, many individuals’ lives were ruined during the McCarthy era because they refused to give into the pressure of the House on Un-American Activities Committee and they ended up going to jail or having their professional and private lives destroyed.
There are other events in The Crucible that are allegorical to happenings and issues of the McCarthy era. Joseph McCarthy got many Americans to be suspicious of people in the country, yet no one saw that McCarthy might be a traitor himself. Likewise, John Proctor wondered why no one ever pointed a finger or argued that Abigail might be guilty of treachery herself. He explains, “Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem” (81). No one had stopped to look at how innocent the accused were and John Proctor realized that as he witnessed the citizens of Salem using the accusation of witchcraft to take vengeance on their neighbors. Moreover, people will willing to let Abigail and others do their bidding as long as they did not point the finger at them. Even Reverend Hale realized Abigail was misleading Salem when he decided to quit the court after Mary Warren’s libelous statements. However, like the American public eventually coming to its senses during the McCarthy ear, it was too late, and innocent people’s lives were destroyed.
Real life occurrences of the McCarthy era are behind the metaphorical, symbolic, and allegorical factors of The Crucible. The play reveals how appalling McCarthyism was with a story about the Salem witch trials. Fingers were being pointed at all sorts of people when they really should have been pointed at the person who started it all and accused people. McCarthy’s lie went a long way and overtook a nation and caused mass hysteria. The same thing occurred in The Crucible when Abigail told a lie about witch craft and the result was the loss of innocent lives. In both cases it was not until the lives of many people were destroyed and were unable to be fixed. Dishonesty cannot go on forever because the line has to be drawn somewhere. As human beings, we have the responsibility to defend those who are unable to defend themselves simply because the majority wants to believe in their guilt. If we are unwilling to take a stand, then some day, we may find ourselves standing alone if the finger is unjustly pointed at us. Once a lie is told, more lies must be made to keep the first lie going. A lie is like an avalanche: once it is started it is hard to stop and quickly grows, devouring more and more objects in its path.