How do writers use literature as a means of creating social and political change?
Is personal integrity more important than survival?
Can morality be legislated?
How does collective fear affect people?
Is there a difference between law and justice?
What responsibility do individuals have in our society to stand up to injustice?
Why does history seem to repeat itself?
Why are people vengeful?
“THE CRUCIBLE” – Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
Definition of crucible? severe trial or test
Play depicts the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 BUT . . .
Play written in 1953 in response to political climate of that time McCarthyism It is an ALLEGORY (more than just a literal meaning – symbolic of something else) Literally about Salem Witch Trials (fictional account) BUT figuratively about McCarthyism What is McCarthyism?
Senator Joseph McCarthy – Republican from Wisconsin headed a committee to root out suspected communists in U.S.
McCarthy’s accusations ruined the careers of many people. He was actually motivated by political gain (most of the people he targeted were liberals in the entertainment industry). Suspected communists were encouraged to confess and identify others to escape punishment. Many people confessed regardless of innocence just to escape punishment. They “saved themselves” through false confessions and pointed fingers at others – “naming names”
In 1956, Arthur Miller was investigated for possible communist association. He was called to testify before McCarthy’s committee. Miller refused to cooperate and was held in contempt (conviction was reversed).
Miller was comparing McCarthyism to a:
WITCH HUNT (allusion to Salem) – an intensive effort to discover and expose disloyalty, subversion, dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence
Salem Witchcraft Trials – two centuries before Miller was born
20 “witches” hanged or killed
150 in prison
1692 – colony of Massachusetts – Puritans (poor, uneducated, superstitious, very religious)
Why were Puritans vulnerable to believing in devil/witchcraft?
Allowed for no personal freedom – NO INDIVIDUALITY – your behavior was public concern
(Plow on Sunday, or skip church, or do not baptize your child – not only sin, but breaking the law)
Strict adherence to religious laws caused people to be unable to express anger, resentment (feuds/grudges over property)
What started Salem Witch Trials? Minister’s (Rev. Parris) daughter (Betty) and other young girls are caught dancing in the woods. To escape punishment, they pretend to be sick (coma-like state, then appear possessed, seizures). Everyone suspects witchcraft. Girls accuse Tituba (maid from Barbados) of voo-doo.
Tituba is coerced into confessing to witchcraft to escape beating. She then hysterically accuses other townspeople of consorting with the devil (tells them what they want to hear even though it’s not true).
Young girls decide to use “their power” (ability to identify witches) to seek revenge on anyone they want to by naming that person “a witch”
Because of strict religious laws, people were unable to publically express anger, jealousy, resentment, feuds/grudges over property. Must be “Good Christian”
Used the opportunity to seek revenge and act out their resentment against others in the name of morality (rooting out witches from community – God’s work)
Resulted in MASS HYSTERIA: