How is the Crucible an allegory for McCarthyism?
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Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a famous and passionate play based on the Salem Witch hunt trials. The Crucible is an allegory of McCarthyism when people accused of communism were arrested and incarcerated in the United States during the 1950s. The interpretation of The Crucible is closely tied to the socio-political attitudes of the 1950s. Furthermore, The Crucible is not merely a recap of historical events but also a symbolic orientation to the timelessness of the specific primary human flaws. Hysteria, intolerance, and abandonment of reason are among the parallel themes in The Crucible and McCarthyism.
The Crucible portrays hysteria’s role in putting a community and harmonious neighbourhood asunder. Arthur Miller uses the theme of hysteria in The Crucible, where the people of Salem abandon reason to believe that their neighbours, whom they have lived with peacefully and considered upright, are committing the ridiculous and unlikely crime of witchcraft. Also, in The Crucible, residents of Salem embrace and become active in the hysterical climate of religious devotion because it allows them to exhibit stifled feelings based on long-held resentments (GERTH, 2022). Similarly, in the 1950s, during the Red Scare, Joseph McCarthy accuses people of communism without substantial evidence (Newkirk, 2020). In The Crucible, like Joseph McCarthy, Abigail Williams accused people of being witches without sufficient evidence except for rumours. McCarthyism relies on the fear of the unknown, leading to citizens’ hysteria. McCarthyism and the witch hunt in The Crucible caused hysteria and paranoia among the accused and the unaccused.
The Crucible is plotted in a theocratic society where people are not expected to deviate from social norms. In Salem, moral and state laws are an essential part of society; thus, those who fail to conform or represent a threat to the public good or God’s rule. Therefore, witchcraft is a dissent linked to satanic activity and a threat to the public good because it is divergent from moral and state laws. Witch trials in Salem are the primary act of intolerance similar to the jailing of people in McCarthyism. Political intolerance was evident during the 1950s in the United States against members of the communist party (Gibson, 1988). Joseph McCarthy, a Republican Senator, targeted communist subversives to establish a new political strategy in the United States (Newkirk, 2020). The conservatives orchestrated fear that individuals affiliated with the communist party were a latent threat to national security since they could not remain loyal to the United States. Political intolerance was evident as people suspected to be affiliated with the communist party were arrested and jailed without considerable evidence. Intolerance is a significant theme developed out of fear that Abigail Williams and Joseph McCarthy used to their advantage in Salem and the U.S., respectively.
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McCarthyism and The Crucible portray the theme of judgment as people are tried for sentenced for the accusation of being witches and communists. In Act III of The Crucible, Deputy Governor Danforth, a judge’s resident of Salem, is accused of witchcraft. Danforth uses wrong judgment to sentence innocent people like Martha, Elizabeth, and Rebecca Nurse. Similarly, Joseph McCarthy acted as a judge when he was chairman of the Committee on Government Operations. He investigated various government departments and questioned several people based on their relations to communism. Joseph McCarthy acted as a judge because he spent two years in government questioning countless witnesses on their affiliations to the communist party and their loyalty to the U.S government (Gibson, 1988). He managed to present accusations that led to the condemnation of various government officials despite failing to make a plausible case against anyone during the McCarthy hearings. He led a 36-day televised investigative trial which also marked a decline because it helped turn the public tide against him.
People in the United States were concerned with the concept of goodness because communism was seen as disloyalty and treason. People affiliated with the communist party were considered supporters of Russia during the cold war and opponents of the U.S. government. Similarly, the concept of goodness is a significant theme in The Crucible because people want to be right with God (García, 2022). In The Crucible, characters want to be seen as good; hence, they dissociate with accusations of witchcraft. Rev. Parris is concerned with being good and what parishioners will think of him, thus bullying his niece and enslaved person for them to reveal their actions that tarnished his reputation (GERTH, 2022). Joseph McCarthy was also fascinated with the concept of goodness which Americans considered non-communist. Government officials did not want to be associated with the communist party, which would posit that they were not good.
Communism and witchcraft are controversial topics that incite hysteria and fear in society. The Crucible is an allegorical play that mirrors McCarthyism as they use witchcraft and communism as primary factors to incite hysteria and fear(García, 2022). Intolerance is closely tied to communism and witchcraft, leading to the arrest and sentencing of innocent people.
- García Pajín, C. (2022). ” Attention must finally be paid to such a person:” Arthur Miller and the struggles of the Working Class in Death of a Salesman (1949) and The Crucible (1953).
- GERTH, M. (2022). British McCarthyism: The Anti‐Communist Politics of Lord Vansittart and Sir Waldron Smithers. History.
- Gibson, J. L. (1988). Political intolerance and political repression during the McCarthy Red Scare. American Political Science Review, 82(2), 511-529.
- Newkirk, A. B. (2020). Andrew Feffer, Bad Faith: Teachers, Liberalism, and the Origins of McCarthyism (New York: Fordham University Press/Empire State Editions 2019). Labour: Journal of Canadian Labour Studies/Le Travail: revue d’Études Ouvrières Canadiennes, 86, 216-218.