What inspired Arthur Miller to write The Crucible
The Crucible by Arthur Miller, an American playwright, is a play that was performed firstly on the 22nd of January 1953 at Martin Beck Theater in New York. The play won the 1953 Tony Award, emerging as the best production (Esparza 2021). The Crucible is a fictionalized and dramatized narration of a Salem Village, then called Salem, witch trials in Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1692–93 (Miller 2015). Miller developed the production as the story of McCarthyism at a time when the government of the U.S. was prosecuting the communists. Miller was questioned on Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 by the House of Representatives and was found guilt of contempt by Congress for refusing to mention other persons at a meeting he attended (Banerjee 2017). This essay is aimed to identify three main reasons that inspired Miller to write the play.
One of the main reasons Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible was to protect his career (Esparza 2021). As a writer, he may have been blocklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. When The Crucible was released, Joseph McCarthy, senator of West Virginia, chaired a committee interviewing people about their ties to communism. Miller used metaphors to convey the general idea of a “witch hunt” (Miller 2015). Miller also explored the Salem witch trials in popular culture, rebooting his career and achieving overwhelming success (Banerjee 2017). This helped Miller to save his career.
During the tense era of Senator Joe McCarthy, Arthur Miller developed plays that reflected the cultural and political collective hysteria unleashed when the U.S. government tried to suppress communism. After meeting his friend and famous film director Elia Kazan, a renowned film director who had recently testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Arthur Miller travelled to Salem, Massachusetts, to investigate the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 (Esparza 2021). While travelling back, Miller heard a recording of Kazan’s statement, which was controversial. Kazan had named fellow actors and playwrights with ties to left-wing causes (Miller 2015). That night Miller used the Salem witch trials as an allegory for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s oppressive tactics and began writing The Crucible. Miller conveyed significant historical events in a controlled manner.
Miller was also inspired to write The Crucible by what transpired in the U.S. in the 1950s. Suspicions about witchcraft and a connection to the devil arose significantly in the 1600s in Salem, Massachusetts (Miller 2015). The charges and fears are comparable to the times of McCarthyism in the United States of America. McCarthy focused on Democrats with baseless and far-reaching allegations of communist involvement, allowing Republicans to take control of Congress and the president. Miller found in the investigation that he was asked to name people associated with communism which he refused because he believed people should have the right to think whatever they wanted (Esparza 2021). The political witch hunt and the Salem Trial were similar in that those accused were immediately labelled communists or witches without difficulty or any other form of court. In the fifties, fear of McCarthyism was physical; The communist threat was the real threat from a group of people (Banerjee 2017). The hysteria developed from an overreaction of fear to the communist threat. It quickly became overblown, like the Salem trials, where many were accused of being witches. Fear leads to unexpected and undesirable consequences. Choices made in fear are often more dangerous than what causes anxiety. Miller wrote The Crucible to use stories from the past to warn the U.S. Miller aimed to show the U.S. leadership the danger of the decisions made in fear. Miller quoted, “Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven” (Miller 2015). Implying that people like how the situation is managed, the actions may lead to terrible conditions.
In addition, Miller wrote The Crucible out of desperation. Much of his desperation resulted from a typical Depression-era trauma blow struck on people’s minds by the rising of European Fascism. Miller began to think of writing about the hunt for Reds in America in 1950 (Esparza 2021). He was motivated significantly by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals. Despite their dissatisfaction with the inquisitors` rights violations, they feared being identified as covert Communists (Banerjee 2017). The anti-Communist liberals could not acknowledge congressional committees’ violations of those rights (Esparza 2021). The ancient political people’s ideologies and morals had faded gradually, and nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could say all that he believed.
In conclusion, the primary theme in The Crucible is fear over reason. Miller intended to show some situations where fear overcame reasoning. He issued a warning of the effects of having fear overcoming reasoning. In the book, fear over reason is clearly shown when Tituba confesses to witchcraft instead of being hanged. In addition, the other main reasons that inspired Miller were to save his career and also, as a result, depression.
- Banerjee, S. (2017). The Crucible. The Routledge Companion to International Children’s Literature.
- Esparza, M. (2021). The Crucible. The Arthur Miller Journal, 16(2), 221-225.
- Miller, A. (2015). The Crucible. Bloomsbury Publishing.