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How effective is The Crucible's use of a 17th century context and witchcraft as a satire on 1950s McCarthyism?

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Introduction

How effective is The Crucible's use of a 17th century context and witchcraft as a satire on 1950s McCarthyism? The Crucible uses fear of witchcraft in the America of the 1600s as a metaphor for the fear of communism that was widespread in America in the 1950s. Arthur Miller wished to show that the attitudes and behaviour of the villagers of Salem were as irrational and ill-founded as the attitude and behaviour of the committee chaired by Senator McCarthy. Essentially Miller uses the 17th century setting to provide critical distance between the events described and the emotions that they aroused. After three hundred years everyone understands that witchcraft was never a threat to society and we can look at the way people behaved fairly sensibly. The Crucible argues that communism is not a threat to American society, but that the irrational behaviour and injustice that fear of it causes is very dangerous indeed. The Crucible is thus an attack on the anticommunist powers within 1950s America but its setting in the 1690s allows Miller to be much more forthright than if he had written a contemporary play. ...read more.

Middle

However, as others observe the children pointing the finger of suspicion, they too start to accuse their neighbours of witchcraft as a way of taking revenge or for personal gain: "...if Jacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property- that's law! And there is none but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece." Miller uses incidents like this as a way of showing, without too much risk to himself, that this is what the committee chaired by Senator McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the communist paranoia were doing - people were using it to increase their power and for revenge. The best example of this in the 50s is the Hollywood Blacklist. Celebrities of the time would accuse other celebrities of communist activities in order to prevent their own implication. Charlie Chaplain left America to avoid this, for instance, and many other artists were forced to work using 'front-men' to stay in work. Miller's main target was, of course, McCarthy as he was responsible for most of the extreme activity. ...read more.

Conclusion

I confess to God and God has seen my name on this! It is enough." The court's use of pressure to try to get a confession from John Proctor is Miller's way of suggesting that corrupt methods were also used to get confessions from the people accused of communism. Miller's use of a flawed hero represents a message to others who would wish to stand up against the anticommunist witch-hunt. John Proctor is an adulterer but he has enough integrity to regret his sins and even admit them in public in order to resist Abigail's power. This suggests that you do not have to be perfect to resist McCarthyism, and that it is better to admit your faults than to lose your integrity. The Crucible works effectively as a satire on McCarthyism for the reasons outlined above, but it would not be quite so effective if it didn't work as a play. It is a powerful drama with interesting characters trapped in a difficult situation, first and foremost. Otherwise we would not be reading it today after communism itself has collapsed. Miller's final point is that there are always witch-hunts when it is necessary for people to stand up against mass hysteria and moral panic ...read more.

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