Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" and its relation to McCarthyism of the American 1950s

Pre-University Paper, 2008

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
2.1 Biography
2.2 Summary
2.3 Character Constellation
2.3.1. Relationship John Proctor – Abigail Williams
2.3.2 Relationship John Proctor – Elizabeth Proctor
2.4 The Role of Religion
2.4.1 The Meaning of Puritanism
2.4.2 Consequences of Puritanism in The Crucible

3. Joseph McCarthy
3.1 Biography
3.2 McCarthyism – Political Situation of the American 1950s
3.3 Accusations and victims
3.4 The decline of McCarthyism

4. Relation between The Crucible and McCarthyism

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Arthur Miller, one of the most important sociocritical dramatists of the 20th century, treats in his famous play The Crucible the witch hunts of Salem in 1692.

Considering this drama, the biography of Miller and the political situation in the date of origin of The Crucible, I would like to clarify the coherences between the drama and the highhanded persecution of inculpable humans in the American 1950s, at the time of McCarthyism.

The first part of my work deals with Arthur Miller, his life and his play The Crucible. In this part I would like to elucidate Miller’s personal connection to the anti-communist campaign. Furthermore, I would like to show the destructiveness of rumours with regard to the executions happened in the late 17th century and accurate reflected in The Crucible. Moreover, I will enlarge upon the effects of the religion, in this case Puritanism, on the behaviour of the bourgeois and the justice.

The second part of my work deals with Joseph McCarthy, his life, the commencements of McCarthyism, the course of the trials and decline of McCarthyism. In this part I would like to show the arbitrariness of Joseph McCarthy with which he accused innocent people. Furthermore, I will enlarge on the cruelly effects of such persecutions, which destroy the person’s futures and, as to The Crucible, the whole life.

Part three of my work will consist of conclusions about the impact of McCarthyism and Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible.

2. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

2.1 Biography

Arthur Asher Miller, who was born at October 17th in 1915 in New York as the son of a Jewish textile factory owner, has since the publication of Death of a Salesman been called “one of the century’s three great American dramatists”.[1] Arthur attended Public High School in Harlem from 1920 to 1928, ere he moved with his parents and siblings Joan and Kermit to Brooklyn in 1929.

After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1932, Arthur Miller attended Ann Arbor University of Michigan, to major Journalism, from 1934. During his academic studies, Arthur wrote his first play No Villian in 1936, and gained the Avery Hopwood Award in drama. After this success, Arthur Miller transferred to an English degree course. Since 1938 Miller worked for the Michigan Daily Newspaper ere he returned to New York. As from 1947 “Arthur Miller was firmly established as an American playwright”.[2] Particularly his play All My Sons obtained the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Donaldson Award. In 1949 the 33 – year – old Arthur Miller won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for his play Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible, “a drama of universal significance”[3], was premiered in 1953 and won the Antoinette Perry and the Donaldson Award.

In 1956 Arthur Miller “was subpoenaed to appear before the Un-American Activities Committee”[4], because he was implicated with communistic parties. Given that Arthur Miller denied an alliance with the communists and refused to declare names of communists known to him, Arthur Miller was sentenced to imprisonment.

From 1956 to 1960 Arthur Miller was wedded to Marilyn Monroe, for whom he wrote the screenplay The Misfits. After the matrimony with Marilyn Monroe, Miller married a third time. His wife was Inge Morath, an Austrian photographer, with whom Arthur had two children. Altogether Arthur Miller had four children, two from his first marriage.

The last work published by Arthur Miller in 1987 was his autobiography Timebends: A life, “in which he recalls his childhood in Brooklyn, the political turmoil of the 1950's, and the later half of the century”.[5]

Arthur Asher Miller died of heart failure at February 10th in 2005 at the age of 89 in Roxbury, Connecticut.

2.2 Summary

The story takes place in the puritan New England town Salem in Massachusetts.

Reverend Samuel Parris, the local minister of Salem, descries a group of young girls, among his daughter Betty, his niece Abigail Williams and a black slave named Tituba, dancing in the forest. Two of the girls, Betty Parris and Ruth Putnam, fall into a “coma-like state”[6] when they are at home. But when the diseases of Betty and Ruth cannot be healed, rumours of witchcraft and of a pact with the devil arise. However, Abigail Williams swears that the girls only danced in the forest and that they do not have anything to do with the devil or witchcraft.

Reverend Parris orders, for fear of his daughter, Reverend Hale, an expert of witchcraft, to help the girls. Initially Abigail does not want the other girls to admit anything, nobody could account for what they did in the forest, neither that they did not conjure spirits nor that Abigail drank blood. Not until Tituba confesses conjuring spirits, the girls maintained silence. But after the confession, Abigail Williams, Betty Parris and the other girls admit having associated with the devil. To protect themselves and to shirk an execution, the girls, headed by Abigail, accuse other people of witchcraft. Abigail names, amongst others, Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail hopes that Elizabeth will be executed, assuming that John Proctor, with whom Abigail was engaged in an affair, will marry her. Elizabeth Proctor is arrested and if she does not confess, she will be hanged, just like all the other accused. Although there is no evidence, the two judges Danforth and Hathorne believe in declarations of implausible girls.

John Proctor, in order to save his wife, convinces Mary Warren, his maid and one of the girls in the forest, to tell the truth and to testify that Abigail and the other girls are lying and not possessed by the devil. To do not leak out in the court Abigail pretends that Mary bewitches her. Mary Warren is not preserving, she breaks down and accuses John Proctor to be a witch. He is arrested and executed because he told the truth and did not concede something he had not done.

Abigail Williams runs away, her false accusations were vain, they only caused deaths.

2.3 Character Constellation

The Crucible, unlike other plays of Arthur Miller, has a large number of characters. This number is a sign of the huge number of victims, executed in the play.

Abigail Williams, the niece of Reverend Paris, is a key figure. Her activities are crucial to the development of the drama. Abigail’s anger and frustration, based on the dismissal from the Proctor’s household, leads to the never-ending accusations.

John Proctor is the central character in the play. He, a victim of charges himself, is situated in a conflict between his personal conscience and the public pressure.

Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor, is not a central character in the play. Instead of her person, the love for her husband takes a centre stage.

Judge Danforth, unlike Judge Hathorne, plays a denotative role in the drama. He, the “Deputy Governor of the province Massachusetts”[7], represents the authority of Church and State in the society. Blinded by his religious conviction, Judge Danforth loses the sight of the intrigue, headed by Abigail Williams.

Reverend Hale and Reverend Parris, the two ministers, are key characters as well. Reverend Hale is the one who is well schooled in witches and who should banish the evil spirits out of Salem.

Reverend Parris, who advises Reverend Hale of the alleged witchcraft, is very self-absorbed. As he thinks that his daughter’s illness is based on witchcraft, he loses the overview about what is real and what is simulated.

Betty Parris, Mercy Lewis, Mary Warren and Tituba do not play an important role in the drama. The girls, who attended the dance in the forest, are influenced by Abigail Williams. They only assist Abigail in maintaining the rumours of witchcraft.

Giles Corey and Rebecca Nurse are two of the large number of accused and condemned persons. As they are good friends of John Proctor, they appear several times in the play, actual they stand for the multitude of victims.

2.3.1. Relationship John Proctor – Abigail Williams

Abigail Williams was the housekeeper of John and Elizabeth Proctor. While working in the Proctor’s house, she fell in love with John and had an affair with him. The affair constituted a sin according to the puritan way of thinking. On this account John Proctor and Abigail Williams conceal their carry-on from the bourgeoisie, Proctor considering his wife Elizabeth as well.

Abigail, with her unsatisfied sexual needs, holds Elizabeth responsible for Proctor withdrawing from her. John Proctor regrets the affair with Abigail and clarifies that there won’t be any affair again.

To take revenge on Elizabeth and to hold the chance to marry John Proctor up, Abigail does not shrink away from accusing Elizabeth of witchcraft.

However, Abigail does not bargain for the confession of John Proctor as to adultery. John Proctor sides with his wife, Abigail frustrated and all set to “kill to gain the man for whom she lusts”[8], charges more and more people. In doing so, she does not notice John Proctor keeping himself distance from her.

2.3.2 Relationship John Proctor – Elizabeth Proctor

After John Proctor committed adultery, the relationship of John and Elizabeth Proctor is very charged. Although he regrets the affair with Abigail, Elizabeth cannot forgive him and trust him again. The situation escalates when John meets Abigail over again to clarify that the affair was a fault and nothing else. Furthermore, John Proctor forgets the commandment of adultery.

The real love between John and Elizabeth arises at the end of the drama, when Elizabeth comes to John’s defence in court and when she accepts his decision rather to die than to confess and base his life on a lie.

2.4 The Role of Religion

Puritanism was a reform movement, emanated from the Church of England, in the 16th and 17th century.

A lot of Puritans emigrated from England to the New England State in the 17th century and this led to Puritanism for the prevalent religion in these states.

2.4.1 The Meaning of Puritanism

The Puritans believed in the tenets of Calvinism, moreover in the predestination.

All humans were sinners, but some of these were justified by Jesus Christ. Puritanism made a point of self-discipline and the Puritans were convinced that God chose them to fight against the disbelief in the church.

In the centre of Puritanism was the conversion of the society, an ideal of bourgeoisie, which equated the commandments.

2.4.2 Consequences of Puritanism in The Crucible

In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible there is no difference between the state and the church. Moral laws and the state laws are the same. The people have to decide either to belong to God or to the devil.

In The Crucible Reverend John Hale wants “to put some questions as to the Christian character”[9] of their house, to Elizabeth and John Proctor.

Hale wants to know the circumstances, why they are “rarely in Church on Sabbath Day”[10] and why only two of their three children are baptized.




[3] Corrigan, Robert W. “Arthur Miller A Collection of Critical Essays”; Ed. Warshow, Robert, “The Liberal Conscience in The Crucible”; Prentice-Hall: New Jersey, 1969. p.111

[4] Mahoney, John. “Guide to The Crucible”, Charles Letts & CO. Ltd: London, 1988 p.5



[7] Mahoney, John. “Guide to The Crucible”, Charles Letts & CO. Ltd: London, 1988, p.67

[8] Dukore, Bernard F.. ”Death of a Salesman and The Crucible”; Humanities Press International: Atlantic Highlands, 1989. p.52

[9] Miller, Arthur. “The Crucible”; Dramatists Play Service: New York, 195, p.36

[10] Miller, Arthur. “The Crucible”; Dramatists Play Service: New York, 195, p.36

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" and its relation to McCarthyism of the American 1950s
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
442 KB
Arthur Miller, The Crucible, McCarthyism, America, 1950
Quote paper
Isabelle Pipahl (Author), 2008, Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" and its relation to McCarthyism of the American 1950s, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" and its relation to McCarthyism of the American 1950s

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free