Fear can be a profoundly persuasive tool. Looking back at the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, and later on in the McCarthy trials, you can determine that fear was a ruling factor in the behavior of those involved. Arthur Miller was unmistaken when he stated in Why I wrote The Crucible: An Artist’s Answer to Politics by Arthur Miller that “fear doesn’t travel well; …it can warp judgment” (1). The fear that was instilled upon the people of Salem was that if anyone opposed the trials they were not only accused of overthrowing the court, they were also accused of overthrowing God – provoking charges of witchcraft. By using biblical allusions, Parris’ eager pursuit for “justice,” and Abigail’s vindictive actions Miller demonstrates through The Crucible that the application of power can instill so much fear in others that they succumb to submitting to immoral beliefs.
To understand the background of the The Crucible the political and social conditions of the time period the play was written must be taken into account. During the 1940s and 1950s Communism was an issue that was spreading from Eastern countries causing Americans to be fearful of its encroachment onto US soil. With the Soviet Union gaining more power the possibility of contention, or worse, was a disquieting actuality for many Americans. After China was taken ahold of by a Communist leader and when Western Europe seemed ready to become predominantly Communist, US citizens began to feel that Communism had the potential to envelope them. This internal unrest helped pave the way for Senator Joseph McCarthy to take advantage of the situation and claim that the State Department “was full of treasonous pro-Soviet intellectuals” (1). The subsequent McCarthy trials essentially paralleled the Salem trials that took place nearly two and a half centuries prior. Those who opposed power were ultimately punished.
When Miller introduces Reverend Parris in a dramatic exposition he explains that Parris has “cut a villainous path” (1234) and that “there was very little good to be said for him” (1234). From the exposition alone it is inferred that Parris is a man prone to sin, and his knowledge of his daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail, practicing witchcraft in the woods show that he knew his reputation in Salem could be tainted if their sins were revealed. He also feared prosecution if it is found that witchcraft had been taking place in his home. This drove Parris to zealously assert the need for the witches in Salem to be eradicated sooner rather than later. His behavior supported Miller’s argument for Parris was fearful of the authority in Salem so he submitted to drastic and immoral measures to ensure his and his family’s safety.
Abigail is the most vindictive character in the play. Miller referred to her as the “human center of all this turmoil” (3) when she began accusing women in the town of witchcraft. Fear is what gave Abigail power over the town. The other townspeople were too afraid to accuse Abigail of false convictions for fear of being charged and hung as witches themselves. People betrayed neighbors either for their own safety or even for acquisition of land in some cases. The social morals of the town were muted with there a balancing act between right and wrong. Abigail was the hub of all of the turmoil and was the main source of control to which others submitted for fear of being accused.
Additionally, in The Crucible Miller inputs a biblical allusion of the archangel Raphael leading Tobias to save two people who have prayed for their deaths. In the play Proctor reminded Mary Warren that Raphael told Tobias “Do that which is good and no harm shall come to thee” (1298). Through that quote Proctor encouraged Mary Warren to do what she knows is right and reveal the truth to save his wife from execution. When Abigail attempted to accuse Mary of sending her spirit upon her, Mary quickly reverted to Abigail’s side and accused Proctor of being “the Devil’s man” (1314) for fear of being accused as a witch herself. This exemplifies Miller’s claim that the fear of power can convert someone to follow nefarious beliefs.