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In times of moral and social chaos between any civilised or uncivilised society, when the threat of any opposing force or alliance turns citizens and parliament alike into accusative fools; when ‘the voice’ itself is riddled with paranoia and irrational thinking, (most likely by the simple arrival of something unknown or new,) other elements of society come forth to offer through their art, an alternative point of view whether it be subtle or public; Arthur Miller a leading American playwright of several decades with such acclaimed works as Death of a Salesman and The Man Who Had All the Luck to his name. Although Miller’s dramas took a familial setting, he earned a reputation for dealing with the contemporary political and moral issues of the time. One dramatic device used in a piece studied by myself and piers was an allegory: the use of characters or events to represent ideas or principals in a play, story or picture.
At the height of the McCarthy era, when indeed social order and security were replaced by paranoia and an element of superstition, Miller’s allegoric play The Crucible conveyed the insanities and fears of the future by showing on stage a similar occurrence in the past. By playing to the audiences of 1950’s America, Miller brought to light the resolution of 1700’s Salem, how they coincide, and how if the “witch hunt” in the present day continued one of the biggest public blunders of the past which would repeat itself.
I use the term “witch hunt” because of the nature of accusations and their ability to root out the weeds of society fifty years ago- the communists.Senator Joe McCarthy takes his place in history as the main figure leading the anti-communist movement. As the threat of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) loomed over the west, and the iron curtain acted not only as a barrier of communications between the two parts, but as point of alienation; east meets west, communists meet democrats, any crossover between the two met its climax at panic, hence the trials in the United States to which Miller was no stranger to.
The playwright was brought to trial to assist the court in finding those who were witnessed to meeting and socialising with him; they were deemed communist. In various quotes and accounts given from Miller himself, we can see how his personal involvement in the communist raids appear in the play in the thoughts and feelings of the characters and the overall message that can interpreted from The Crucible: I believe this to be the ethos of boundaries and limits of human beings- how far we can push ourselves before we find the things we would die to hold onto. Are we Abigail with limitless lack of morals persevered by the incomprehensible consideration for self, with her only boundary being her obsession with passion, embodied in a Mr John Proctor? Or are we those minor characters, who Miller had seen in court?
“I saw accepted the notion that conscience was no longer a private matter but now one of state administration. I saw men handing conscience to other men and thanking them for the opportunity of doing so.” ‘Minor’ that is in the sense of having one thing in common; a common boundary which was non-existent it seems when it came to handing over names of “guilty” friends. If we are not, we are then John Proctors: those who would die for sanctity and purity of one’s name.
Miller’s personal input into The Crucible is one that manifests itself in the character of John Proctor: this character is based on the playwright’s boundaries and pride. The strength of Proctor comes from Miller’s beliefs which are mirrored in a quote taken from court- “I am not protecting the Communists or the Communist Party. I am trying to protect my sense of self. I have taken responsibility for everything I have ever done, but I cannot take responsibility for another human being.” However, I believe that what
Such was Miller’s astonishment that history was to be repeated when the world had learnt and moved on from the ‘evil displayed by the judges of these trials and the prosecutors of the Salem witch trials,’ that he took it upon himself to dig up and publicise the past as the events had so much to teach- “It was as though the whole country had been born anew, without a memory even of certain elemental decencies which a year or two earlier no-one would have imagined could have been altered, let alone forgotten. Astounded, I watched men pass me by without a nod whom I had known rather well for years; I knew that the terror in these people was being knowingly planned and consciously engineered , and all they knew was terror.”
This quote also tells us of Miller’s suspicion of the US government: that a fear with no real public threat (communism) had such a massive affect on the general population. I believe he thought that the will of the democratic government increased the hype of communism to keep America what is was and still is, a democracy- no matter how many chapters of history may come back to haunt them.