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For years, people thought that Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible to condemn the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. However, we have recently learned that he wrote it for the purpose of showing the similarities to the McCarthyism Era in the 1950s. Too many people who read The Crucible will walk away thinking that Millers sole purpose was to highlight the Puritan governments attempt was to accuse people of witchcraft. His real intent was to show how closely related the events of the Salem Witch Trials were to those of the McCarthyism Eras accusations of communist sympathizers.
Author Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory to the McCarthyism Era.
In 1946, Joe McCarthy became a senator representing Wisconsin. He soon found out that if he ever wanted to accomplish anything, he would need to be more widely known in Congress. On February 9, 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia is when it all began. He had been a member of the Senate for three years. During a speech, McCarthy denounced a list of 205 people that worked in the State Department.
He accused each and every one of them of being a communist or having communist ties. The only catch was that those who were accused, in most cases, were not even communists. He realized that after World War II, the whole nation was afraid that communists would overtake the country. McCarthy did not know much about communism, but he used it to scare people. He told them that if they were not careful, communists would take over the country.
Soon after, a committee was formed called the House Committee on Un-American activities. The groups job was to investigate people whom they suspected had communist ties. One of his most famous sayings was If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. The same holds true for communists. (Hamilton 2) He applied this saying when he accused people. If they associated with communists, voiced communist opinions, or did anything abnormal, then they must be a communist. McCarthyism was bred by the insecurities of everyone. The craziness of accusing people mushroomed.
One problem that McCarthy and his followers ran into was that communism was not illegal. They could not arrest suspects, so they were just put on a list that was distributed to all the companies that would hire people. The people who were hurt the most by this outrage were those in the entertainment industry. Actors could not get jobs and scriptwriters could not get their scripts published. Thousands of Americans careers were demolished just because Joe McCarthy decided to be the master of ruthlessness.
Many believed McCarthys theory. Even President Harry Truman believed it. Well, he did until McCarthy accused him. Newly elected President Eisenhower on the other hand was smarter. He decided to stay out of the mess. Toward the end of his rampage, McCarthy became a heavy drinker. He relied on alcohol as a stress reliever.
Arthur Miller connects both events by showing how stupid both really were. In both incidents, the authorities seemed to be completely blind. In The Crucible, it was Hale and the judges Danforth and Hawthorn. During the McCarthyism Era, it was the entire American population. Neither seemed to realize how stupid and foolish the situations really were. The citizens were completely gullible. It is really hard to believe that educated men and women would believe such bologna. Miller went to Salem to look up all the information he could find about witches and the witch trials. Miller realized the stupidity of the Puritan cults. The lower class and the undesirable citizens were the first to be accused. They eventually worked their way up to respected citizens. The tests to determine whether one is a witch or not were rather absurd. The accused was weighed against the Bible and if he were lighter than it was, then he was condemned. Another test was the accused was bound and thrown in the water. If he floated, then he or she was a witch and was killed, if he sank, then he was not. Either way, the person would die because if they sank, they would most likely drown. He compared the witch hysteria to what was happening in 1953. He noticed that Senator McCarthy was doing the same thing. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory, the expression of truths or generalizations about human existence by means of symbolic figures and actions.
In the beginning, McCarthy was hailed as a hero. After the World War II, McCarthy began his campaigns. He made himself sound like a war hero, but in actuality, he peeled potatoes (DAmbrosio lecture). The last straw was when he went a little too far with his accusations. After he relentlessly destroyed thousands of peoples lives, government officials, the army, and even the President, that is when people started to doubt him. Everyone knew now that he was a complete fraud. Very few people were ever found to be real communists. Senator McCarthy was finally lost his reign when he died May 2, 1957.
Schreckers comment about the end result of McCarthyism is: Keep in mind that the main impact could have been in what did not happen instead of what did. The social reforms that were never implemented, the diplomatic initiatives that were never taken, the workers who never organized unions, the book that were never written, and the movies that were never made. (Schrecker. The Impact 2). An entire era of talented and motivated Americans was prevented from fulfilling their potential because of McCarthys witchhunt.
McCarthyism ate away at the political freedom of all Americans. Throughout the entire McCarthyism Era, little was learned, except for the fact that Joe McCarthy had nothing important to say. Hopefully Americans did learn to demand facts and to be wary of status-seeking windbags.
Joe McCarthy was not a totalitarian in any significant sense. He was not interested in social or economic order. If he was anything at all in the realm of ideas, principles, or doctrines, he was a species of nihilist (believing in nothing). He was a destructive force, a revolutionist without any revolutionary vision, a rebel without a cause (Rovere. Senator Joe McCarthy 2). In Puritan Massachusetts the government, via the courts, tried to increase their status and power by selectively persecuting an alternative religion, witchcraft. Like McCarthy, the colonial courts had little or no evidence on which to base their arbitrary accusations of witchcraft. Arthur Miller chose to present his views of McCarthyism through the Salem Witch Trials because the fallacy of such beliefs is obvious to the average reader. Since this work was presented shortly after the death of McCarthy and McCarthyism, the reader/viewer should be able to make the logical connection between the two. Millers goal may have been to help Americans realize the stupidity of McCarthyism and the dangers of such unjustified beliefs.
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