Arthur Miller's The Crucible Mass Hysteria
What is really unfortunate to the mesmerizing Arthur Miller's play"The Crucible" is that is was written after his "Death of a Salesman". Hadn't the play writer written "Death...", "The Crucible" would certainly be regarded as his unique masterpiece -- however, I believe the honor must be shared-- which is not that bad for readers and audiences.
Performed for the first time in 1953, "The Crucible" is loosely based on the famous Salem witchcraft trials that happened in 1962. Miller used the actual even as an inspiration to create a fable that resonated in his time's politics -- which was called the witch hunting. The play was written in response to Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee's crusade against supposed communist sympathizers. Despite the changes, as Miller states in a prose prologue to the play, his objective is to "the reader will discover (...) the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history".
At the end of the play, one can be sure that the writer achieved his aim. "The Crucible" paints with the right paints a portray of mass hysteria, paranoia, chaos and manipulation. What's more, it achieves a higher level when it manages to deal with the 50s politics -- which happened to be touched by mass hysteria, chaos and manipulation as well.
As a whole, the symbolism in the play is the paranoia about communism that pervaded the United States in the 1950s. with his text, Miller managed to bring up several parallels between the House Un-American Activities Committee's rooting out of suspected communists during this time and the seventeenth-century witch-hunt. In both cases, the narrow-mindedness and the excess of zeal ended up blinding people. Like in Salem, the communists were encouraged to name names and confess their `crimes'.
In "The Crucible", Miller's concern is not to with the fact that the accused are witches or not -- but rather with the unwillingness of the court to believe they are not. In this case, in the McCarthyism era, so full of excess, many innocents were condemned, and this parallel is what resonates from Miller's words even more than 50 years later.
Miller vaguely based his characters in the actual ones, but in his prologue, as a disclaimer, he alleges that he was forced to make many changes. Abigail's age for instance was raised, the judges were symbolized by only two etc. But, as he explains, this is not a historical work.
One of the most impressive points in the play is the theocratic society --where church and state are one, and the only allowed form of religion in Salem is the Puritanism. The witch trials represent the expression of intolerance --while the hanging is the means of restoring the purity of the community. On the other hand, hysteria plays the role of tearing this society apart. It supplants logic and people start to believe that people they have always known are not what they believed to be. Abigail is the character that has an important role triggering this hysteria, since she wants to marry John Proctor, and for that must get rid of his wife. Others simply use her device --while others fall into her trap. In the end, the community is into pieces.
As one of the characters says that was `a strange time'. So was when Miller wrote his play -- and so is today. That is why Miller's "The Crucible" is such a timeless piece. Reading this play --opposed to watching it performed -- is an enhancing experience.