Why did Arthur Miller write The Crucible?
By Jean-Christophe BROUDIN
Table of contents
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At that time, neither McCarthyism nor the witch-hunt was familiar to me. As I was told that Arthur Miller was a great American playwright, I presumed that the film would not be worth the play, and that prompted me to read it instead. Unfortunately, once the play read, despite its attractiveness, I did not know much about the connection between the play and the historical facts. So I decided to inquire, and I discovered that Arthur Miller had not imagined the story but had adapted it, under the name The Crucible.
This paper intends to answer the question: "Why did Arthur Miller write The Crucible?" This question must permit the reader to imagine the period and its context, therefore the exposition of facts may not be linear. This paper is organized into five parts. The first part introduces Arthur Miller. His biography is presented, based on his autobiography Timebends: A Life. It intends to draw his psychological portrait to understand his involvement in the fifties as a playwright. The second part introduces the one who inspired McCarthyism, Senator Joseph McCarthy. The political background of the Cold War, which led to McCarthyism, is also discussed. Then the consequences of McCarthyism on the society are detailed, with a view to showing the resulting social cost. The third part sums up the play The Crucible. The fourth part highlights this summary, as it explains through the Inquisition what witch-hunts were, why they happened and how they were justified at that time. It also compares the similar fate of both witches and Communists throughout time. Finally, the last part aims to connect the various elements of the puzzle introduced before and answer the question. It is based on the study of Arthur Miller's autobiography and on his own answer published on the Internet.
Why he wrote it may be explained in a few lines. Nevertheless, history
is often a complex maze that requires good guidance. Unlike Proust, I estimated
that both the context of the period and the actual experiences of the author
were necessary to understand his work. This has been my approach.
was Arthur Miller?
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1.1 His life
He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1938 where he learned how to write plays and won the University Theatre's Hopwood Award, a prestigious distinction.
Due to an old football injury, Miller was ineligible for military service during World War II but wrote patriotic plays for the radio. He even did volunteer labour in New York's harbour to repair military boats.
He wrote and produced The Man Who Had All the Luck in 1944 which was not successful, but a drama critic encouraged him to continue. He finally wrote All My Sons in 1947. With the help of the producer Elia Kazan, a man who was a major force in the American theatre, he was successful again and won the Drama Critics Circle Award. From then on, Miller was considered an important writer. In 1949, with his next play Death of a Salesman, he won the Toni Award (the equivalent of the Oscar Award in the theatre) for the stage performance and the Pulitzer Prize for the quality of the text. Once again, Elia Kazan as a director was a good choice
We will see later how, concerned by McCarthyism, Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 which was a mixed success. He was denied a passport to visit Brussels for the premiere of The Crucible in 1955, because it was not in the best interest of the country. He started working on a screenplay about youth gangs in America, but, although he had full cooperation from the Bay Ridge city, a Mrs. Dolores Scotti was sent from Washington by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to warn the city officials that they were dealing with a man about to be blacklisted as a member of the Communist Party. And Miller's project failed.
He was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 where, unlike Kazan, he refused to name names. First convicted of contempt of Congress, the trial was finally reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1958.
In 1956 Miller married Marilyn Monroe who he divorced in 1961, after filming The Misfits, which he wrote for her.
Miller's plays have been produced internationally, in China for example
where he gave advice to Chinese actors. They belong to the repertory theatres
of many universities throughout the world. He wrote his autobiography Timebends:
life in 1987. He received the National Medal of the Arts from President
Clinton in 1993. Miller wrote the screenplay for the movie The Crucible,
a motion picture under the aegis of 20th Century Fox, released in 1997.
He signed many petitions in the thirties that were either protests or pleas to free prisoners or appeals for friendship with Russia. These petitions were a tall pile on the table of interrogator Richard Arens during Miller's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956.
If he thought at one time that Marxism was a global solution to fascism and had been drawn to the ideals of socialism, he changed his mind after learning about the Soviet persecution of artists. Like other people of his generation, he had to admit that, in fact, the behaviour of the Russian Communist Party towards show business was nearly the same as McCarthyism in the United States.
At his trial, his political views were more moderate, but he always
considered himself a democrat with left-wing tendencies.
It started with The Great Disobedience, a play written while he was at the University of Michigan. He was then convinced that his art would help to change society by commenting on social and human conditions.
The Man Who Had All the Luck suggested a theme that would occupy him in his more important works, that is the fate of the individual in society.
In Death of a Salesman, Miller wanted people to wonder what success in our society really was, as he portrayed the tragedy of a common man who lost his job then his integrity due to social and economic pressures. His father and his relatives have been a powerful source of inspiration. His analyses were always the result of detailed research on the theme he wanted to explore.
As a playwright, he was concerned by the censorship in the fifties. Fortunately, he based his career in New York. New York, in comparison with Hollywood, was considered a "second-rate media-city" for inquisitors in search of fame and popularity. That spared him trouble. It allowed him for instance to be invited to the Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1949 which he chaired. On the eve of the conference, Life magazine published several passport-sized photos of supporters or participants, as if they were criminals. On the morning of the conference, a "nun-shield" (a line of gentle sisters) was even set at the doors of the building, praying for their souls.
He supported dissident writers in Communist Eastern Europe. The Crucible
became for him a "developer", as he said in Timebends. He could
almost tell what the political situation in a country was when the play
was suddenly a hit there - it was either a warning of tyranny on the way
or a reminder of tyranny just past. Not surprisingly, Paul Libin's production
of The Crucible was a hit for nearly two consecutive years in the
United States, after McCarthyism was over.
What was McCarthyism?
[Prev: Who was Arthur Miller?] [Next: What is the play about? Salem, 1692]
2.1 Where does the word McCarthyism come from? Portrait of Senator Joseph McCarthy
"Now mean and unregarded; but tomorrow
The mightiest of the mighty, Lord of Athens...
The sovereign and ruler of them all,
Of the assemblies and tribunals, fleets and armies,
You shall trample down the Senate under foot
Confound and crush the generals and commanders."
But for four years he succeeded in arousing terror among leftists and intellectuals and in show business, particularly in Hollywood. His position influenced the policies of two Presidents of the United States, i.e. the Democrat Harry Truman then the Republican Dwight Eisenhower.
To quote Richard H. Rovere, "McCarthy uncovered Communism, almost by inadvertence, as Columbus discovered America, as James Marshall discovered California gold". This quotation illustrates the fact that McCarthy was first elected in 1946, but by 1950 he realized that he would not be re-elected unless he found a cause to embrace - a cause that would make a name for him. That cause became Communism. But even the idea was not his. Father Edmund Walsh, a teacher in the Jesuit University of Georgetown suggested it, during a lunch in January 1950. Father Walsh was rather reserved, but McCarthy decided to act in his own way. Everything began with the famous speech delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950, in the course of which he denounced the Department of State as a haunt of Communists whose names were known by him and the Secretary of State. A commission inquired. With the Korean War about to begin, McCarthy had found a niche. The war was declared in June 1950. As North Korea was communist, the debate in Washington was to determine whether foreign policy and diplomacy were in the hands of traitors. Within a few weeks, this nobody became a name heard by everyone, everywhere in the country.
As his technique consisted in baseless defamation and mudslinging, a cartoonist named Herbert Block, signing Herblock, coined the term "McCarthyism". In his cartoon, McCarthyism was lettered on a banner of mud, which teetered on a tower of ten buckets of the stuff. This word was obviously an oath. McCarthy put forward many allegations based on rumour or alleged evidence. It was not his business either to prove them or to grasp the consequences on the life of incriminated people.
McCarthy filled the classic role of the corsair of democracy. "To many Americans, McCarthyism is Americanism", said Fulton Lewis, a radio propagandist. He was for sure the herald of the extreme right and had many people behind him.
His technique was his downfall. As his final target was the United States' army, he met his match in June 1954. By then, the press had made him a success, but McCarthy was not prepared for the new medium of the fifties, television, and television gave him the opportunity to commit suicide. On 6 April 1954, he answered Edward Murrow (creator of See It Now on CBSTV) that Murrow was "the leader and the cleverest of the jackal pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose Communists traitors". McCarthy then proved to be his own worst enemy. The hearings against the army were also broadcast on ABCTV. Watching them, Americans discovered who Joseph McCarthy really was: a vulgar person who hit below the belt. The Congress convicted him; nobody wanted to be backed by him during elections. The written press regained its senses and ignored him.
McCarthy, unlike Nixon, was not an ideologist. In 1948, Nixon had convinced his fellow Republicans that the Hiss case, which was about to be closed, could be a real bargain for the party. For memory, Alger Hiss was rather clever and was a graduate of Harvard Law School. He had been president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace since 1946 at John Foster Dulles' request, when he was called to testify before the HUAC in 1948, because of an alleged covert operation to infiltrate the administration for the use of the Communist Party. His name had been given by informer Whittaker Chambers, a man who said he was a rogue and who was an ex-Communist working for Time Magazine as Senior Editor. Although Hiss made a positive impression during the first hearings, Nixon wanted to go further. Because Hiss maintained that he had never known Chambers before and finally recognized him later, Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury in March 1950 and went to jail in March 1951.
But McCarthy was far from being such a strategist. Unlike Nixon, he was not interested in a political career; he just wanted to be known. Nixon was more moderate, even if he was prone to use the same methods, as the future would demonstrate. Was Nixon's nickname not "tricky dicky", since dick is the American nickname for Richard ? Did he not deny his part in Watergate and consequently did he not lie? Nixon wanted to be known by the mighty and not by the average American citizen, who could not do much for the beginner he was. Nixon remained in the shadows and succeeded in being co-listed with President Eisenhower. Not McCarthy who, finding no megaphone to endlessly repeat his message, sank into alcohol, and died, as a nobody. He never understood how he fell so quickly, why the written press stopped backing him.
In fact, McCarthy was an essentially destructive force, a revolutionist
without any revolutionary vision, a rebel without a cause.
The reason that led to this escalation was at first the Cold War. At the end of World War II, Vice-president Harry Truman presided over the United States, as Franklin D. Roosevelt had died in the spring of 1945. He was facing the great power of Russia, this equal that signed the Treaty of Yalta. Her revolutionary ideology was considered to be a potential menace in Washington. Such an ideology could spread in the post-war devastated Europe, which would not be in America's interest. Truman decided to help Europe financially, to cut the ground from under the Russians' feet. The Truman doctrine was indeed an unlimited commitment by the United States "to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure". It was based on belief in the "domino theory", which held that if one country was allowed to fall under Communist control, others would follow like a row of dominoes. It drove American policy in the Vietnam War, for instance.
Unfortunately, an economy-minded Republican Congress had been elected in 1946 and maybe would not allocate enough money for the struggle. The only means to force backing of his foreign policy was to oversell the Soviet threat, and it succeeded. Truman obtained passage of the Marshall Plan in 1947 for the economic rehabilitation of Western Europe.
In the 1948 election, Truman's surprise victory revealed the unpopularity of the Republican Party's traditional economic programs. The only way for the GOP to recoup its fortune was to focus on Communism at home and to charge that Democrats were "soft" on "Communist dominated American politics". The GOP disparaged Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal which was "honeycombed with Communists", although it had been successful during the Depression when Republicans failed. Truman was to overbid the Soviet threat, with the help of the FBI, with its vaunted reputation for expertise as a guarantor for his firmness.
Henceforth, the machine was in motion, all the more as the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was particularly motivated by his own obsession with the Red menace. He declared that Communists had been, still were and always would be a menace to freedom, to democratic ideals, to religion and to the American way of life. Those four principles were considered the foundation of the American society in the fifties, all the more as the first three were and still are guaranteed and written in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
As an educational venture, the criminalization of Communism was a great
success. By putting Communist labour leaders on trial, the Truman administration
shaped the American public's view of domestic communist threat. Prosecuting
alleged agents reinforced the image of Communists as Russian spies and
therefore traitors. One of the most famous issues was the
Julius and Ethel Rosemberg case. They were leftists and syndicalists in
the forties. They were "prosecuted for conspiracy and convicted of betrayal",
quoting judge Frankfurter. They were accused of giving Russians the plans
of the A-bomb from the Los Alamos laboratories where it was built. They
could have been spared death if only they had admitted their guilt. But
according to them, by asking them to admit that they were guilty, the government
admitted its doubts about their guilt. Thus they became martyrs of McCarthyism.
For all that, it seems they were not completely innocent, but they did not deserve death. That was not the point of view of prosecutor Roy Cohn, whose portrait has been drawn in Citizen Cohn (starring James Woods). Roy Cohn was a brutal genius, and he knew it. He took the Rosenbergs to trial as spies and ensured they got the death penalty. Then he destroyed lives as Senator Joe McCarthy's right hand man during the Communist witch-hunt. He fought the Kennedys' support of civil rights, befriended J. Edgar Hoover, and attempted to undermine Martin Luther King, Jr. Even if this TV film seems to give Cohn more importance than he really had, it demonstrates that, obviously, Cohn and McCarthy were two of a kind.
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death [Cohn], and Hell [McCarthy] followed with him". This short excerpt of the Book of Revelation illustrates the consequences of the game that Truman wanted to play, that is opening Pandora's box. [See illustration further]
The consensus on the "dangerousness of Communists" favoured the willingness
of judges and juries to convict them and enabled Americans to condone or
participate in serious violations of civil liberties. The media amplified
the message from Washington, and magazines like Life published many
anticommunist articles of their own. By asking the question: "Are you now,
or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party ?", the committee
denied the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The
following are excerpts from The Bill of Rights:
[See appendix for the full Bill of Rights.]
To support his fellow actors (The Hollywood Ten, see later), Humphrey Bogart sat in the Committee room and heard it happen. He related: "We saw American citizens denied the right to speak by elected representatives of the people. We saw the police take citizens from the stand like criminals after they have been refused the right to defend themselves. We saw the gavel of Committee chairman cutting off the voice of free Americans. The sound of the gavel, Mr [J. Parnell] Thomas, rings across America because every time your gavel struck, it hit the first Amendment of the Constitution of the United States." That shows how HUAC was dealing with the Bill of Rights.
Fortunately, it was hard for the FBI to obtain the evidence necessary for a conviction, as Communists were prosecuted for their opinion and for governmental reasons, rather than for obvious crimes. Moreover, being a communist was not a crime, even if specific legislative weaponry emerged at that time, such as the McCarran Act (officially named The Internal Security Act and commonly called the anticommunist law) passed in September 1950 and the Communist Control Act passed on 24 August 1954. The McCarran Act for example authorized concentration camps "for emergency situations". It was used at least till the seventies. The Communist Control Act denied the Communist Party the rights of other associations. To bypass the First and the Fifth Amendments, the Congress voted in 1954 the Compulsory Testimony Act, which obliged people to testify, otherwise they were convicted of contempt of Congress; however, no legal proceeding could be taken upon this testimony.
The Bureau's conception of communism was that of the far right wing of the anti-Communist network. Responsible for internal safety, and trusted for its reliability and efficiency, the FBI could freely infuse its own right-wing concerns into what "otherwise might have been a rather narrow program of internal security", wrote Ellen Schrecker in The Age of McCarthyism. The FBI spread the oversimplified notion that all American Communists were Soviet puppets and viewed anyone who participated in left-wing political activities as an object of suspicion and hostility. This is normally called paranoia. History may one day prove that Hoover was insane. For sure, he clearly influenced his agents.
Over the years, the unreliability of the government's witnesses was to invalidate many convictions and the Justice Department began to wonder about the FBI agents' methods. That explains why the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Arthur Miller?s conviction of contempt.
The FBI methods were not revealed before the seventies. Truman wanted
"to hold the FBI down, afraid", before it became a "Gestapo". Before the
FBI's methods were clarified, the COINTELPRO secret program of political
sabotage, unauthorized surveillance and misinformation was designed to
cripple the Communist party. Note that it was used and succeeded against
the Black Panthers in the sixties and the seventies.
In 1947 the HUAC's purpose was threefold. First it intended to prove that the Screenwriters' guild had communist members. Second, it hoped to show that these writers were able to insert subversive propaganda into Hollywood films. Third, J. Parnell Thomas, head of the committee, argued that President Roosevelt had encouraged pro-Soviet films during the war. Once more, Roosevelt's valuable action was revised. As a matter of fact, many points of the New-Deal agenda were abandoned. Even if censorship seemed to have existed in Hollywood before, the HUAC fulfilled its task with the faith of a crusader, twice. A first operation was launched in October 1947 in Hollywood. That was Nixon's first involvement, as Thomas' righthand man, which enabled him to be well connected with influential friends. Then, Thomas was convicted of tax evasion, and McCarthy took it over in 1952 as head of the Senate's Government Operations Committee and its permanent investigations subcommittee. HUAC struck back in March 1951.
The Hollywood Ten, one director (Edward Dmytyk) and nine screenwriters (John Lawson, Dalton Trumbo, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornintz, Herbert Biberman, Adrian Scott, Ring Lardner and Lester Cole) were victims of this anticultural policy. They refused to name names, claiming their Fifth Amendment rights. Whatever their position, in fact, they were had. They could either claim they were not and never had been members of the Communist Party (but would have perjured themselves) or they could name names (but would have lost their colleagues as informers) or did what they did. They were held for contempt of Congress for several months. One gave names but the other nine were blacklisted by the Hollywood film community, that is they could never work in Hollywood in the future, except under pseudonyms. Dalton Trumbo, for instance, won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for The Brave One in 1956 under a pseudonym and received the trophy in 1975 under his real name. Michael Wilson, the screenwriter of famous films such as A Place in the Sun (about to be awarded a prize when he was called to testify), The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia (which won the Academy Award) never saw his name in the credits. Nevertheless, he was posthumously rewarded for his works during a ceremony organized in 1985 by The Academy of Cinema, long after his death. His wife was invited and pronounced a speech in the course of which she called on the youth to remember.
On November 24, 1947, fifty Hollywood executives gathered for a two-day secret meeting then issued a statement that declared: "We, will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force, or by any illegal or unconstitutional method". From 1951 to 1954, 324 workers were also blacklisted by HUAC for alleged membership in the Communist Party. Two hundred and twelve people lost their jobs.
Studios became more cautious and produced forty propagandistic anti-Communist
films. Banks monitored the content of the films, which became more conservative.
A Production Code Administration (PCA) was established, even if many imported
foreign films and independent productions bypassed it. New restrictions
were introduced to censor films dealing with specific taboos, such as drugs
or abortions. But the success of some bypassed products, like The Man
with the Golden Arm, released by United Artists in 1955 allowed a softening
of the code.
Un-Americanism is determined by difference. Anyone whose social behaviour or ideas would tend to contradict the myth of the successful melting pot is suspected then guilty. For instance, what is good for the economy is good for America. That cannot be the point of view of trade unions, otherwise they would be useless. Consequently, trade unions would tend to prove that there are inequalities and unfair conditions in the country, which means that the melting pot would have failed. It cannot be. Tocqueville wrote that even if there were for sure independent minds and freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the United States, there was no freedom of mind, because the majority had drawn the limits inside which independent minds should remain. If not, they were persecuted and dishonored. That was what happened to Communists and Anarchists in the United States.
During trials, people were asked to confess that they had been Communists ("Are you now or have ever been a member of the Communist Party?"), in order to be absolved of that sin and therefore be purified. Moreover, they were asked to name names, even if these names had been already named before, which demonstrated the religiosity of the rite. Many wondered why few people reacted to McCarthyism. Perhaps three hundred years after Galileo, people who were sure to be right but who were afraid for the stability of the state in a period of Cold War preferred to bend to authority in the hope of regaining Americanism. The purpose was to recover unity inside the nation, in one way or another, breaking lives and humiliating people as informers for the sake of the cause. Be sure that this vocabulary is not misplaced: it was used by inquisitors during witch-hunts, as we will see further.
This desire to smooth society was present in the Alien and Sedition Act passed in 1798, then in the Smith Act passed in 1940 to fight subversives and any kind of subversion. The Communist goal was to overthrow the state, which was unacceptable. In certain circumstances, The Bill of Rights does not apply when it is not worth applying it. This tendency characterises dictatorships in the making. The art is to make it natural, almost legal. Historians have noted the roots of American anticommunism in what they refer to as the nation's countersubversive tradition: the irrational notion that outsiders threatened the nation from within. An internal plot against American legitimacy may remain a fruitful notion. The "other", whoever he may be, whether he exists or not, will always seem terrifying.
From the 1870's until the McCarthy era, the business community identified the labour movement with the Red menace of the moment. Once again, the written press helped to convey reactionary opinions: businessmen and their allies in the press insisted that workers' demands were not based on legitimate grievances but were creations of outside agitators, usually "foreign-born, bomb-wielding Reds". In its history, the American society went through the bloodiest conflicts among industrialized countries.
The United States behaved as an assaulted fortress, surrounded by spies
working in sensitive fields of activity, plotting within an armed conspiracy.
The anticommunist network inherited a long legacy of fear and prejudice.
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the
fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse:
and his name that sat on him was Death [Cohn], and Hell [McCarthy] followed
with him". This short excerpt of the Book of Revelation illustrates
the consequences of the game that Truman wanted to play, that is opening
What is the play about? Salem, 1692
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The scene takes place in the spring of the year 1692 in Salem, Massachussetts.
The play begins in a small upper bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel
Parris. His daughter Betty, aged ten, is lying on the bed, inert. The night
before, he discovered Betty and her friends dancing in the woods around
a fire, which was strictly forbidden by Puritan law (dancing is heathen).
Among the girls were his black slave Tituba, his niece Abigail Williams
and Ruth Putnam.
In fact, Parris believes he is being persecuted, that a faction has sworn to drive him away from his pulpit, and that with such a disruption in his home and his parish his enemies could ruin him. He also wants to know whether "Abigail's name is white", why she has been discharged from Proctor's service and why in all this time no other family has ever called for her service.
On his side, Thomas Putnam, the father of Ruth, feels that his own name and the honour of his family have been smirched by the village. He means to right matters however he can. This affair is for him the perfect opportunity. Mrs Putnam accuses Tituba, who can but be responsible for the death of her children, and her husband commends her. Abigail then understands how she can turn the fear of her uncle and the revenge of Thomas Putnam to her advantage. Tituba was asked to conjure Ruth's sisters to come out of the grave, Mercy has been seen naked by Reverend Parris and Abigail drank blood, so "they are for it", unless they can find a story that holds water. At least, they must admit they danced, but nothing else.
Then John Proctor enters. He stands alone in the bedroom with Abigail. The problem is that Proctor is a sinner, against the moral fashion of the time and against his own vision of decent conduct, since he made love with Abigail in his barn. But he confessed to his wife, who (barely) forgave him and put Abigail out of the house. His behaviour is therefore ambiguous towards Abigail. He feels guilty and uncomfortable. Their love affair is now known by Elisabeth Proctor, and clearly over, but is still a covert sinful affair in the village. Proctor's salvation in the community depends on Abigail's good will. Thanks to witchcraft, Abigail is licensed to kill her opponent in love, legally. At the very beginning of their talk, Abigail explains that "Betty is only gone silly somehow [and that] she took fright, is all [when Parris surprised them last night]".
Then old Rebecca Nurse enters. She comes close to the bed and calms Betty. While waiting for Reverend Hale, Proctor, Parris and the Putnams tell each other a few home truths. The question, raised by Rebecca, is to know whether the events and the behaviour of these children can be considered normal, or not. Rebecca, who knows children from experience, is convinced that Betty and Ruth will regain their capabilities: it is just a question of time before they will be tired of acting. Proctor is also convinced. But not Parris and the Putnams. The talk diverges, and Parris is blamed for the content of his sermons in church. Parris then denounces the activism of a faction against him and all authority. Proctor would be likely to join it, laughing. Parris and Proctor are on different sides. Parris is selfish and full of himself, greedy for power and authority, whereas Proctor is sensible and pragmatic. The Putnams call for revenge, whereas Rebecca calls for peace of mind.
Reverend Hale, who is "licensed" in witchcraft, enters carrying many
reference books on the topic. He starts his inquiry and seeks the truth.
When Abigail is asked what they did the night before, she seizes the opportunity
to reveal they drank blood, and charge Tituba. She accuses her of coming
at night to force her make "dream corruptions". Tituba answers that she
did what these children asked her to do, not the contrary. Wise Hale showers
her with precise but allusive questions, and Tituba begins to be frightened
by the coming process. Yes, she saw the Devil, of course she was not alone,
but she obeyed other people - women. "They were four." But who ? "Their
names, their names !", says Parris pressing her, while Thomas Putnam suggests
names. And she finally names Sarah Good and Goody Osburn. Other names will
come. "You must give us all their names", insists Parris. The pressure
on Tituba never stops. She is God's intrument put in their hands to discover
the Devil's agents among the community of Salem, Parris said: "God will
bless you for your help." The show begins. Abigail, as though inspired,
rises and cries out the names of Sarah Good, Goody Osburn and Bridget Bishop,
who were with the Devil. Betty awakes and names George Jacobs, who was
with the Devil as well. And like during an auction, the two girls alternately
name other names: Martha Bellows, Goody Sibber, the marshal, Alice Barrow,
Goody Hawkins, Goody Bibber and Goody Booth. Act one is over, the curtain
falls, the scene is set.
Hale appears at the doorway. He asks the Proctors many questions to
have an opinion on them, asking them for instance to repeat the Commandments.
John fails to quote the last one, on adultery, and Hale begins to look
at this couple with suspicion, all the more as John rarely was in the church
on Sabbath Day. Furthermore, he declared that he did not believein the
existence of witches. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse enter. Their wives
are now in jail. Rebecca Nurse is charged for the "marvellous and supernatural
murder of Goody Putnam's babies". Then Cheever, who works now for the court,
comes with a warrant for Elizabeth. Abigail accused her. During a dinner
in Parris' house that night, Abigail screamed and Parris drew a needle
out of the flesh of her belly. Cheever is now looking for a puppet, and
discovers the very one Mary made up in the court room and offered Elizabeth
when she came back that night. A needle is hidden in it (a needle in a
doll is apparently a voodoo rite). John warns Cheever and Hale that vengeance
is walking Salem and that common vengeance is writing the law, since "little
crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom"; and he snatches the
warrant out of Cheever's hands, ripping it. But there is nothing else to
do: Cheever has nine men with him. He takes Elizabeth to his wagon and
chains her. Proctors menaces Mary and orders her to come to the court with
him the following day. The curtain falls.
Proctor then gives Danforth Mary Warren's deposition. Danforth is rather angry and recalls that either she is presently lying or she lied before, but in either case she committed perjury before the court and will go to jail for that. Danforth asks Cheever to bring the children to the court. Susanna Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Betty Parris and Abigail then enter. Danforth proposes that they change their deposition, and explains that her friend gave a deposition in which she swears she saw no spirits. But Abigail persists. She denies that she witnessed Mary Warren make the puppet she offered Elizabeth Proctor when she sat by her in the court. Proctor then tries to convince Danforth that Mary's turnabout cannot but prove that she is not lying now, as she would only gain hard questioning and punishment for perjury. He intends to charge Abigail with a plot to murder his wife. To do so, he gives details on her attitude during prayer, and reveals that Abigail was dancing with the other girls that very night. Hathorne questions Mary, and wonders whether she fainted or not, and asks her to faint againt as she fainted before. Meanwhile, Abigail and her friends pretend to freeze, and entreat Mary to stop. Proctor stops the play, as he confesses that he knew Abigail well eight months ago (he is a "lecher"), and denounces a whore's vengeance. Abigail denies, and threatens to leave, but Danforth warns her. Danforth queries Proctor whether Elisabeth put Abigail out of their house for being a harlot. He answers she did. Unfortunately, he insists that she never lied. Danforth needs to test whether Proctor is telling the truth and calls for Elisabeth, who does not know that her husband already confessed. When she enters, Proctor must turn his back to her on Danforth's order. When Danforth asks her why she dismissed Abigail, she glances at her husband to know what to answer but cannot see his face. She answers that her husband is a good man, and that Abigail's dismissal was not due to a crime of lechery. She denies her husband is a lecher and explains that she was sick at that time and believed alledged things.
Unknowingly, she condemns her husband: since she is a trusted woman,
she cannot but tell the truth. Consequently, her husband lied and must
have forced Mary to change her mind. Proctor claims that his wife only
wanted to save his life, which Hale confirms: he has understood what leathal
game Abigail was playing and tries to persuade Danforth. Once again, Abigail
starts pretending. She looks at the ceiling, and talks to an imaginary
bird, which could be Mary, transformed by black art (which induces Mary
to be a witch). Proctor tries to reason Danforth that Abigail is really
pretending but nobody listens, frightened. Mary is overwhelmed. She asks
Abigail to stop, but Abigail repeats Mary's every word, so do the other
girls. She feels it is high time to change her deposition, and denies everything
she has just said. She claims that Proctor forced her to save his wife,
and aimed at overthrowing the court. She also claims that Proctor has joined
the Devil. Hale points out that Mary has gone wild. Danforth does not want
to hear: "I will have nothing from you, Mr Hale", he says. He seems persuaded
that Proctor forced Mary to sign the Devil's book: "Will you confess yourself
befouled with Hell, or do you keep that black allegiance yet ?". Proctor
is stunned, facing such ignorance and hypocrisy: it is clear that Danforth
will not admit he has been taken in by a group of insane girls, that innocent
people deliberately hanged by murderous children thanks to his obvious
credulity. He will not lose face. Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum.
Proctor and Corey are taken to jail. Hale leaves, angry and disgusted.
Inquisition in the Middle Ages
[Prev: What is the play about? Salem, 1692] [Next: Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?]
That witchcraft was more often linked to witches than to wizards resulted in a long inheritance of denigration of women. In Malleus Maleficarum, "The Hammer of the Witches", the Inquisitors explained why women were more likely to become witches than men. It was because the female sex was more concerned with things of the flesh than men; because being formed from a man's rib, they were only imperfect animals and crooked whereas man belonged to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged. The Church therefore justified this "holy" purification. The Church father Tertullian explained why women deserve their status as despised and inferior human beings: "And do you not know that you are an Eve ? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert that is, death even the Son of God had to die". In the tenth century, Odo of Cluny declared that to embrace a woman was to embrace a sack of manure. In fact, orthodox Christians held women responsible for all sin. As the Bible's Apocrypha stated, of woman came the beginning of sin, and thanks to her we all must die.
Witches were held accountable for nearly every problem, as Communists were. Any threat to social uniformity, any questioning of authority and any act of rebellion could now be attributed to and prosecuted as witchcraft. Witch-hunters declared that rebellion was like the sin of witchcraft or the mother of witchcraft. The English puritan William Perkins called the witch "the most notorious traytor and rebell that can be". Not surprisingly, the American Catholic Church estimated that Communism was witchcraft or hell on earth. In Citizen Cohn, the archbishop of New York compared Communists to slave soldiers to Cain. Areas of political turmoil and religious strife experienced the most intense witch-hunts, like intellectuals and celebrities in show business during the fifties.
The wise old woman threatened a structure which acknowledged only force and domination as avenues of power. Wise old healing women were particular targets for witch-hunters. Reginald Scot wrote in 1584 that "it is indifferent to say in the English tongue 'she is a witch' or 'she is a wise woman' ". Once again, in the fifties, wisdom contained in books or taught by teachers or academics was threatening unity. In the eyes of orthodox Christians, such healing empowered people to determine the course of their lives instead of submitting helplessly to the will of God. According to churchmen, health should come from God, not from the efforts of human beings. The same creed helps today's sects to justify themselves.
Like Gary Cooper, many Americans never read Karl Marx. And although they did not know the basis of Communism, beyond what they picked up from hearsay, they did not like it. Hearsay, ignorance and the inability to grasp how things work will always be responsible for injustice and unjustified bloodshed. As for McCarthyism, the question of the social cost remains. Healing knowledge disappeared with those wise old women. But the Church did not care and included in its definition of witchcraft anyone with knowledge of herbs for "those who used herbs for cures did so only through a pact with the Devil, either explicit or implicit". In fact, medicine had long been associated with herbs and magic. "Pharmakeia" meant "magic" in Greek.
As the title of an article by Helen Ellerbe says, "the witch-hunts [were] the end of magic and miracles". Maybe McCarthyism was the end of Utopia. In each case, the aim was to put lost souls on the right path, by any means necessary, especially by torture and inhuman and ridiculous tests (in the Middle Ages). These acts were often the "revelation" of gratuitous sadism. It would be hard for our contemporaries to guess how imaginative corporal punishment was to force heretics to confess. For example, the "swimming witch" test consisted in bounding and throwing a woman into water to see if she floated. The water, as the medium of baptism, would either reject her and prove her guilty of witchcraft, or the woman would sink and be proven innocent, albeit also dead from drowning.
Witch-hunts were neither small in scope nor implemented by a few aberrant individuals: the persecution of witches was the official policy of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches, as the persecution of Communists was the official policy of both Democrats (Truman, Kennedy) or Republicans (Nixon, McCarthy). Under the pretext of first heresy then witchcraft, anyone could be disposed of who questioned authority or the Christian view of the world.
Those dreadful things made the witch-hunts one of the darkest chapters
of human history, in the same way as McCarthyism made one of the darkest
chapters of American history.
Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?
[Prev: Inquisition in the Middle Ages] [Next: Conclusion]
On a dismal spring day of 1952, one year before he finished writing The Crucible, he was leaving the house of producer Elia Kazan, who was about to testify before the HUAC, when Kazan's wife asked him what he planned to do. He then answered that he intended to visit Salem. She instantaneously understood the metaphor, and violently argued that such an analogy was specious, that there never were any witches but there certainly were Communists. However, he had already made up his mind, and left them.
Once in Salem, he soon realized that what happened there in the seventeenth century was happening again now. Arthur Miller wrote: "The more I read into the Salem panic, the more it touched off corresponding ages of common experiences in the fifties".
The same terror, which paralysed Salem citizens in the spring of 1692, was paralysing the United States. Actors were replacing Salem citizens, Communists were replacing witches, and Danforth turned over his court to McCarthy and the HUAC. Blind men of equivalent stuff were again forging history. One plot made way to another. Lucifer must have joined Karl Marx, or maybe the contrary, but the aim of reactionaries of every side was for sure to melt the two shapes of evil into one reality. Lucifer first plotted against God, and "In God We Trust?" It is all the more true as Americans printed the motto on their currency to remember. Two hundred years later, Lucifer evolved in a more contemporary way, in the hope of convincing some creduluous puppets to overthrow the government of the United States: two sides of the same delirium, both harmful for the mental equilibrium of the country.
Spectral evidence was accepted during 1692's trials, and so were allegations during McCarthy's hearings. During the fifties, a question before the committee was not about "the acts of an accused but the thoughts and intentions in his alienated mind", wrote Arthur Miller.
Arthur Miller also wrote: "The old friend of a blacklisted person crossed the street to avoid being seen talking to him", the same way as Giles Corey did not dare to name other names, since his wife was now in jail because he gave her name.
"Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the State has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."
Because Arthur Miller experienced censorship in 1951, when Harry Cohn,
the head of Colombia Pictures showed his script to the F.B.I. and asked
him to replace the gangsters by Communists, he was in a position to grasp
what was going on. The difference with many people is that he dared to
write a play about these facts, in the hottest times.
[Prev: Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?] [Next: Appendix]
Unfortunately, the question is more than a mere slogan for advertising
purposes. May we be as clear and alert as Arthur Miller was in the fifties.
[Prev: Conclusion] [Next: References]
The Ten Original Amendments: The Bill of Rights.
Passed by Congress September
25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791.
"The Dark Side of Christian History". 9 Apr. 1997.
http://www.warmcove.com/cove/morningstar/welcome.html (8 Jan. 1998)
Ellerbe, Ellen. "The Dark Side of Christian History: Introduction".
The Dark Side of Christian History. 17 May 1997.
http://www.warmcove.com/cove/morningstar/intro.html (8 Jan. 1998)
Schrecker, Ellen. "The Growth of the Anti-Communist Network".
The Age of McCarthyism: A brief History with Documents, 1994. Sun., 23 Jun. 1996.
http://dept.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/anticom-network.html (8 Jan. 1998)
Schrecker, Ellen. "The Legacy of McCarthyism".
The Age of McCarthyism: A brief History with Documents, 1994. Sun., 28 Jun. 1996.
http://dept.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/schrecker-legacy.html (8 Jan. 1998)
Schrecker, Ellen. "The State Steps In: Setting the Anti-Communist Agenda".
The Age of McCarthyism: A brief History with Documents. 1994. Sun., 30 Jun. 1996.
http://dept.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/menace-emerges.html (8 Jan. 1998)
Last revision : 29 Mar 1999