Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible ? [Back to Geocities]

Why did Arthur Miller write The Crucible?
 
 

By Jean-Christophe BROUDIN













Table of contents
 

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Who was Arthur Miller?
  4. What was McCarthyism?
  5. What is the play about? Salem, 1692.
  6. Inquisition in the Middle Ages.
  7. Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?
  8. Conclusion
  9. Appendix
  10. References

Abstract
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Few people reacted against McCarthyism in the fifties in the United States. Arthur Miller did by writing his play The Crucible in 1953. This paper answers the question: "Why did Arthur Miller write The Crucible?". It intends to give the necessary historical background to grasp the concept of McCarthyism. First of all, Arthur Miller and his degree of involvement are introduced through a short biography. Then, the portrait of instigator Senator Joseph McCarthy is drawn, and the political background which favoured McCarthyism is analysed. Furthermore, the consequences on the movie-making industry, theatre and intellectual life are discussed as is the social cost. Afterwards, a short summary of the play The Crucible is given. Witch-hunts in the Middle Ages during the so-called Inquisition are then presented, and the similarity between tortured witches and persecuted Communists is established. Finally, the question is answered by Arthur Miller himself. Keywords: Miller, The Crucible, McCarthyism, Cold War, Inquisition, witch-hunt



Introduction
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  In February 1997, the movie The Crucible was released, based on the original play written by Arthur Miller in 1953. The movie did not only deal with the Salem witch-hunt of 1692, but was also a metaphor of a dark chapter in American history. This chapter, also known as McCarthyism, occurred during the fifties.

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.
 
 


1. Who was Arthur Miller?
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1.1 His life

Portrait of Arthur MillerArthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, and was raised in a prosperous Jewish family in a neighbourhood of New-York City. His father was the owner of a textile factory but was financially struck by the Depression after 1929. His mother, who loved reading, was the only cultured person of the family, and was very close to Arthur.

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: A 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.
 
 

1.2 His political views
 
  Although Arthur Miller has neither been a member nor a supporter of the Communist Party, he was influenced by the Depression and has always felt concerned by social issues. He often did odd jobs in factories, especially when his plays were successful so he would not become too arrogant and lose his personality.

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.
 
 

1.3 His involvement
 
  His state of mind led him to write social plays where he analysed human behaviour and society.

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.
 




 

2. What was McCarthyism?
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2.1 Where does the word McCarthyism come from? Portrait of Senator Joseph McCarthy

Joseph McCarthy was a "shooting and a shot star" of the early fifties. He was a United States senator from Wisconsin where he was known as a cheap politician, hardly known inside and a complete alien outside Wisconsin. In the Senate he was considered a dim and inconsiderable figure, with the result that journalists of the Congress elected him the worst senator in 1951. He was one of the most gifted demagogues ever seen. The portrait of his personality and career can be read in Aristophanes' The Knight in 424 BC:

"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."Joseph McCarthy and Roy Marcus Cohn

  In The Knights, Aristophanes denounced the behaviour of Cleon, a demagogue responsible for the ruin of his master Demos. Presently, the U.S. Senate would be embodied by Demos. McCarthy was subsequently condemned in 1954 for conduct that tended to bring the Senate into dishonour and disrepute. He died on 2 May 1957.

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.
 
 

2.2 What it was and how it came about McCarthy chaired a committee but was only the emblem of this period. What really transformed the Communist threat into a national obsession was the involvement of the federal government.

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 Rosembergsthe 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:
 
 

AMENDMENT I Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. AMENDMENT V No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

[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.
 
 

2.3 How did McCarthyism influence the period? McCarthyism undermined both political involvement and intellectual work. As political activities could get a person in trouble, prudent folk avoided them. The middle-class Americans became social conformists. Unlike during the thirties, when universities were a source of life, previous generations of activist students were replaced by a silent generation of students. 2.3.1 Bill of Rights As seen above, FBI's propaganda was so efficient that Americans often overrode the constitutional rights of every citizen. When the McCarran Act was passed by the House and Senate, President Truman vetoed it, on the grounds that "it would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights and would actually weaken our internal security measures". Nevertheless, the law was voted with an 89 percent majority. It was a controversial law which actually weakened constitutional rights, but few people were really condemned, thanks to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which overtuned verdicts based on outrageous lack of evidence. Therefore, this act was not frankly efficient, as Truman had foreseen. 2.3.2 The cinema industry. The Hollywood ten According to critics like Victor Navasky, the House Un-American Activities Committee, also known as the HUAC, created a climate in which there were fewer and fewer films with social themes. Hollywood was to be ruled by entertainment only, in a way. No political or social messages should be included in a scenario. That was a consequence of the detailed inspection of the HUAC; any position could be interpreted as showing membership in the Communist Party.

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.

Blacklisted : the Hollywood TenThe 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.
 
 

2.3.3 The theatre It is not easy to find documents concerning McCarthyism and the theatre. In itself, it is therefore significant. The theatre was not in McCarthy and HUAC's interest, because it was not as popular as Hollywood. Films and actors were known everywhere in the country, whereas spectacles used to stay on Broadway or on the East Coast. For all that, it does not mean that nobody was called to testify or had no trouble with the Committee. Thus, Arthur Miller for instance. Nevertheless, there already existed in 1950 an equivalent of the Hollywood blacklist: it was named Red Channels, a 213-page compilation of the alleged Communist affiliations of 151 actors, writers, musicians and other radio or television entertainers. Whoever had his name written in it could not produce anything, not because of the law but because institutions were often managed by Republicans. Larry Adler was one of those victims. His only means would have been to name names before the HUAC, which he refused. But even cooperative witnesses who named others or renounced their former membership in the party were on the list. It was also an easy means for companies to detect subversive members. In fact, blacklisting was the sign of a grovelling fascism. Was George Orwell aware that he would not have to wait until 1984 for 1984 (written in 1950) to materialize ? 2.3.4 Schools and libraries McCarthyism also hunted books in schools, universities and libraries, and teachers in the same way, whatever their competence. They were guilty of having the ability to teach and share ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt, as about 90% of people questioned in opinion polls, answered that teachers in schools or universities who admitted being Communists had to be dismissed. Books dealing with Russia or Communism were to be banished. The threat resided in that people could have read these books and believed them. People could not be trusted enough to let them have their own view. Many academics were delayed and could not do their job, because it became hard for them to collect material for their study. John Foster Dulles ordered in February 1953 that books in American institutions abroad be destroyed. Mails had been opened and checked from 1948 until 1973. Once again, the First Amendment had been overridden. 2.4 Why was McCarthyism so successful ? The theory of Marie-France Toinet is as follows. The American society was and still is based on the melting pot. The aim is to produce one country, one voice and a unit. Subsequently, anyone who does not respect the rule can but be un-American. In Letters on the State of Virginia by Jefferson then in History of the American People by another American who became President of the United States, the authors wondered whether new immigrants would really be able to become integrated into the American society. The New World had however been built on the arrival of immigrants, but these founders were less open-minded to newcomers than Native Indians were (at the beginning). To become integrated, newcomers were required to lose their past and their roots to adopt the American way of life, whose interest was and still is the future.

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.
 
 

Apocalypse





"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.
 
 



 

3. 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.
 
 
 

[Act one] The little girl will not awake, despite Parris' prayers and Doctor Griggs' medecine books: she seems bewitched by a charm. So is Ruth, who behaves like a zombie. According to Abigail, the rumour of witchcraft is all about. Parris does not want to believe it. To clarify the situation, Parris has called for help from Reverend John Hale from the neighbouring village of Beverly. Parris wants to know whether they were conjuring spirits.

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.
 
 

[ Act two ] Four judges have been sent from Boston for an official court to sit. Mary Warrens, who works for the Proctors, is one of its officials, and Deputy Governor Danforth heads. There are now fourteen people in jail. Danforth promised hanging if they do not confess. Abigail and her friends are witnesses for the prosecution, trusted like saints: folks are brought before them, and if they scream and howl and fall to the floor, the person is thrown in jail. John and Elizabeth Proctor know that this is a nasty fraud from a nasty mind, but John wonders how he will prove it, as Abigail told him the truth during a private talk with no witnesses around to confirm. It is night when Mary comes back. There are now thirty-nine people in jail. Sarah Good confessed that she sometimes made a compact with Lucifer and signed his book. Mary Warren told Danforth that Sarah Good mumbled something one day, while she was begging for bread and cider at Proctors' door, which gave her a gutache. Danforth considered these facts hard proof and therefore Sarah Good will hang. Goody Osburn was a beggar indeed. Mary tells John Proctor that she is amazed that he does not see what weighty work they do, that it is God's work they do, even if it is a strange work for a Christian girl to hang an old woman. According to doctor Griggs, Sarah Good is pregnant, which is amazing for a sixty-year-old woman. Salem is the court of miracles. The Devil is obviously loosed on Salem. That is why Mary must go to the court and is in duty bound to do it. When John with whip raised tries to reach her, she says that she saved Elizabeth's life that day, because she was also accused. So from now on, John is asked to speak civilly to her. It appears clear that Abigail wants Elizabeth dead to take her place: "there is promise done in any bed."

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.
 
 

[ Act three ] The following day, John Proctor comes with Mary Warren to the court. Mary Warren acknowledges that she and the other girls were pretending. But Danforth (from Boston) recalls that "the entire contention of the state in these trials is that the voice of Heaven is speaking through the children", so it will be hard for the court to acknowledge that it has been fooled. Parris tries to convince Danforth not to listen to Proctor, but Danforth does. Unfortunately, Proctor's behaviour the night before is against him: Cheever recalls that Proctor ripped his warrant and damned the court, and Hale confirms that point. He even ploughs on Sunday ! As Danforth says, he saw marvels during this trial and he cannot imagine it was a fraud. Danforth quotes the Gospel: Cain was an upright man before he killed Abel, as the accused could have been. Danforth announces that Elizabeth is said to be pregnant. If signs prove it, she will live another year till the baby's birth. But Proctor will not drop his charge. As Parris already claimed, he is convinced that Proctor wants to overthrow the court, at least it is what he wants Danforth to believe. Proctor gives Danforth a sort of testament, which ninety-one people in Salem signed to assert that the accused never behaved as witches as far as they knew. Although they were promised they would not be worried if they signed, Parris and Hathorne succeed in convincing Danforth to summon them, as "all innocent and Christian people are happy for the courts in Salem". Danforth then asks Cheever to draw new warrants: they will be arrested for examination. A person is "either with [the] court or he must be counted against it, there is no road between", says Danforth. Meanwhile, Giles Corey gives his own deposition to Danforth. He clearly explains in it that Thomas Putnam prompted his daughter to cry witchery upon a neighbour, who is in jail now, so as to forfeit up his property. Since Corey mentioned his wife's name and she is now in jail, he does not want to name the one who heard Thomas Putnam say that his girl gave him a fair gift of land; Thomas Corey is arrested for contempt of the court. Hale points out that there is a prodigious fear of this court of the country, to which Danforth replies that there is a prodigious guilt in the country and that there is a moving plot to topple Christ in the country.

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.
 
 

[ Act four ] The scene now takes place in a ceil in Salem jail, that fall. It is morning, and the cold is bitter. Tituba and Sarah Good share their ceil; they are both in rags. Danforth and Hathorne come in, ready to hear a final confession. They are talking of Andover, a neighbouring village which rebelled against the court. Hale and Parris are praying together with Rebecca Nurse. Parris has sorrow, he feels guilty. A wind of change seems to blow. The blade may stop running in Salem [wink !]. Parris joins them. His niece Abigail vanished. Nobody knows where she and Mercy Lewis have gone, but Parris' daughter has heard them talk about a ship. Moreover, Abigail robbed him. They talk about Andover. Parris fears rebellion is spreading to Salem. The court may be in danger. Many people who hanged were sinners, so nobody wept for them. But Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor are like saints. If only one confessed, it would prove the others were really guilty, and they three of the court would be safe. Parris says that he recently found a dagger struck in the ground before his door. Parris and Hale need more time to finish this conversion but Danforth postpones executions to dawn only. Danforth cannot pardon anybody, otherwise it will "cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now". To change Proctor's mind, Danforth requires Elisabeth to be fetched. She is pregnant. Hale begs her to convince Proctor to lie, to live. For Hale, no principle (even dignity) can prevail upon life. Proctor comes, his wrists are chained. Corey is dead. He refused to answer. They forced him to plead guilty by pressing stones on his chest, but he died crushed under the weight of so many stones. It results that his sons will keep the farm. Under such circumstances (witchcraft), the law does not permit the auction of his property if he does not answer yes or no to the charge. Proctor hesitates: should I stay on earth or should I go ? Should I confess and lie, or shoud I not ? When Danforth comes back and asks him, he says he will confess. He may lie but he is no saint, indeed. Rebecca comes and witnesses Proctor's confession. She cannot understand. She surely will not damn herself, as she is innocent. But when Danforth wants him to name names, he denies every name. He saw nobody with the Devil nor with Rebecca Nurse. He does not like to spoil the names and tarnish the reputation of his relatives to save his own life. Life has not such a price. His signature is required on the paper. After a pause, he finally signs. But he considers this testimony has not to be put up on the door of the church. God heard him, and it is not Salem's business to know details. They witnessed him confessing, then signing, it should be enough. Obviously, it is not. "Is there no good penitence but it be public ?", wonders John Proctor. "God does not need my name nailed upon the church ! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are ! It is enough !". Danforth asks him the difference between a signed document and his own judge's speech, saying he signed. The difference is that his name will not be as dirty as his soul. His name is his only pride and legacy to his children. How would his children be men if he sold his friends ? Proctor tears the paper and crumples it. He will hang. "I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with it, but white enough to keep it from such dogs", Proctor says. Parris starts to panick. Hale does not understand. Pride is vanity, life is God's most precious gift. Proctor and Rebecca are led away. "What profit him to bleed ? Shall the dust praise him ? Shall the worms declare his truth ?". But Elisabeth, supporting herself against collapse, cries: "He has his goodness now". The curtain falls. [Echoes down the corridor] "Not long after the fever died, Parris was voted from office, walked out on the highroad, and was never heard of again. The legend has it that Abigail turned up later as a prostitute in Boston. Twenty years after the last execution, the government awarded compensation to the victims still living, and to families of the dead. For some, beneficiaries were actually not victims at all, but informers. The congregation rescinded the excommunications - this in March 1712, but they did so upon orders of the government. To all intents and purposes, the power of theocracy in Massachussetts was broken."
 
 

4. Inquisition in the Middle Ages
[Prev: What is the play about? Salem, 1692] [Next: Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?]
 
 

'The dark side of christian history' cover pageThe Reformation did not convert the people of Europe to orthodox Christianity through preaching and catechism alone. It was also the 300-year period of witch-hunting from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. The Church created the elaborate concept of devil worship and then, used the persecution of it to wipe out dissent and subordinate the individual to authoritarian control.

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.
 
 


5. Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?
[Prev: Inquisition in the Middle Ages] [Next: Conclusion]

Arthur Miller wrote: "I had read about the witchcraft trials in my college, but it was not until I read a book published in 1867 [?] by Charles W. Upham, who was then the mayor of Salem, that I knew I had to write about the period".

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.
 
 


Conclusion
[Prev: Why did Arthur Miller write the Crucible?] [Next: Appendix]
 
 

As a playwright, Arthur Miller was an active participant in our century. When the movie was released, a New York Times headline asked: "Does it still have a message?" When you read Timebends: A life, the autobiography of Arthur Miller, and The Crucible, you cannot but think of the present return of puritanism and the "values" of the far right. We can notice disconcerting similarities between the latest events in the United States, concerning Bill Clinton, and The Crucible. Americans themselves wonder if McCarthyism is not back.

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.
 
 


 



 
 
 
 

Appendix
[Prev: Conclusion] [Next: References]
 
 

The Ten Original Amendments: The Bill of Rights.

Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791.
 

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Amendment II A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.


Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.


Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.


Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.


Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


 

References
[Prev: Appendix]
 
 

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  57. "Viking Penguin Celebrates Arthur Miller". Monday, 4 Dec. 1995.

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  59. Mayfield, Don. "The Crucible by Arthur Miller". San Diego County Office of Education. 1997.

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