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The Crucible (1953)

by Arthur Miller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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"I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history," Arthur Miller wrote in an introduction to The Crucible, his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence. Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing: "Political opposition ... is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it meets with diabolical malevolence."… (more)
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Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, is a story of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It is primarily based in fact, although Miller was careful to instruct that this was fiction and not history, so that some characters are amalgamations and all the thoughts associated with them are products of his own creation.

The play premiered in 1953, at the height of the McCarthy era. The famous McCarthy hearings commenced in April and ran until June of 1954. It was this modern day witch-hunt that sparked Miller to research and write this depiction of the actual witch-hunt.

The play examines the misuse of power, the spread of hysteria, the way in which lies can multiply and propagate when no one is truly seeking the truth. Those who bore witness against their neighbors generally did so based on self-preservation–accuse or be accused. Those accused were only spared hanging if they admitted to having relations with the devil and gave up the names of others who participated. Two hundred were accused, thirty were condemned, nineteen were hanged, and one, Corey Giles, was pressed to death for refusing to plead guilty or not.

At the center of the play is John Proctor, a good man who has committed the sin of adultery with a serving girl in his home. He has confessed this to his wife and has left off with the girl, but it is this girl, Abigail Williams, spurned and angry, who begins the descent into hell that becomes The Salem Witch Trials. This play is not lacking for Villains, but Abigail is the evil force that truly drives the horror. No quarter can be given, however, to the adults who seize so readily upon her outrageous and obviously invented tales.

Miller might have subtitled this play, The Redemption of John Proctor, for it is his moral dilemma that presses upon us and his accusers. He refuses to bend to the will of the court, hard as it is, he will not purchase his life at the cost of another’s. As we see husbands and wives turn against one another, children against parents and everyone against anyone who might spare them from this inquisition, we realize how difficult and good his stance is and what a struggle it is to maintain it. He is a moral, though only a somewhat religious man. It is not religious zeal that sustains him, as it is for most of the others who refuse to cave; it is his moral center, his awareness of what such a denunciation, such a lie, would mean to the honor of his name.

A crucible is a place of extreme heat, a situation of severe trial. The title is perfection. When asked about the play, Miller said, “The witch hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.” and “A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence. Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congeries of plots and counterplots and the main role of government changes from that of the arbiter to that of the scourge of God.

Miller’s generation was witnessing this political mania in McCarthy, and I believe we have not been immune from its presence in our generation either. Along with its themes of human failing and redemption, The Crucible is also a play about power–how it is used or misused, how it is sustained, and how it is lost. The positive I find is that after the Salem Witch Trials were over, the misuse of power was so obvious and the miscarriage of justice so profound that theological rule lost its hold on Massachusetts, and after McCarthy held his abominable hearings, he lost his hold on the American psyche.





( )
1 vote mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
The Crucible is a dramatization of the 17th century Salem witch trials. It was written during the McCarthy era when authors and actors were being asked to testify about the communist ties of their fellow artists. The parallels with the Salem with trials were obvious. The play itself is good but not great. This edition of the play includes a number of essays by Miller, some of which are inserted within the scenes of the play. Although the essays enhance the understanding of the play, they distract from the overall drama. ( )
  M_Clark | Aug 1, 2022 |
Tension really builds! I was literally at the edge of my seat. Would love to see this in actual play format. Recommended by my oldest, who states that she doesn't like to read. Of course then, I read whatever she thinks is good. Need to see the movie with Daniel Day Lewis. ( )
  BarbF410 | May 22, 2022 |
INTENSE! ( )
  Christilee394 | May 6, 2022 |
The classic 1950 play by Miller relates the tragic moment in American history {hysteria} that is the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Through this lense, Miller spoke up against the Red Scare of the time and Senator McCarthy who lead the House Un-American Committee (HUAC) that "sought out Communists hiding amongst decent American citizens."

The story of jealousy turned to hysteria and madness in Salem is a timeless tale of when power is given over to those who seek to destroy for their own gains. John Proctor is a tragic hero who refuses to allow the madness to take hold but in the end, he is no match for the power of his own guilt and sense of hypocrisy.

Told in 4 Acts, this play is wonderful for exploring the way a writer can use historical context to speak and persuade an audience about current events. Still relevant, even in 2021, the play is a masterful and powerfully written exploration of those themes and motifs above.

Recommended for readers at least of 10th grade and older.

**All thoughts and opinions are my own.** ( )
  The_Literary_Jedi | Nov 29, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miller, Arthurprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bigsby, ChristopherIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boehlke, HenningCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dreyfuss, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keach, StaceyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watts, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, E. R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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A small upper bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem, Massachusetts, in the spring of the year 1692.
A Note on the Historical Accuracy of This Play

This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian.
Quotations
PROCTOR: I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation. Take it to heart, Mr. Parris. There are many others who stay away from church these days because you hardly ever mention God any more.
PARRIS: There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party.

PROCTOR: Against you?
PUTNAM: Against him and all authority.
PROCTOR: Why, then I must find it and join it.
PARRIS. Why could there not have been poppets hid where no one ever saw them?

PROCOTR. There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it.
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"I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history," Arthur Miller wrote in an introduction to The Crucible, his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence. Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing: "Political opposition ... is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it meets with diabolical malevolence."

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Book description
Arthur Miller's The Cucible is a play that is based on the tragic event in history of the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Presenting the themes of right and wrong, truth and decit, and prejudice and accepance, The Crucible causes its readers to reflect on their own morals and standards along with informing them of a terrible moment in America's past where many innocent people lost their lives. I really enjoyed this book; and the ideas and challenges it presents seem to be very valuable and insighful.
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Brulez les sorcières! Elles mentent, désirent et trahissent... Pendez tous les hommes!

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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