Arthur Miller's ‘The Crucible’ as a Protest Against Communist Hysteria of McCarthyism and HUAC Actions

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Arthur Miller utilises his literary masterpiece ‘The Crucible’ as a vehicle to expose to the audience that maintaining personal integrity requires great courage and strength in the face of hysteria and frenzy and refusing to name names can come at a high cost, especially amidst an autocratic rule. He does this through thoughtful characterisation, symbolism, language, allegory, imagery and characters’ moral dilemmas.

Arthur Miller's outstanding 1953 play, effectively utilises allegory to draw parallels between the period of McCarthyism within the United States of America. McCarthyism was anti-communist hysteria, initiated by Joseph McCarthy. It lasted through the 1950s, being called the ‘red scare’ where many people were making accusations without proper evidence, for their own benefit, ruining many people’s careers. Miller used his play as a platform to protest the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings, as many people were imprisoned and blacklisted if they were suspected to be associated with Communists. After the play was staged, Miller himself had been called upon by the HUAC which demanded him to confess that he was a communist and provide names of others that he knows. He had withheld the names of others and was sent to jail, being consequently blacklisted from Hollywood. Miller had wanted to expose, reflect and allegorise the rigid ideologies during McCarthyism, through his novel ‘The Crucible’.

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Abigail Williams, a central character in Miller’s work, embodies lack of integrity and is a blatant hypocrite. After she and Tituba started naming names, they instigated hysteria and fear, which bubbled in the community, like a crucible. As an orphaned girl in the village of Salem, she was nothing. She was John Proctor’s mistress before his wife Elizabeth threw her out of the household, stirring great jealousy in Abigail. She was then determined to kill Goody Proctor and be reunited with John. However, starting the witchcraft hysteria, she saw the rising power she attained when she proclaimed the names of the townspeople communing with the devil. Abigail claims “There be no blush about my name” (Act 1, 20), meaning she is white, possesses integrity and virtuous, but ironically, she is the blackest character of them all. She is the most superficial character who commits malice and has no integrity. The cost of losing integrity is having to escape from the town when she no longer possessed her power. Miller showed that Abigail, like McCarthyism, took all the toxic elements of hate, envy, bigotry, avarice and lies, throwing it into the fiery crucible and creating this poison, which was thrown onto the people, and damaging them.

Contrastingly, Miller created a character Rebecca Nurse, who is the pillar of righteousness and the epitome of integrity. She is portrayed as representative of God, is called the “very brick and mortar of the church” ( Act 2, p. 67) and unwaveringly displays her integrity throughout the play. When Reverend Hale came to the town of Salem, he remarked on her revered piety and purity by saying “It’s strange how I knew you, but I suppose you look as such a good soul should”. (Act 1, p. 34). The surroundings of Salem had all known the good soul of Rebecca Nurse and her voice of reason. Unfortunately, she is drawn into the witchcraft hysteria because of the Putnam misfortunes and conflicts with the Nurses and is set to go to the gallows. Realising there has been a mistake, Reverend Hale begs Nurse to proclaim that she is with the Devil, to escape her death, but she responds: “Why, it is a lie, it is a lie; how may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot” (Act 4, p. 129). She had lost her life as a cost for upholding her integrity. However, Miller wants the readers to approve of her decision, highlighting that integrity shows the true character of a person. Miller, like Rebecca Nurse, had once also been put in the firing line to confess himself as a communist and give others away. However, he held onto his integrity and sacrificed his own career, being honest to himself and doing what he believed was right.

John Proctor is developed as a grey and morally challenged character. His ultimate struggle with maintaining his integrity makes him relatable to the audience. Proctor is shown as a man who has committed sins and adultery. At first, Proctor was concerned with maintaining a good name in the town, which is a central theme to the play. Battling with his inner demons, he refused to admit his infidelity to the court, to protect his reputation and his good name. When his wife was mentioned in court, Proctor was willing to forfeit his reputation, to save his wife’s life, even if it meant that he would fall under the radar of the court. When he reaches emotional catharsis during the signing the contract of giving away his name, he realises that he wants his integrity, by yelling “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! …I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”. By ripping up the contract, he refused to be denounced as a man of the devil to maintain his integrity, with being hanged coming as a cost to his self-respect, and having the audience feel the respect for him as well.

Through the expert manipulation of characterisation, language and aesthetic devices, Miller was able to expose the reader that having integrity is a prodigious honour for a person to have and shows great character, such as Rebecca Nurse. Miller used his play as a protest for communist hysteria of McCarthyism and the actions of the HUAC.

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Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ as a Protest Against Communist Hysteria of McCarthyism and HUAC Actions. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/arthur-millers-the-crucible-as-a-protest-against-communist-hysteria-of-mccarthyism-and-huac-actions/
“Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ as a Protest Against Communist Hysteria of McCarthyism and HUAC Actions.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/arthur-millers-the-crucible-as-a-protest-against-communist-hysteria-of-mccarthyism-and-huac-actions/
Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ as a Protest Against Communist Hysteria of McCarthyism and HUAC Actions. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/arthur-millers-the-crucible-as-a-protest-against-communist-hysteria-of-mccarthyism-and-huac-actions/> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ as a Protest Against Communist Hysteria of McCarthyism and HUAC Actions [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/arthur-millers-the-crucible-as-a-protest-against-communist-hysteria-of-mccarthyism-and-huac-actions/
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