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The Crucible: Historical Context


Arthur Miller s The Crucible Miller Background Oct. 17, 1915 Feb. 10, 2005 Died of heart failure Wrote: Death of a Salesman (1949) All My Sons (1947) The ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Crucible: Historical Context

Arthur Millers
The Crucible
Miller Background
  • Oct. 17, 1915 Feb. 10, 2005
  • Died of heart failure
  • Wrote
  • Death of a Salesman (1949)
  • All My Sons (1947)
  • The Crucible (1953)
  • Many others.

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
  • Born in New York City to Jewish immigrants
  • Millers father was a successful womens clothing
  • The family business failed when he still at
  • Millers mother was forced to sell off her
    possessions to keep the family afloat.

  • Worked at a bakery delivering rolls at 400am.
  • Worked at a radio station
  • Later worked for his father, who attempted to
    rebuild his clothing business.

age 14
age 16
  • Depression hits in 1929, which has a great impact
    on Millers eventual career.
  • Never very studious in school up to this point,
    he works odd jobs to save up money to go to
  • Enrolled in U. Michigan in 1934 and wrote several
    playshis first play won an award, which is
    pretty amazing, as he had only seen two plays in
    his life.

  • After college, he worked in radio in NYC, writing
    scripts for radio plays.
  • His first play wasnt very good (had only 4
  • His second produced play was All My Sons (1947),
    which received the NY Drama Critics Circle Award,
    a production directed by Elia Kazan.
  • His third play was Death of a Salesman.

McCarthyism and the Red Scare
Miller and Communism
  • In the 1940s, Miller had become impressed by
    various leftist efforts to improve conditions in
    business, politics, and the arts.
  • After WW II he participates actively in liberal
    causes that come under increasing suspicion as
    being supported by Communists.

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
Formed in 1938
  • Became the most prominent and active government
    committee for anti-communism
  • Started by investigating the activities of
    German-American Nazis in WWII
  • 1938 began investigating communism in the Federal
    Theatre Project
  • Allegations that film stars and leading
    producers, directors and writers were Communists
    dated back at least to 1940, when the then
    chairman of (HUAC), Martin Dies, claimed that
    Communists were in positions of influence in

  • In 1945 Elizabeth Bentley, a former member of the
    American Communist Party, walked into the New
    York office of the Federal Bureau of
    Investigation and offered to provide information
    about a Soviet spy ring. Over the next couple of
    weeks Bentley identified more than 80 people she
    claimed were spies.

Have you now or have you ever been a member of
the Communist Party of the United States?
  • 10 of the first entertainment industry witnesses
    refused to cooperate, citing 5th amendment rights

nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to
be a witness against himself
Cited for Contempt
Protests marches
  • 1947- began investigating Hollywood
  • 11 writers and directors become known
    collectively as 'the Hollywood Ten', plus the
    German dramatist Bertolt Brechtwere charged with
    contempt of Congress for refusing to co-operate
    with the Committee's enquiries. Despite arguing
    that the First Amendment of the Constitution gave
    them that right and protection, the Ten were
    given jail sentences of six to 12 months each,
    Brecht having left the country the day after his

Society bends
Blacklisting begins
  • Nov. 1947
  • The Motion Picture Association of America issued
    the Waldorf Statement

We will not knowingly employ a communist
(No Transcript)
The Cold War Tension Escalates
  • 1949
  • the Soviet Union tests an atomic bomb (earlier
    than U.S. expectations)
  • Mao Zedongs Communist army gains control of
    mainland China (even though we were helping to
    fund the oppostion)

The Cold War Tension Escalates
  • 1950
  • Alger Hiss, a member of the State Department,
    found guilty of espionage (though only convicted
    of perjury)
  • Klaus Fuch confessed to espionage while working
    on the Manhattan Project
  • Julius and Ethel Rosenberg arrested and executed
    for stealing atomic secrets for the Soviets

Miller in the 1950s
  • 1950 McCarthy claims the government and the
    arts (especially the motion picture industry) are
    full of Communists and begins to conduct hearings
    asking people, Are you a Communist and seeking
    to get people to name names of other Communists.

Targets of investigation
  • Government employees
  • The entertainment industry
  • Educators
  • Union activists
  • Communist Party of the USA
  • Helped organise labour unions
  • Opposed fascism early on
  • Peak membership in 1942- 50,000 members

J Edgar Hoover
  • Nearly doubled the number of FBI employees
    between 1946 and 1952
  • Insisted on keeping informers a secret
  • Many of the accused were never told who accused
    them or of what exactly they were accused

Head of the FBI 1935-1972
  • Hoover created a division to carry out illegal
    activities in the name of anti-communism
  • Burglary, planting evidence, etc.
  • The National Lawyers Guild (one of the few groups
    willing to defend accused communists) had their
    offices broken into 14 times from 1947-1951 by
    the FBI

Millers career in the 1950s
  • Had been interested in some time in writing a
    play about the Salem Witch Trials, but felt he
    couldnt understand the climate of fear and the
    inexplicable darkness that had produced the
    hysteria of Salem in 1692. Suddenly he could
    understand it

The Crucible as an Allegory
  • Written about US events in the 1600s as an
    allegory to the US events of the 1950s
  • Allegory The representation of abstract ideas
    or principles by characters, figures, or events
    in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.
  • In other words When you tell one story to help
    represent what is going on with something else

Miller and the HUAC
  • When McCarthy begins to investigate alleged
    Communists, Miller becomes concerned that free
    speech was being threatened, particularly speech
    that was critical of the govt.
  • He writes The Crucible in 1953, believing that
    the HUAC was harassing those with unpopular
    political views and producing a similar kind of
    hysteria that existed in Salem in 1692.
  • He said he wrote the play to expose the process
    by which terror . . . was being knowingly
    planned and consciously engineered. . . . Above
    all, above all horrors, I saw accepted the notion
    that conscience was no longer a private matter
    but one of state administration.

  • Whenever we turn over our consciences to the
    state (whenever we allow our government officials
    to think for us, and just uncritically go along
    with what were told), then were in trouble.

The Crucible
  • It wasnt well received (to be expected at the
    height of McCarthyism)

It was as though the whole country had been born
anew, without a memory even of certain elemental
decencies which a year or two earlier no one
would have imagined could be altered, let alone
forgotten. Astounded, I watched men pass me by
without a nod whom I had known rather well for
years and again, the astonishment was produced
by my knowledge, which I could not give up, that
the terror of these people was being knowingly
planned and consciously engineered That so
interior and subjective emotion could have been
so manifestly created from without was a marvel
to me. It underlies every word of The Crucible.
Contemporary Reviews
  • Many saw it as a history lesson rather than a
    commentary on contemporary America
  • In writing of Salem, Mr. Miller attempts no
    blatant modern comparisons, beyond stating
    timeless truths about guilt and conscience and
    hysteria and bandwagon instincts (NY World
    Telegram and Sun).
  • Some may try to read into it more than we
    suspect is there. If there are deep implications
    in the script for modern playgoers, we failed to
    find them. (NY Daily Mirror).

Others saw clear parallels
  • Make no mistake about it there is fire in what
    Mr. Miller has to say, and there is a good bit of
    sting in his manner of saying it. . . . As
    Mr. Miller pursues his very clear contemporary
    parallel, there are all sorts of relevant
    thrusts the folk who do the final damage are
    not the lunatic fringe but the gullible pillars
    of society the courts bog down into travesty in
    order to comply with the popular mood slander
    becomes the weapon of opportunists . . .
    freedom is possible at the price of naming ones
    associates in crime . . . Much of thisnot
    allis an accurate reading of our own turbulent
    age (NY Herald Tribune).

Miller before the HUAC
  • Members of the HUAC seem to have interpreted the
    play as a contemporary political statement and,
    perhaps, an attack upon them personally.
  • In 1954, Miller was refused a passport to go to
    Belgium to attend the Belgian premiere of The
  • His passport application was rejected under
    regulations denying passports to persons believed
    to be supporting the Communist movement, whether
    or not they are members of the Communist party.

Preemptive Strike
  • 1956-
  • Miller was called before the House Committee on
    Un-American Activities
  • He was widely known to have advocated principles
    of social justice and equality of classes
  • He was disillusioned by the reality of communism
    in the Soviet Union

  • Quizzed about his ties to Communism, Miller
    denied ever being under Communist discipline
    but did admit to studying Marxism at one point a
    number of years earlier and of attending a
    meeting sponsored by the Communist Party in 1947.
  • Asked to name names of other writers at that
    meeting, he refused, was found in contempt of
    Congress, was fined 500 and was sentenced to 30
    days in jail. He appealed and the sentence was
    later reversed.
  • Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Walt Disney among
    others accused. Those who refused to name others
    were put on the blacklist. The blacklist was
    lifted in 1960