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The Crucible by Arthur Miller


In February of 1950, a Republican senator from Wisconsin names Joseph McCarthy ... 'The question is not the reality of witches but the power of authority to define ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  • Historical Cultural Context Information
  • Advanced Composition Novel
  • Mrs. Snipes

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
  • Known and respected for his intimate and
    realistic portrayal of the working class, Arthur
    Miller remains one of the most prolific
    playwrights of his time. At the peak of his
    career immediately following World War II,
    American theater was transformed by his profound
    ability to capture the heart of the common man
    and make his audiences empathize with his plight
    as he attempts to find his war in an often harsh
    and unsympathetic world.

Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York, into
    a middle-class Jewish immigrant family. His
    father was a clothing manufacturer and store
    owner who experienced significant loss after the
    Stock Market Crash of 1929. Miller attended
    Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, and was
    a gifted athlete and an average student. After
    being rejected the first time, Miller was finally
    accepted into the University of Michigan in 1934,
    where his studies focused on drama and
    journalism. He graduated in 1938 with a
    Bachelors degree in English. Two years later, he
    published his first play, the relatively
    unsuccessful The Man Who Had All the Luck and
    married his college girlfriend Mary Slattery,
    with whom he later had two children, Robert and

Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • Millers first prominent play was All My
    Sons(1947), a tragedy about a factory owner who
    knowingly sold faulty aircraft parts during World
    War II. All My Sons won the Drama Critics Circle
    Award and two Tony Awards. His 1949 play Death of
    a Salesman was also an enormous critical success,
    winning the Drama Critics Circle Award, the
    Pulitzer Prize, and several Tony Awards,
    including Best Play, Best Author, and Best
    Director. To this day, Death of a Salesman
    remains one of his most famous and respected

Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • In 1950, Millers troubles began. After directing
    a production of Henrik Ibsens An Enemy of the
    People, Miller began getting negative attention
    for his very public political and social
    commentary. In 1953 The Crucible opened on
    Broadway, depicting a deliberate parallel between
    the Salem Witch Trials and the Communist Red
    Scare that America was experiencing at the time.
    This production brought more suspicion onto
    Miller at a very unstable time in American
    history, and in June of 1956, he was called to
    testify in front of the House Committee on
    Un-American Activities (HUAC), for which he was
    found in contempt of court for his refusal to
    cooperate and identify names of Communist
    sympathizers. This ruling was later overturned by
    the United States Court of Appeals, but damage to
    his reputation had taken place nonetheless.

Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • That same year, he divorced his wife and married
    actress and American icon Marilyn Monroe
    however, his marriage to Monroe did not last
    longthey divorced in 1961. His plays After the
    Fall (1964) and Finishing the Picture (2004) are
    said to loosely depict their turbulent and
    unhappy marriage. After divorcing Monroe, Miller
    married Inge Morath, with whom he had a son,
    Daniel, in 1962, and a daughter, Rebecca, in
    1963. There have been unconfirmed reports that
    Millers son Daniel was diagnosed with Down
    Syndrome shortly after he was born and that
    Miller institutionalized Daniel and never saw or
    spoke to him again, even in his poignant
    autobiography Timebends (1987).

Arthur Miller (cont.)
  • Millers other plays include Incident at Vichy
    (1965), The Price (1968), The Creation of the
    World and Other Business (1972), The American
    Clock (1980), The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1991),
    Broken Glass (1994), and Resurrection Blues
    (2002). He also wrote a novel, Focus (1945), a
    book of short stories in 1967, several
    screenplays and television movies, and Echoes
    Down the Corridor (2000), a collection of essays.
    In addition, he collaborated with Inge (who was a
    photographer) on several books. He received the
    Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999 and
    the National Book Foundations medal for his
    contribution to American literature in 2001.
  • Arthur Miller died of heart failure in February
    of 2005 at his Connecticut home. He was 89 years

Historical Context The Red Scare and McCarthy
  • In 1950, Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as a
    parallel between the Salem Witch Trials and the
    current events that were spreading throughout the
    United States at the time. A similar witch hunt
    was happening in the United Statesand this time,
    the accused were those who were a part of the
    Communist Party or who were Communist

Historical Context The Red Scare and McCarthy
Trials (cont.)
  • Shortly after the end of World War I, a Red
    Scare took hold of the nation. Named after the
    red flag of the USSR (now Russia), the Reds
    were seen as a threat to the democracy of the
    United States. Fear, paranoia, and hysteria
    gripped the nation, and many innocent people were
    questioned and then jailed for expressing any
    view which was seen as anti-Democratic or
  • In June of 1940, Congress passed the Alien
    Registration Act, which required anyone who was
    not a legal resident of the United States to file
    a statement of their occupational and personal
    status, which included a record of their
    political beliefs. The House Un-American
    Activities Committee (HUAC), which was
    established in 1938, had the job of investigating
    those who were suspected of overthrowing or
    threatening the democracy of the U.S. As the
    Alien Registration Act gathered the information,
    the HUAC began hunting down those who were
    believed to be a threat to American beliefs.

Historical Context The Red Scare and McCarthy
Trials (cont.)
  • The HUAC established that Communist beliefs were
    being spread via mass media. At this time, movies
    were becoming more liberal, and therefore, were
    believed to be a threat many felt that Hollywood
    was attempting to propagandize Communist beliefs.
    In September of 1947, the HUAC subpoenaed
    nineteen witnesses (most of whom were actors,
    directors, and writers) who had previously
    refused to comment, claiming their Fifth
    Amendment rights. Eleven of the seventeen were
    called to testify only one actually spoke on the
    standthe remaining ten refused to speak and were
    labeled the Hollywood Ten.

Historical Context The Red Scare and McCarthy
Trials (cont.)
  • After these infamous ten refused to speak,
    executives from the movie industry met to decide
    how best to handle the bad press. They decided to
    suspend all ten without pay. Although the initial
    intention was to save their box office
    reputation, what eventually resulted was as
    decade-long blacklist. Hundreds of people who
    worked in the industry were told to point the
    finger naming those who had any affiliation with
    the Communist party. As a result, over 200 people
    lost their jobs and were unable to find anyone
    who would hire them. The Communist with-hunt
    ruined the careers of hundreds, and ruined the
    reputation of hundreds more.

Historical Context The Red Scare and McCarthy
Trials (cont.)
  • In February of 1950, a Republican senator from
    Wisconsin names Joseph McCarthy claimed to have a
    list of over 200 card-carrying members of the
    Communist party. By 1951, a new flourish of
    accusations began and a new wave were subpoenaed
    to name namesto snitch on those who were
    Communists or believed to be Communist
    sympathizers. Later, the terms McCarthy Trials
    and McCarthyism were coined, which described the
    anti-Communist movement and trials of the 1950s.

Historical Context The Red Scare and McCarthy
Trials (cont.)
  • Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953, after
    witnessing first-hand the modern witch-hunt that
    had taken place in the United States. Miller
    wrote the controversial play as an allegory, a
    play which represents something much deeper. In
    this case, the story is about the Salem witch
    trials of the 1690s, but warns of history
    repeating these tragic events on the 1950s.

Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt
  • I had known about the Salem witchcraft
    phenomenon since my American history class at
    the University of Michigan, but it had remained
    in my mind as one of those inexplicable
    mystifications of the long-dead past when people
    commonly believed that the spirit could leave the
  • As though it had been ordained, a copy of Marion
    Starkeys book The Devil in Massachusetts fell
    into my hands, and the bizarre story came back as
    I had recalled it, but this time in remarkably
    well-organized detail.

Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt
  • At first I rejected the idea of a play on the
    subject. My own rationality was too strong, I
    thought, to really allow me to capture this
    wildly irrational outbreak. A drama cannot merely
    describe an emotion, it has to become that
    emotion. But gradually, over weeks, a living
    connection between myself and Salem, and between
    Salem and Washington, was made in my mindfor
    whatever else they might be, I saw that the
    hearings in Washington were profoundly and
    avowedly ritualistic. After all, in almost every
    case the Committee knew in advance what they
    wanted the witness to give them the names of his
    comrades in the Communist Party. The FBI had
    long since infiltrated the Party, and informers
    had long ago identified the participants in
    various meetings. The main point of the hearings,
    precisely as in seventeenth-century Salem, was
    that the accused make public confession, damn his
    confederates as well as his Devil master, and
    guarantee his sterling new allegiance by breaking
    disgusting old vowswhereupon he was let loose to
    rejoin the society of extremely decent people. In
    other words, the same spiritual nugget lay folded
    within both proceduresan act of contrition done
    not in solemn privacy but out in public air.

Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt (cont.)
  • The Salem prosecution was actually on more solid
    legal ground since the defendant, if guilty of
    familiarity with the Unclean One the Devil, had
    broken a law against the practice of witchcraft,
    a civil as well as a religious offense whereas
    the offender against HUAC could not be accused of
    any such violation but only of a spiritual crime,
    subservience to a political enemys desires and
    ideology. He was summoned before the Committee to
    be called a bad name, but one that could destroy
    his career.

Miller Reacts to a Witch Hunt (cont.)
  • In effect, it came down to a governmental decree
    of moral guilt that could easily be made to
    disappear by ritual speech intoning names of
    fellow sinners and recanting former beliefs. This
    last was probably the saddest and truest part of
    the charade, for by the early 1950s there were
    few, and even fewer in the arts, who had not left
    behind their illusions about the Soviets.
  • It was this immaterial element, the surreal
    spiritual transaction, that now fascinated me,
    for the rituals of guilt and confession followed
    all the forms of a religious inquisition, except,
    of course, that the offended parties were not God
    and his ministers but a congressional committee

Notes from Christopher Bigsbys Introduction to
the play
  • The question is not the reality of witches but
    the power of authority to define the nature of
    the real, and the desire, on the part of
    individuals and the state, to identify those
    whose purging will relieve a sense of anxiety and
    guilt. What lay behind the procedures of both
    witch trial and political hearing was a familiar
    American need to assert a recoverable innocence
    even if the only guarantee of such innocence lay
    in the displacement of guilt onto others. To
    sustain the integrity of their own names, the
    accused were invited to offer the names of
    others, even though to do so would be to make
    them complicit in procedures they despised and
    hence to damage their sense of themselves. And
    here is a theme that connects virtually all of
    Millers plays betrayal, of the self no less
    than of others.

Notes (continued)
  • in Millers plays there usually comes a moment
    when the central character cries out his own
    name, determined to invest it with meaning and
    integrity. Almost invariably this moment occurs
    when he is on the point of betraying himself and
    others. A climactic scene in The Crucible occurs
    when John Proctor, on the point of trading his
    integrity for his life, finally refuses to pay
    the price, which is to offer the names of others
    to buy his lifeThree years later, Miller himself
    was called before the Committee. His reply, when
    asked to betray others, was a virtual paraphrase
    of the one offered by Proctor. He announced, I
    am trying to, and will protect my sense of
    myself. I could not use the name of another
    person and bring trouble on him.

Notes (continued)
  • The Crucible is Arthur Millers most
    frequently produced play not, I think, because it
    addresses affairs of the state nor even because
    it offers us the tragic sight of a man who dies
    to save his conception of himself and the world,
    but because audiences understand all too well
    that the breaking of charity is no less a truth
    of their own lives than it is an account of
    historical processesThe Crucible reminds us how
    fragile is our grasp on those shared values that
    are the foundation of any society.

Notes (continued)
  • Beyond anything else The Crucible is a study in
    power and the mechanisms by which power is
    sustained, challenged, and lostIn the landscape
    of The Crucible, on the one hand stands the
    church, which provides the defining language
    within which all social, political, and moral
    debate is conducted. On the other stand those
    usually deprived of powerthe black slave Tituba
    and the young childrenwho suddenly gain access
    to an authority as absolute as that which had
    previously subordinated themThose socially
    marginalized move to the very center of social
    actionThe Crucible is a play about the seductive
    nature of power

Notes (continued)
  • The Crucible is both an intense psychological
    drama and a play of epic proportionsthis is a
    drama about an entire community betrayed by a
    Dionysian surrender to the irrational it is
    also, however, a play about the redemption of an
    individual and, through the individual, of a
    society. Some scenes, therefore, people the stage
    with characters, while others show the individual
    confronted by little more than his own
    conscience. That oscillation between the public
    and the private is a part of the rhythmic pattern
    of the play.

Notes (continued)
  • the plays success now owes little to the
    political and social context in which it was
    written. It stands, instead, as a study of the
    debilitating power of guilt, the seductions of
    power, the flawed nature of the individual and of
    the society to which the individual owes
    allegiance. It stands as a testimony to the ease
    with which we betray those very values essential
    to our survival, but also the courage with which
    some men and women can challenge what seems to be
    a ruling orthodoxy.

Notes (continued)
  • Like so many of Millers other plays, it is a
    study of a man who wishes, above all, to believe
    that he has invested his life with meaning, but
    cannot do so if he betrays himself through
    betraying others. It is a study of a society that
    believes in its unique virtues and seeks to
    sustain that dream of perfection by denying all
    possibility of its imperfectionAmerica is to
    believe that it is at the same time both guilty
    and without flaw.

  • The Crucible Literature Guide. Secondary
    Solutions, 2006.
  • The Crucible. Latitudes. Perfection Learning,
  • Christopher Bigsbys Introduction in the Penguin
    Books version of The Crucible, 1995.