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The Crucible: Background


Title: PowerPoint Presentation Author: Karen Last modified by: Steph Created Date: 5/26/2004 10:33:58 PM Document presentation format: On-screen Show (4:3) – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Crucible: Background

The Crucible Background The Crucible was
written by Arthur Miller and opened on Broadway
in 1953. The United States was entering the
McCarthy Era.
With the war going badly in Korea and communist
advances in Eastern Europe and in China, the
American public were genuinely frightened about
the possibilities of internal subversion.
McCarthy, as chairman of the Government Committee
on Operations of the Senate, was in an ideal
position to exploit this situation.
Joe McCarthy
McCarthy investigated various government
departments and questioned a large number of
people about their political past. Some people
lost their jobs after they admitted they had been
members of the Communist Party. McCarthy made it
clear to the witnesses that the only way of
showing that they had abandoned their left-wing
views was by naming other members of the
party. This witch-hunt and anti-communist
hysteria became known as McCarthyism or The Red
McCarthy promoted unfounded accusations and
suspicions of communism in many quarters, most
prominently within the entertainment industry
through the House Un-American Activities
Committee (HUAC). HUAC investigated communism
within Hollywood, calling a number of
playwrights, directors and actors known for
left-wing views to testify. Some of these,
including film director Elia Kazan, testified for
the committee to avoid prison sentences, but the
Hollywood Ten, a group of entertainers, refused
to testify and were convicted of contempt and
sentenced to up to one year in prison.
The Rosenbergs were executed as Communist spies
during the McCarthy era
Over three hundred other entertainers were placed
on a blacklist for possible communist views and
were thus forbidden to work for major Hollywood
studios (many of these were writers who worked
under pseudonyms at the time, including Dalton
Trumbo and Michael Wilson). Arthur Miller was one
of these blacklisted. The blacklist prevented
these men from receiving screen credit during
this time, until actor Kirk Douglas pushed for
Trumbo to receive screen credit for his
adaptation of Spartacus for Stanley Kubrick in
1960, thus finally breaking the blacklist.
Arthur Miller (left) and Charlie Chaplin (right)
were both called by HUAC
ARTHUR MILLER A Brief Biography
Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915 in
New York City. He was the son of a womens
clothing company owner who lost his business in
the Depression the family was forced to move
to a smaller home in Brooklyn. He began
writing at a very early age and by the time he
graduated from the University of Michigan, he
had begun to receive recognition as a playwright.
His play All My Sons (1947) received the Drama
Critics Circle Award and his play Death of a
Salesman (1949) won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1953,
Miller wrote The Crucible. Miller was concerned
about what was happening in the United States
where the Red Scare, initiated and fuelled by
Senator Joe McCarthy, had Americans frightened
of their neighbours. In order to vocalize his
criticism, he selected an era in
American historythe Salem Witch trials of
1692which paralleled the McCarthy era
Miller was refused a passport by the State
Department to attend the opening of The Crucible
in Brussels in 1954. The reason given was, the
applicant was suspected of being a supporter of
the Communist movement.
He was called upon to testify before the
Committee on Un-American Activities, but refused
to name names. He was convicted of contempt of
Congress in 1956. (He also married Marilyn Monroe
in 1956!) The conviction was overturned by a
higher court in 1958.
Millers characters struggle with power
conflicts, personal and social responsibility,
the repercussions of past actions, and the
conflict between hope and guilt. He once said he
thought theatre could change the world.
The Crucible
The Crucible is a play about religious and
political repression. Dissenters are rooted out,
conformity is enforced. In Salem, a group of
young girls had begun accusing various
townspeople of witchcraft. As in the case of
being accused of being a communist, the accused
in Salem had a difficult time proving their
innocence. As a result, 19 of the accused died on
the gallows, one was pressed to death and many
others died in jail.
The examination of a witch in Salem
Miller used actual historical events and people
as the basis of his play. He wrote No
one can really know what their lives were like.
Their creed forbade anything resembling
vain enjoyment. They did not
celebrate Christmas and a holiday from work meant
only that they must concentrate even
more on prayer.
Salem was peopled by Puritans who were very
religious and strict. They had come to
Massachusetts to escape religious persecution in
The Salem Environment
The seeds of the hysteria that afflicted Salem
Village, Massachusetts were sown in January 1692
when a group of young girls began to display
bizarre behavior. The tight-knit community was at
a loss to explain the convulsive seizures,
blasphemous screaming, and trance-like states
that afflicted the youngsters. The physicians
called in to examine the girls could find no
natural cause of the disturbing behavior. If the
source of the affliction was not attributable to
a physical malady, the community reasoned that it
must be the work of Satan. Witches had invaded
The girls odd behavior was traced to the home of
Reverend Parris. His daughter Betty had gone into
a trance for which the doctor had no explanation.
Reverend Parris
Parris organized prayer meetings and days of
fasting in an attempt to alleviate Betty's
symptoms. Parris did what he could to support
Betty and other seemingly afflicted girls,
including beating his servant, Tituba, into
confessing, and fanning the flames of witchcraft
suspicions from his pulpit. Once the witchcraft
hysteria ran its course, dissatisfaction with
Parris grew and intensified
New Englanders did not invent belief in
witchcraft. The first Papal Bull against
witchcraft was issued in the 15th century, and in
England three separate acts were directed against
witches over the next 200 years, making
witchcraft a felony, without benefit of clergy.
  • Witches could not shed tears
  • They were marked by the Devilwitchmarks
  • They floated when given the swimming test
  • They, with the Devils aid, could cause love or
  • They transferred diseases from person to person
  • They drove men and women crazy
  • They raised tempests
  • They murdered by means of waxen images or voodoo
  • They haunted houses
  • They caused men and women to be possessed by
  • They could send their spirits out to their

The hanging of Bridget Bishop
Villagers were accused and condemned by virtue of
someones testimony that he or she had been
afflicted. No actual proof other than someones
accusation was required. Often the accused were
asked to name names of others associated with
the Devil (similar to the McCarthy trials)..
The trial of George Jacobs
Girls at the trial
The hanging of George Burroughs
A Scene from one of the trials
Many of the accusations were made by Abigail
Williams. In the play, Miller creates a
relationship between Abigail and John Proctor in
order to explain why she accused so many people.
An accusation put forth by Abigail Williams
Some who died in Salem
One of the gravestones in the Salem memorial
O Christian Martyr Who for Truth could die When
all about thee Owned the hideous lie! The world,
redeemed from superstition's sway, Is breathing
freer for thy sake today. --Words written by
John Greenleaf Whittier and inscribed on a
monument marking the grave of Rebecca Nurse, one
of the condemned "witches" of Salem.
THE MAN OF IRON Giles Corey was a wizard strong,
a stubborn wretch was he  And fit was he to
hang on high upon the locust tree. So, when
before the Magistrates for trial he did come, 
He would no true confession make, but was
completely dumb. "Giles Corey," said the
Magistrate, "What hast thou here to plead To
those who now accuse thy sould of crime and
horrid deed?" Giles Corey he said not a word, no
single word spoke he. "Giles Corey," said the
Magistrate, "We'll press it out of thee." They
got them then a heavy beam, then laid it on his
breast They loaded it with heavy stones, and
hard upon him pressed. "More weight," now said
this wretched man.  "More weight!" again he
cried  And he did no confession make, but
wickedly he died. --Anonymous (early 18th
Giles and Martha Corey
This is the gravestone of John Proctor, the
protagonist of The Crucible.