We Are What We Always Were In Salem - Talking About The Crucible

       I love The Crucible -- as stereotypical as this may be, the play is one of my all time favorites. I can talk about it for ages, but with all honesty, I’m afraid to write about the play. How can I possibly say something new about a play that has captivated theatre-goers and literary analysts alike for over half a century? The truth is, I may not be able to do so. But it’s not going to stop me.

        Our intrepid editor-in-chief, Molly Norman, mentioned that “crucible” is one of the most commonly searched words on our website. We had yet to have an article on the play, and I immediately jumped at the chance. I started to brainstorm. Once I threw out the worry about saying something original, I almost couldn’t stop having ideas. Soon I had pitched a short series of articles on The Crucible. So happy October, my friends, because this month we are diving into the bewitching tale of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible! It will also be a month of witch-related puns. But for now, to make this go as smoothly as possible, I’m going to lay out some of the basics. I’ll leave the plot summary to Wikipedia or Sparknotes, but there’s still a lot to cover.

The Backstory

        Any copy of The Crucible begins with “a note on the historical accuracy of this play” before the stage is even set.  This play is not meant to be a portrayal of the events that took place in 1692 Salem. After explaining this, Miller goes on to state, “However, I believe that the reader will  discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history.”

        He wrote the play out of emotional distress over the events happening in then-modern day (1952) America. The idea itself came from a two-volume set on the witch trials, which Miller read while anti-communist hysteria continued to sweep the country and Senator McCarthy brought citizens to trial. Miller saw a clear parallel between the charges against not actions but thoughts and the flimsy evidence allowed in the court of Salem.

The Hearing

        Miller himself was brought to trial four years after the show premiered. He was called to the House of Un-American Activities Committee where he famously refused to name others who may have had connections with the Communist Party. As for his own connection, he admitted to signing several documents (petitions, the like) produced by the Communist Party.

        A year later, in 1957, Miller was convicted for contempt. This charge followed another refusal to name names; this time, he specifically refused to name other writers in attendance at  Communist Party meetings several years prior. A radio station in Moscow, in fact, called out the irony of this trial.

The Legacy

        I could explain my theories behind why the play is so popular; I could wax poetic on the beauty of the text or the effort put into it; I could go on for paragraphs about the myriad of reasons that this play still resonates with audiences sixty-six years after it was first put on its feet. The easiest way to explain, at least a large part of, the show’s legacy, is by ending with a quote from the New Yorker article linked earlier in this piece.

“The play gets produced around the world in times of political upheaval.”

(Photo by Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)