In my coursework, I will be discussing how successful the crucible is as an allegory. An allegory is defined as a story, poem, character in a story, or picture with a hidden connotation. The Crucible is a story set in Salem in the 1692 witch hunts. The play is based on the fear, suspicion, hysteria and paranoia which the people of Salem felt during the witch hunts. This is almost identical to what happened in America in the 1950s. Communism was at its all-time peak and America was scared of Communism taking over their country, as it already had in Russia. The Americans panicked and they went fanatical with Hysteria. Everyone was accusing everyone. Almost everyone who was accused of being a communist was sentenced to heavy punishment, usually a life sentence. No one felt safe; people were being accused of no good reason.
This outbreak of paranoia is much like McCarthyism. McCarthyism was the situation in America during the 1950s. This could be why The Crucible is such an effective play. Salem was a very small religious town. It feared the unknown and anything that they found hard to explain. The community was very small and enclosed, scared of the world which was beyond theirs. This may be why the outbreak of paranoia occurred. Everyone seemed to know each other too well because in their society no one seemed to mind their own business: The Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand. This shows how Salem was enclosed by the woods and therefore alone. The woods represent the fear surrounding Salem and it helps to show the danger from a different perspective.
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The most obvious allegory in the play is the link between 1950s America and McCarthyism. There are close similarities between Communism and witchcraft, particularly how society was corrupted because of them. 1692 in Salem and America during the 1950s are so alike in many ways. Miller based The Crucible directly on the situation in America. Both accusations of Communism and witchcraft tore apart the communities in which they broke loose. This is because they are unexplained and you cannot prove that someone is really a Communist or a witch. The reason people believed in witchcraft was that there was so much which was still unexplained around the year 1692. They could not think up answers for things that were happening so they blamed everything on witchcraft. When Betty became sick, people started to talk and wonder what was wrong with her. Suspicion overcame Salem.
When no one could explain what it was that was wrong with her, they realized that people holding a grudge could seek revenge by accusing others of being possessed or of being a witch. There were so many innocent people accused of practising witchcraft that it seemed the only way to get away with the accusation was to own up to being a witch, even though they weren’t. Sometimes the accusations went far. On page 47 of the crucible, Reverend Hale and Parris begin to whip Tituba until she would own up to making contact with the devil, even though they have no solid evidence. This shows just how far they went through hysteria and suspicion of people practising witchcraft. A running theme throughout the play is people accusing each other and following others who establish themselves as a group leader, who controls the others.
At the end of act one on pages 49 -50, you can see the link between McCarthyism and the Salem witch hunts. Here you can see how everyone is accusing everyone of being a witch. This is similar to the situation in America during the fear of the outbreak of Communism. Abigail: I saw Goody Hawkins with the Devil! Betty: I saw Goody Bibber with the Devil! Abigail: I saw Goody Booth with the Devil! The way that Abigail and Betty speak here makes the scene seem very dark and it really reflects what was happening in America during the outbreak of McCarthyism. People were accusing everyone and hysteria has broken loose. The way that the same phrase is repeated and said by different people a number of times are effective and helps to show that Salem is not the same and paranoia is setting in. Abigail is also shown as the leader of the girls and they all do as she tells them to. This is one of the first times this is clearly shown in the play.
Miller uses many writing techniques in the play. He uses effective ways of showing hysteria and paranoia and the way he links McCarthyism is very well done. Miller introduces many characters into his stories, this makes it easier for him to show the effects of McCarthyism, it is easier for him to show how literally everyone is accused at some point. During the play, almost every character is accused and when you are accused it is hard to clear your name: Danforth:
- Mary Warren, how came you to this turnabout?
- Has Mr. Proctor threatened you for this deposition?
- Mary Warren: NoDanforth: Has he ever threatened you?
- Mary Warren: No, sir.
- Danforth: Has he ever threatened you?
- Mary Warren: No, sir.
This shows that the court will believe what their heart believes and will not listen to what the person on trial has to say. Even though Mary was denying Proctor threatening her, Danforth seemed convinced that he had and kept asking her the same question over and over again hoping that she would give in and say that Proctor had threatened her. Much like Communism, when you are accused of being a witch, there is no hard proof; it is difficult to prove innocence and you cannot define exactly why someone is a witch. Miller sets the play in the 1690s which is sensible because today there is not much unknown, but back then they were not as scientifically advanced as we are in the modern-day. Things such as Betty falling ill would not seem strange if it were set in this era.
The language which Miller uses is a mixture of different types of vocabulary. He mixes together the typical language used in 1692 and a more modern-day language. This is better for linking the story to what happened in America in the 1950s. He used regular-sounding language which they would have used in 1692. For instance, he used techniques such as double negatives. Also, he uses language such used in a more modern-day world, like they would have used in America 1950s. This creates almost a new language that keeps readers interested:
- Danforth: Strike hard upon me that she will dare come here with such a tale. Now, Mr. Proctor, before I decide whether I shall here you or not, it is my duty to tell you this. We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment.
- In Miller’s lecture about The Crucible Miller says:
The Crucible straddles two very different worlds to make them one, but in the usual sense of the word it is not history but rather a moral, political and psychological construct that floats on the fluid emotions of both ears. Miller made a comparison in several of his characters to McCarthy himself. Thomas Putnam is much like what McCarthy was like in 1950s America. They were both greedy men putting themselves first. For instance, Putnam thinks of himself before others by doing whatever it takes to gain land and wealth. He would make his daughter accuse people of being witches, even though he knew that they weren’t. He did this because he knew that when they were convicted they would be put into jail or even given the death sentence. When they were sentenced or executed he knew the land would be sold for a very small price. You can see that Putnam is very selfish and obsessed with his wealth and land on page 36 when he is talking to John Proctor:
- Proctor: In your bounds! I bought that tract from Goody Nurse’s husband five months ago.
- Putnam: He had no right to sell it. It stands in my grandfather’s will that all the land between the river and – McCarthy as a character was very similar to several characters in Miller’s play, especially Putnam.
He wanted to have as much authority and power as he could. If anyone got on the wrong side of him he would blame them for being a communist, and this would be difficult to disprove, so more than normal after the trial the person would be given a jail sentence. In the play the other character most like McCarthy is Abigail Williams, she is a very strong comparison to him. She is still selfish and looks out for herself even if it means letting others hang. All she wants is to be with John Proctor, a married man who is well respected in the community. She will try whatever it takes to get him, even accuse Goody Proctor of using witchcraft. Abigail is very manipulative and she can manipulate the situation very well. She is seen as the leader of the girls and they all do as she says. Abigail exerts her influence over others and leads the hysteria which Salem is going through. Abigail has a destructive influence on Salem. All of this can be seen in the scene where they are in court. Abigail had accused Mary Warren of being a witch. Whenever Marry had said something the girls repeated it straight after.
- Abigail: She sees nothin’!
- Mary Warren: Abby, you mustn’t!
- Abigail and all the girls: Abby, you mustn’t!
This shows how Abigail can control the other girls and make them do as she wishes. She is seen as the leader and she takes advantage of this. Arthur Miller successfully shows the comparison between Abigail Williams and McCarthy. Repetition is used here to emphasize the effect of hysteria. This shows how society is being corrupted by the fear of witchcraft. This also shows how far Abigail is willing to go, to get what she wants. She makes it clear that Mary is a witch and she is guilty by making the girls mimic her every word. The Crucible is a play that uses racism as a theme. Black represents bad, white represents good. Miller uses this in his play a lot to bring out the situation in America during the 1950s. Racism was an issue and not much was being done to solve it. This is reflected in the play. All things bad are represented as black. “Black allegiance,” and “black hearts,” page 105. White is seen as the colour of goodness.
“Your soul alone is the issue here, can you not prove its whiteness,” page 122. You can see that this is a link to America during the 1950s because that is how they saw the different races. White was seen as good and black was seen as evil. For instance, heaven is described as white and hell is described as black. On page 105 Danforth says: – Danforth: Will you confess yourself befouled with hell, or do you keep that black allegiance yet? Suspicion is a theme that runs through the play and brings such a tense atmosphere to the story. After the outbreak of “witchcraft,” in Salem, no one seems to trust anyone and suspicion pushes people to the edge. Miller uses personification very well to emphasize the suspicion sweeping through Salem. He shows emotions such as suspicion as people. For instance when Elizabeth and Proctor are talking Elizabeth says “Suspicion kissed you when I did,” page 119. This shows more than one thing. Firstly it shows suspicion as a person kissing him, which it obviously cannot do because it is an emotion.
Also, this shows that Elizabeth was suspicious of him. At the same time, she kissed him suspicion did as well. Not only does he use just personification. John Proctor described Elizabeth by saying “still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart.” The simile is affective because it shows how Elizabeth is feeling at the time. She almost feels dead inside and she has nothing to live for. Throughout the play, Miller employs a lot of religious imagery. This is very much like 1950s America. This emphasizes how the small town has changed from an innocent, religious town into something the town would have been dreading to become before. It shows just how the devil is “loose” in Salem. Really the devil is not loose, they are experiencing hysteria and they sound fanatical. On pages 74 – 75 John Proctor says:
- Proctor: Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs, and all our old pretence is ripped away. This not only shows how Miller has employed personification and religious imagery to show hysteria but it also shows the contrast between Heaven and Hell, white against black. Another quote that shows Miller using these techniques to show the effects of hysteria is on page 105:
- Proctor: A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this is a fraud – God damns our kind especially and we will burn, we will burn together!
In this speech by Proctor, we can see how Miller has combined many literary devices to produce the effects of hysteria. In this speech Miller has combined the effect of racism, white against black, showing well against evil; he has used Religious imagery to show how Salem has been transformed by the witch hunts and the repetition of the word “quail” suggesting that Salem has cowered and become a town which cannot control itself any longer. The speech shows human belief in diametrical oppositions of good and evil, for example, Christianity and the devil. Miller cunningly makes John Proctor the spokesman for his own beliefs. Proctor is a character full of opinion and pride. This is the character Miller reflects himself through. Miller makes sure that Proctor has very powerful and memorable speeches so that people will clearly see and remember Miller’s view on America 1950s.
- Proctor: No, no I have signed it. You have seen me. It is done! You have no need for this.
- Danforth: Proctor, the village must have proof that –
- Proctor: Damn the village! I confess to God, and God has seen my name on this! It is enough!
This shows just what Miller thought of the situation in America during the 1950s. Miller thought that it was unacceptable when someone was accused of being a Communist there was no way out and the only way to get away from a jail sentence was to confess to being a Communist. Miller did not agree with this and he shows this with what Proctor then does. When he is told that he must tell the village about being involved with witch-craft he refuses because he would rather die than blacken his name. He says that he has given him his soul, all he is asking is to keep his name, for you only have one in your lifetime. To conclude my essay, the play seems to be parallel to the era of McCarthyism in America during the 1950s. The situation in America is also the main Allegory in the play and a very effective one at that. People were put on trial all the time in America, much like in the Salem witch hunts. Both Salem and America were put into fear, paranoia and hysteria through the fear of the unknown, something that cannot be proven.