Many times it has been said that if people learn to form their mistakes they are doomed to repeat them. Such is the case throughout history. There are many different examples of this, but one example is the blatant similarities between the witch hunts in Salem Massachusetts and the era of McCarthyism.
When looking at either one of these events separately it is hard to believe that they could have actually happened, not only once but, twice. If one takes the time to look at both events simultaneously they are able to make many comparisons and enable numerous similarities to be seen. In The Crucible Miller creates an analogy of the witch hunts in Salem to the investigation of communists by Joseph McCarthy.
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One of the many similarities that can be clearly seen is the way in which each of the events, McCarthyism and the Salem witch hunts, had the ability to ruin a person’s life through a simple accusation. An example of this is very evident in The Crucible. The character of John Proctor is accused of partaking in the crime of witchcraft. When it comes time to confess, he knows that confessing will save his physical life, but at the same time, it will ruin his reputation. He said, “Why must it be written? Why must I say it?” (Miller 138, 140). Proctor knows that his confession will be posted onto the church wall for all to see. This is why he ends up tearing the confessions.
If it were seen by anyone in the community John Proctor’s reputation would be tarnished to the point where he could no longer show his face in Salem. He, therefore, chooses death over humiliation. The parallelism of this can be seen in the era of McCarthyism. If one was accused by Senator Joseph McCarthy of being a communist their lives were ruined. This process became known as blacklisting. President Truman once said, “Character assassination is their stock in trade.” (Lately 229). This shows how those accused of communism had their lives taken away from them. Whether it be an accusation of witchcraft or communism, both have led to the ruining of innocent people’s lives.
One of the many other similarities that can be seen between McCarthyism and The Crucible is the questions that were asked of those that were accused, and what they were required to do in order to save their reputation. In The Crucible those that were accused of witchcraft were often asked to recite the ten commandments. When John Proctor was being accused he was asked to recite the ten commandments by Reverend Hale, “Let you repeat them if you will. [Proctor:] The commandment?” (Miller 66).
Another occurrence of this also appears in The Crucible when Sarah Good was standing trial. She was asked by judge Hathorne to “Recite for us your commandments.” (Miller 58). Suspects of witchcraft were asked to recite their commandments in order to show the courts that their souls were still with God rather than sleeping with the Devil. A reflection of this can be seen when looking at the people that fell victim to the accusations of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Those that had been accused of being part of, or loyal to, the communist party were often required to recite a pledge that would state their loyalty to their own country. “Many employees, to keep their jobs, were required to take an oath of loyalty to the government” (World Book). To prove your innocence after an accusation of either witchcraft or communism you were oftentimes required to recite some sort of pledge. This pledge usually showed others that you were loyal to God and Country.
Another comparison between the witch hunts in Salem and McCarthy’s hunt for communists can also be constructed. During each of the events it is clearly seen that people came to the realization that all the hysteria came at a great cost; a cost that need not be paid. In The Crucible the person that first comes to this realization is Reverend Hale. “Why it is simple. I come to do the Devil’s work. I come to counsel Christians they should belie themselves” (Miller 131).
This displays the remorse and sympathy that Hale began to feel for the innocent people that had been imprisoned due to the false accusations that were made by the young girls. Throughout McCarthyism, many people felt this remorse and sympathy for those that were falsely accused, but many people were too afraid to voice their opinions and express the remorse that they felt. One of the few people that said what they felt about McCarthy and McCarthyism was President Truman.
He was quoted as saying ” Rise up and put a stop to this terrible business Take the lead against the hysteria that threatens the government from within.” (Lately 228).
This displays Truman’s call for help in disabling the anti-Communist Joseph McCarthy. Within both the Salem witch hunts and the anti-Communist movement there is a visual sign of sympathy that eventually led to the end of each respective event.
While looking throughout history it is possible to retrace events and see where society has repeated its mistakes. Two of these events that are different in some ways, but similar in more, are the witch hunts that took place in Salem during 1692 and the era of McCarthyism brought on by an anti-Communist movement led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Among the many similarities between the two events is the way in which it affected the lives of those who participated, the questioning that was brought upon the people that were accused, and the manner in which each event came to an end through the realization of how unnecessary it really was. The Crucible by Arthur Miller does an excellent job of creating the analogy between the two, very separate, events.
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