The Crucible highlights the tendency in America to witch-hunt. Miller's play came at an appropriate time in history. Once again, the court system was failing to safeguard our system of justice by allowing the HUAC to proceed in its witch-hunt for communists. The accused in Salem were essentially condemned before they went to trial. Those who decided to live by admitting to witchcraft were ostracized by society much as those thought to be communists were blacklisted. People as a group can get caught up in the moment and act in an irrational manner. The events in Salem are a solemn reminder of what can happen when we allow ourselves to be carried along with the crowd. We must think hard about how we can preserve our system of justice so as not to risk repeating such an awful moment in history.
In The Crucible, neighbors suddenly turn on each other and accuse people they’ve known for years of practicing witchcraft and devil-worship. The town of Salem falls into mass hysteria, a condition in which community-wide fear overwhelms logic and individual thought and ends up justifying its own existence. Fear feeds fear: in order to explain to itself why so many people are afraid, the community begins to believe that the fear must have legitimate origins.
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a dramatic re-enactment of the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in the late 1600’s. Although the play centers on real events, it is not actual “history” – Miller changed the ages of characters and consolidated several historical figures so that there are fewer actors on stage. It was first produced on stage in January 1953. Arthur Miller intended to use the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory about the anti-communist Red Scare and the congressional hearings of Sen. Joseph McCarthy going on in the United States at the time. For more information about the Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthy trials, please see Shmoop History on "Colonial New England" and "Cold War: McCarthyism & Red Scare."
The justices reminded Mary Lacey, Jr., that if she desired to be saved by Christ she would confess. “She then proceeded,” the court reporter noted. She was more profligate with details than her mother or her grandmother had been. It was a hallmark of Salem that the younger generation—Cotton Mather included—could be relied on for the most luxuriant reports. It appeared easier to describe satanic escapades when an adolescent had already been told, or believed, that she cavorted with the Devil. The record allows a fleeting glimpse of Mary’s sense of herself. “I have been a disobed—” she began, after which the page is torn.
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The quiet Salem community was living happily in their own sleepy world, until several local girls fell ill and their sickness was blamed on witchcraft....
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The court met again early in August, when three men were convicted: George Jacobs, an elderly farmer; John Willard, a much younger one; and John Proctor, the first village man to have been accused. In Cotton Mather’s first Thursday sermon that month, he addressed the trial that all of Massachusetts awaited. Tipping his hand a little, he called once for compassion for the accused, twice for pity for the justices. They were, after all, up against the greatest sophist in existence. They labored to restore the innocent while excising the diabolical; it made for a hazardous operation. The following day, Mather wrote excitedly to an uncle in Plymouth. God was working in miracles. No sooner had they executed five witches—all impudently protesting their innocence—than God had dispatched the Andover witches, who offered “a most ample, surprising, amazing confession of all their villainies,” acknowledging the five executed that had been their confederates, and naming many more. They identified their ringleader, who came to trial that afternoon. “A vast concourse of people,” noted Mather, made their way to Salem for the event, his father among them.
SALEM FALLS by Jodi Picoult | Kirkus Reviews
What exactly was a witch? Any seventeenth-century New Englander could have told you. As workers of magic, witches and wizards extend as far back as recorded history. The witch as Salem conceived her materialized in the thirteenth century, when sorcery and heresy moved closer together. She came into her own with the Inquisition, as a popular myth yielded to a popular madness. The western Alps introduced her to lurid orgies. Germany launched her into the air. As the magician molted into the witch, she also became predominately female, inherently more wicked and more susceptible to satanic overtures. An influential fifteenth-century text compressed a shelf of classical sources to make its point: “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.” As is often the case with questions of women and power, elucidations here verged on the paranormal. Though weak willed, women could emerge as dangerously, insatiably commanding.