THE CRUCIBLE BY ARTHUR MILLER
“…children of a history which still sucks at the Devil’s teats.” (p. 38)
Is it blasphemous that I have not read The Crucible till now? I went through my entire high school experience without ever being in any sort of contact with this book (nor did we ever learn about the witch hunts that defined a large part of medieval and following into renaissance history). It was when I was on placement, that I recognised this fact – even my brother has read The Crucible in high school- and I made the decision to pick it up at my next mini book haul at my local QBD.
And I did.
As everyone will know by now, I have just finished placement, so I am ready to binge read all the books. Right off the bat, I began reading The Crucible in the direct aftermath of binge reading Rupi Kaur and R. H. Sin poetry, and then Anne Helen Petersen’s cultural commentary analysis, so it was quite a leap in genre. Miller must be one of the most articulate writers of the twentieth century, and he writes with such confidence and endurance. More than that, Miller writes with authority, illustrated through his depth of research, and his imagination to utilise historical figures, and historical events, to create a modern masterpiece of highlighting the hysteria of human reaction and the violence that follows.
Contextually, Miller wrote and published this book during the period where America was in the grip of McCarthyism in the 1950s, and when you read the text, it is quite easy to discover the similarities in social and political attitudes concerning what is defined as evil for the masses. McCarthyism, for those who don’t know, describes a period in American history where Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted a series of investigations and court hearings in an effort to curb and expose supposed infiltration of communist persons and communism ideology into various spheres of the United States government (Achter & Augustyn, 2016). It was characterised by indiscriminate allegations and a defamation of character that was essentially “unsubstantiated charges” (Achter & Augustyn, 2016). It was a mass phenomenon – we are talking about televised court hearings, witnesses who are really not a witness to anything, neighbourhood grievance taking place in the courtroom just with the label of ‘he is a communist’. This right here, is essentially the cornerstone of The Crucible, and Miller emphasises this quite strongly throughout the text.
Now to the actual play itself, The Crucible is a fascinating, page-turner of a plot. I felt very strong emotions, most of them not the good kind, in regards to some of the characters like why you got to be so mean, Abigail? Set in 1962, Salem, Massachusetts, it concentrates upon the figure Reverand Samuel Parris who discovered his daughter, Betty (Elizabeth) Parris, frolicking in the woods with Abigail, Mary Warren, Tituba, Ruth Putnam, Mercy Lewis, Susanna Walcott and around six more girls, from what I could construe (thirteen girls all up in the forest, I think). From there, you as the reader uncover a conspiracy, at its heart, speaks of a vengeance so bitter and so consuming, that ultimately the entire town of Salem reaps the repercussions.
Act One is the contextual chapter – where it introduces you to the figures of the story, the history of the town, its connotations with McCarthyism in 1950s America, and the hypocrisy of religion. However, saying that, the last page of Act One will leave you reeling. I literally wrote “what the f*ck” in pencil, on the last page of the chapter. My brain literally exploded with the amount of drama that happened in the span of one page.
Act Two, Three and Four all intend to showcase how the mass hysteria and paranoia surrounding the possibility of diabolism and witchcraft, can fundamentally ruin an entire town, and severe relationships between husband’s and wife’s, neighbours, friends and family. Miller does a grand service in portraying how easily people can turn on each other and blame their neighbours for their own hardships – but utilising the belief of the Devil, witchcraft and curses, to provide some sort of justification for arrest and/or persecution. Human beings are truly capable of such horrific doings, which Miller delves deep into and demonstrates wonderfully.
There is also a Buzzfeed Unsolved Supernatural video about The Haunting of the Salem Witch Trials, and I recommend you to watch it, as it gives a bit more historical depth to the historical event and goes through some of the theories as to why the Witch Trials actually happened.
Til next time! Happy reading y’all!
Achter, P & Augustyn, A. (2016). ‘McCarthyism’, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed on 13 December 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/McCarthyism