Essay, Research Paper: Crucible Tale Of Trials

Literature: Arthur Miller

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A political cartoon shows a massive stone wall surrounding tall office buildings
which bear labels of "Department of Energy," "Defense
Department," "National Security Agency," "CIA," and
"FBI." Outside the wall, which is tagged "Government
Secrecy," a couple huddles in a roofless hut called "Personal
Non-Privacy." At the top of the cartoon is printed "Somehow I feel
this is not the way the founders planned it." Indeed, America's founding
fathers most likely did not plan for the United States to be governed in such a
manner that the people of its democracy would feel debunked. How, then, did the
United States since its founding in 1776 come to this feeling of exposure? Such
an expansive question does not possess only one answer, of course. Multiple
factors have caused United States citizens to feel the "personal
non-privacy" Washington Post cartoonist Herblock depicts. Throughout
American history the government has taken advantage of its ability to control;
and, often led by an incendiary, people have been brought forth and laid bare in
front of turbulent crowds. One of the first instances of this public inquest
occurred in 1692 during the Salem witch trials, and then the probing happened
again in the 1950s during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
trials. Hysteria gripped the small colony of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as
adolescent girls cried out that they saw Satan talking to some of the colonists.
These accused were then put on trial and made to either confess and name others
who were associating with the Devil, or the accused who did not confess to
working with the Devil were convicted, imprisoned and, not infrequently, killed.
Ultimately, the governor of Massachusetts intervened and put an end to the witch
trials, but not before fourteen women and five men hung as witches in Salem
("Witch Hunt Hysteria"). A similar excitement occurred again in the
1950s. Throughout the decade the United States faced the Red Scare, which
included a hunt for Communists led by Republican Wisconsin Senator Joseph R.
McCarthy. The long, bloody battles of World War II were finally in the past, but
a new war had begun (Chun). The Cold War between the United States and the
United Soviet Social Republic commenced because of land rivalry, then continued
with the United States claiming that the U.S.S. R. had communist groups working
in other countries with an plan for world control (Chun). President Truman
released his doctrine stating the United States' intentions of battling
communism throughout the world, and in 1947 he authorized a program to
investigate the loyalty of federal employees. Senator McCarthy then decided to
lead his own anti-communist group to ensure privacy in the State Department and
other offices. What began as moderate concern developed into frenzied excitement
as Congress restricted the civil rights of communists, and many suspected
communists were questioned and later blacklisted. During the Red Scare,
Constitutional rights were often compromised, and the government turned
secretive. Journalist Athan G. Theoharis said of the increasing governmental
concealment and censorship, "Recently released FBI files revealed a more
serious threat to political liberties-the freedom of authors to publish
'dangerous' thoughts-stemmed from the often covert, behind-the-scenes efforts of
conservative academics, members of Congress, and FBI and Justice Department
officials." The maintenance of personal privacy and public government began
fracturing before the United States government was even ratified, and continues
even today to cause debate and dissent. While there have been numerous episodes
of governmental concealment and public exposure, the Salem witch trials and the
HUAC trials are two of the more predominant. In the heat of the Red Scare and
rampant McCarthyism of 1953, playwright Arthur Miller-who in 1956 appeared
before the HUAC and was later held in contempt of Congress-published his play
The Crucible. A work centering on the effects of the Salem witch trials in 1692,
the play is often associated with the HUAC trials of the 1950s. While Miller
somewhat denies these correlations, he speaks of the lack of "plays that
reflect the soul-racking, deeply unseating questions that are being inwardly
asked on the street, in the living room, and on the subways" in a New York
Times article published just months before The Crucible appeared. In the same
article Miller says, "Is the knuckleheadedness of McCarthyism behind it
all? The Congressional investigations of political unorthodoxy? Yes." The
Crucible, whether meant to incite public support against McCarthyism or simply
portray the events of the Salem witch trials, indeed shows undertones of the
events surrounding Miller and other suspected communists in the 1950s. However,
the play does more than just reiterate the current events of the time it was
published. The political cartoon aforementioned was not published during the Red
Scare. It appeared in the November 29, 1999 edition of the University of South
Carolina's student newspaper, The Gamecock. The secrecy of government and its
removal of individual privacy spawned from events not only in Miller's 1950s,
but also from incidents that occurred three hundred years ago. Arthur Miller's
The Crucible reflects the development of a feeling of anti-privacy by depicting
the intense drama of the Salem Witch Trials in a context of the McCarthyism of
his own time. In The Crucible, Miller strains to focus on the desperate emotions
which engulfed the Salem townspeople and led to the eventual defeat of privacy
and as well as common sense. The author of "Hysteria and Ideology in The
Crucible," Richard Hayes, says, "It is imaginative terror Mr. Miller
is here invoking: not the solid gallows and the rope appall him, but the closed
and suffocating world of the fanatic, against which the intellect and will are
powerless." Miller's play depicts the young Abigail Williams as agitator
and the trials and decisions of those accused of witchcraft. They were each left
with bleak choices-life or death. To live would mean they had to falsely confess
to being in league with the Devil, and then name others who did the same. If
those accused did not admit guilt, they were hung. Miller emphasizes the moral
decisions of one man, John Proctor, who has himself been accused of witchcraft.
Proctor is divided by ambiguity, which Hayes describes as "the dilemma of a
man, fallible, subject to pride, but forced to choose between the 'negative
good' of truth and morality, and the 'positive good' of human life under any
dispensation." In the end Proctor's decision costs him his life, and all
for the price of his good name. One of The Crucible's most intense scenes occurs
because of Proctor's devotion to keep his name unblemished. In Act Four, the
anguished man refuses to sign a confession that would save his life. Proctor,
with a cry of his whole soul, says he cannot sign the confession "because
it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign
myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!
How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my
name!" Proctor hangs that very day. It was in this way also that numerous
colonists accused of witchcraft make their own decisions of action. Some
confess, others do not. Regardless of the various decisions, though, the
government powered by theocracy had undermined both the people's rights and
their privacy. One civilization taken by madness is harrowing enough, but the
real-life drama that submerged Salem Village and left its people in a state of
hysteria was unfortunately to be repeated in almost parallel form. Indeed, the
similarities between the HUAC trials in the 1950s and the Salem witch trials as
portrayed in The Crucible are horrifying. Both trials were initiated by
individuals who called out the guiltiness of others in order to somehow better
their own positions in society. Abigail Williams and her friends went against
the conformity of their Puritan religion, which allowed them a feeling of
incredible power. In the same fashion also, Senator McCarthy gained unexpected
authority. On February 9, 1950 he dropped a bombshell of a speech at the
Republican Women's Club of West Virginia where he suddenly announced that he had
a list of 205 communists in the State Department (Schultz). While no press
members actually saw the list, McCarthy's shocking proclamation made national
news and commenced the Senator's powerful hunt for communists (CNN Interactive).
While both Abigail and McCarthy accused people of horrendous crimes, neither of
them ever proved the guilt of those indicted. When those accused of being
witches or communists went to trial, they were questioned in an atmosphere that
would put anyone on edge. The courtroom of Salem was a place few desired to
occupy, especially with the dark eyes of Assists John Hathorne and Jonathan
Curren glaring at them. Once on the stand, those accused were pounded with
questions, many of them repeated until the person testifying would change his
answer to please the court and get himself out of the limelight. For example,
the actual testimony of Sarah Good, which is very similarly portrayed in The
Crucible, transpired as follows: Hathorne: What evil spirit have you familiarity
with? Good: None. Hathorne: Have you made no contract with the devil? Good:
(Good answered no.) Hathorne: Why doe you hurt these children? Good: I doe not
hurt them. I scorn it. Hathorne: Who doe you imploy then to doe it? Good: No
creature but I am falsely accused. Hathorne: (repeated variously) Have you made
no contract with the devil then? Why doe you hurt these children? Who doe you
imply to do it? The questions continued, Hathorne becoming more animated and
Sarah Good becoming more despairing. This method of questioning was used again
in the HUAC trials. Each person called to testify was asked "Are you now or
have you ever been a member of the Communist party?" In both the Salem
witch trials and the HUAC trials, those on the stand were virtually harassed
until they gave the answer their tormentor desired. The trials were not alike
only in the line of questioning; they also both involved "spectral"
evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. Abigail and her adolescent
girlfriends called out in opposition of those against whom they held grudges or
simply did not like. Some of these people were hung because they would not admit
to appearing in spirit or trafficking with the Devil. While the spectral
evidence in the HUAC trials was slightly subordinately otherworldly, it was
nonetheless an indication of guilt through the same sort of "crying
out." For example, Hollywood singer-actor Martin Dies cried out against
others, causing the court to conclude "the accused might have been engaged
in the silent diffusion of subversive doctrine." Thus spectral shapes were
perceived to be reality in the HUAC trials as well (Marshall 62). Perhaps the
most common characteristic of the two trials is the problem onlookers found. The
public did not know whether Abigail or McCarthy were telling the truth, or if
others were telling the truth about them (Rovere). Throughout The Crucible,
characters were constantly questioning Abigail's honesty. However, only a few
were brave enough to speak out against her, including Mary Warren, who changed
her dissension after Abigail turned against her, and John Proctor, who
eventually hung. There was no glory to be found in going against the
preponderance in either trial. During the Red Scare "it was no longer
possible to challenge the basic assumptions of American policy without incurring
suspicions of disloyalty," says author Ellen Schrecker. So it was that both
of the trials were traps-those who did not outwardly support Abigail or McCarthy
could never be secure in their own status. The Salem witch trials and HUAC
trials both resulted in a more secretive government and caused increasing
exposure of citizens. Because of the controlling agents, Abigail and McCarthy,
anyone was at risk, and so no one fought back. During the Salem witch hunt,
nineteen people died-and for what reason? Simply because some of those accused
told the truth, they faced a noose. Three hundred years later, in late 1950, a
group of University of Chicago graduate students sent around a petition for a
coffee vending machine to be placed outside of the Physics Department for
convenience. Their colleagues refused to sign the document, however, because
they did not want to be associated with the radical students who had already
signed. "This incident, and it is not unique, exemplifies the kind of
timidity that came to be seen, even at the time, as the most damaging
consequence of the anti-communist furor," Shrecker says. The same confusion
that overwhelmed people in seventeenth-century Salem attacked people during the
HUAC trials. Without doubt the loyalty programs, congressional hearings, and
numerous blacklists affected the lives of the people caught up in them (Shrecker
92). As a result of these anti-Communist trials, people increasingly began to
face non-privacy issues. The drama and delirium that took over Hollywood and the
general public during Arthur Miller's playwriting in the 1950s surely laid
anti-McCarthyism tones in The Crucible. Indeed, the development of today's
surreptitious government and its need to keep citizens open for inspection is a
repercussion of both the Salem witch trials and the more recent hunt for
communists infesting the American nation. "Somehow I feel this is not the
way the founders planned it," says Herblock's cartoon. The Crucible shows
life before "the founders planned it" in a context of Miller's
perception of McCarthyism, and the work also resonates the United States'
increasing feeling of non-privacy that citizens feel even today.

Chun, Debbie. "The Red Scare and the Salem Witch Hunt." Electric
Soup. 11 Nov. 1999
. Hayes, Richard. "Hysteria and Ideology in The Crucible." Commonweal
57. Feb. 1953. 11 Nov. 1999
. Herblock. Cartoon. The Gamecock. 29 Nov. 1999: 6. Marshall, George.
"Salem, 1950." Masses & Mainstream Jul. 1950: 62-63. McCarthy's
State Department Speech. CNN Interactive. 9 Nov. 1999
. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Viking, 1953. ---. "Many Writers:
Few Plays." New York Times 10 Aug. 1952: B1. Rovere, Richard H. Senator Joe
McCarthy. 1996. 9 Nov. 1999
. Schrecker, Ellen. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents.
Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1994. Schultz, Stanley K. Lecture 23-The Coils of
Cold War. Ed. Shane Hamilton. 9 Nov. 1999
. Theoharis, Athan G. "Authors, Publishers, and the McCarthy Era: A Hidden
History." USA Today. Sept. 1993: 90-92. Witch Hunt Hysteria. 11 Nov. 1999
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