Why The Crucible is One of the Best Pieces of Literature I've Read

Spotlight - Why The Crucible


Written by Journalism Staff Reporter Mia Rooney

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was written during a time McCarthyism terrorized America. Since the Cold War was causing tension in the United States, anyone could’ve been accused of being a communist, and accusations like this were taken VERY seriously. You could lose your job and reputation if you were accused. Most of the time, there wasn’t any evidence to prove you were or were not a communist, and anything you’d have ever said could be held against you, taking away citizens’ freedom of speech. The Red Scare was used as a weapon in the political world of America. If a politician didn’t like someone, they could simply accuse them of being a communist. When accused of being a communist, you could be given the choice to rat out other people who were communists to elude punishment. Accusations flooded the political world, and Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terror set fear in everyone’s eyes. So how did author Arthur Miller, amid all this chaos, create, in my opinion, one of the greatest pieces of literature to exist?  

Arthur Miller was accused of being a communist. During this period, many Hollywood actors and writers had been blacklisted because of left-sided beliefs, which could lead them to being accused of being a communist. At his trial, Arthur Miller refused to give names of fellow actors who could have been communists, and he was convicted. However, this sentence was later revoked, and he didn’t serve time. When researching the Salem Witch Trials, he was inspired to write a screenplay comparing McCarthyism to the 1600s witch trials.  

Each event that takes place in this screenplay is positioned perfectly. At the beginning of the play, we are led to uncover the prior night some of the Salem girls were dancing in the woods and casting “spells” with the minister's slave Tituba. These plants are the seeds for what caused the idea of witchcraft in Salem. We are also led to find out the minister’s (Reverend Parris) niece, Abigail, had an affair with John Proctor, who is married, and that some of the townspeople are arguing over land and financial matters. This doesn’t seem important in the beginning, but Miller was setting up why the townspeople might accuse others of being witches. This was similar to the Red Scare where you accused someone you disliked of being communist for political gain. Abigail will accuse Proctor’s wife of being a witch so she can be with him, and other townsfolk will accuse others of being witches to acquire the land they want.  

Soon, all the town’s girls are accusing and having convicted people left and right of practicing witchcraft. When Proctor’s wife is sent to prison, he knows he must expose Abigail for her lies and save his wife. Using his girl servant Mary to testify, he goes to the courts with proof of corruption and exposes his affair with Abigail. Hearing this evidence, they bring in his wife to confirm that this information is true (his wife knew about the affair). Proctor’s wife, known to be an honest woman, lies and says Proctor did not have the affair to save his reputation. Then his servant Mary accuses Proctor of being a witch, leading him to be convicted and sentenced to hanging. Just like McCarthyism, the trials didn’t want evidence, they wanted names. They were willing to accuse anyone if they weren’t convicted. Elizabeth was different, willing to sacrifice herself to protect her husband's image and her refusal to rat out anyone else.  

At the end of the play, Proctor is given the choice to save himself by admitting to witchcraft. At first, he reluctantly agrees, but after hearing he must expose others of witchcraft, he refuses, and is hanged. The ending of The Crucible is grim, but it's perfect. Proctor is a flawed character, but compared to other townsfolk in this play, he’s at a higher moral level than everyone there. He willingly chose to die to maintain what he saw as right: the truth. He refused to lie or convict others to save his skin. Similarly, to Arthur Miller, he wanted to show everyone during this time that McCarthyism was corrupt and ridiculous. The Crucible was a way to mock the political world's fooleries.  Comparing it to something as ludicrous as the Salem Witch Trials could open the eyes of those around him to seek the truth and stand up for what is right. The Crucible is simply one of the best works of literature I've read. Everything done in this book was done perfectly. The ending and message are both realistic and inspiring. It sends us a warning that we need to prevent history from repeating itself and stop any future “witch hunts” that may happen. I recommend everyone either read the screenplay or watch the movie, because this piece of fiction is truly un chef-d'œuvre. 

Fun Fact: Arthur Miller was one of Marilyn Monroe’s husbands!

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

The Crucible National Theatre Poster