The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller that was written and published in 1953. It is loosely based on facts about Salem witch trials that happened in 1692 and 1693. On the other hand, the play is believed to be an allegory on McCarthyism, the practice of accusing people without having enough evidence. Thus, both have striking resemblance, and the author wanted to show how helpless and doomed a person might be when unfairly accused by those in power (e.g. court, state, police).
Salem witch trial and allegory on McCarthyism are the two levels of this play’s interpretation (the explicit and the implicit ones). Those, who are not familiar with the context in which the play was written, will more likely not understand the implicit meaning of it. The play is a playwright’s reaction to events that took place during the McCarthy era in the first half of 1950s. A lot of Americans were accused of being communists, spreading communist propaganda, or being soviet spies. Very often such accusations were false, however it soon developed into mass hysteria, with many people becoming victims of such injustice. Arthur Miller saw similarities between McCarthyism and Salem witch trials which resulted in writing this play.
Talking about the main characters, we can point out an antagonist and a protagonist: Abigail Williams and John Proctor respectively. It all started when they both had an affair while Abigail worked as a maid for the Proctor house. In fact, it was Abigail who accused a slave woman of being a witch trying to explain reverend Parris’ daughter illness. Soon she realizes that such accusations can be used as a means of manipulating people, for example accusing Proctor’s wife of witchcraft is a way to be with Proctor again. Other people join Abigail even if they know that accusations are false, but they realize that it is better to accuse someone rather than be accused themselves. This mass hysteria is supported by people who have authority: judge John Hathorne and deputy governor Thomas Danforth. The author draws a parallel between the authority in Salem and the U.S. Government in the 50s, who were both too blind and ignorant to see that all the accusations were made by people because their own self-interest, or just because of foolishness. The protagonist, John Proctor, trying to save his wife was also accused of witchcraft by Abigail. He has to make a choice: understanding all the absurd of the trial, he may confess to being guilty and save his life, but be condemned by all the citizens of Salem for the rest of his life, or to deny all the accusations and be sentenced to death, but having a clear conscience. So, he chooses the latter.
Arthur Miller’s play shows us how cruel and foolish people may be, no matter whether it is the 17th century, or the 20th. With all the technological and scientific progress that happened during this period, he doubts that people have become any wiser. He also depicts authority as a cruel machine that is only capable of imposing punishment to people without even knowing whether they are guilty or not.
Tips on Writing an Analytical Essay on a Work of Fiction:
- When analyzing a work of fiction, try focusing on a specific character, concept or a story line.
- Make an attention catching claim in your thesis statement. For that, two sentences would be enough.
- Use examples from the work of fiction you are analyzing to support the claim you have made. That is also a good indicator that you have read the work carefully enough to notice the details.
- An outline always apply. Whatever kind of essay you are writing, an outline will help you to keep your thoughts organized.
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