Arthur Miller - Sample Essay

To what Extent is ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller an attack on the American Society of the 1950’s? Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during the McCarthy period when Americans were accusing each other of Pro-Communist beliefs. His purpose through writing ‘The Crucible’ was to express his own views on McCarthyism, and he does this through the main plot, the 17th century Salem witch hunt, which is an allegory of the trials during the McCarthy period. At the end of the play, the two most noble and honest characters are killed, and this is an exact replica of what was happening in America during the 1950s.

The setting of Act 3 can be understood as an attack on the severity of the authorities in Salem and 1950’s America. The language used in the opening stage directions is negative and disheartening, “solemn” creating an unwanted feeling throughout the audience, almost as if they are not meant to be there; ‘even forbidding’. We are told that ‘sunlight (is) pouring through two high windows’ but is being swallowed by the darkness beneath. In the play, these stage directions can be understood as the light being Giles and John Proctor, who tell the truth, but Danforth, the darkness beneath, is hiding the truth.

This is an attack on McCarthy and the 1950’s American society, the two windows representing the innocent people of America, who refused to name names, and the darkness, Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Anti-communist supporters, the people who refused to put up with citizens who went against his views. The light is also shown to be outside, and the darkness inside, which represents the ignorance of the American people, as the truth is shown to be distant, and the lies near. The extent to which the courtroom scene shows innocent characters dying but still telling the truth, is an attack on the injustice of Salem as well as of 1950’s America.

Because of the fact that Giles is threatening Danforth’s position, he is ordered to be taken away, ‘Remove that man’. Giles is ‘half carried’ away, lowering the standards of those who speak the truth. He is being bullied and the harshness of his treatment is unnecessary, degrading McCarthy and his actions towards the truthful. Danforth’s overbearing personality is a constant reminder that McCarthy was an unjust and pathetic character, who’s only power was his authority. Miller consistently characterises the court officials as weak and overbearing which emphasises the injustice of Salem and McCarthy.

Danforth, in particular, repeatedly humiliates other characters through the language he uses towards them, in the play ‘your old age alone’. He abuses his position, repeatedly reminding the court about the fact that he has ‘seventy-two condemned. ‘ This shows Danforth, and McCarthy, to be weak, as their only power is the fear they put into peoples’ hearts, not their education or their understanding of the case. Danforth is repeatedly shown to be weak throughout this act, as well as in the play on a whole, degrading him and McCarthy.

Danforth, on a whole, is a very unbelievable character, as is Rebecca Nurse. It is hard to believe that one person can be nothing but evil, and the nothing but good. It is for this reason that I believe that the character development through The Crucible is not as good as it could have been. There are characters, like John Proctor, who are fully rounded, with good and bad aspects to them, as every human being has, however, showing Danforth to be nothing but evil and unjust, is very two-dimensional and lacks subtlety.

At first meeting, we think that Hale is McCarthy, as he appears to be very self-confident and arrogant;” they are weighted with authority”. However, as we read further into the play, Hale seems to change, and realises the stupidity and injustice in the system. By changing the thoughts of one of the most respected persons in Salem, Miller is showing weaknesses in Danforth, and therefore in McCarthy. Here, Miller is also representing the fact that McCarthyism would not last for very long, and that someday people would realise that they are in the wrong, and start to protect those who tell the truth.