The Crucible, Arthur Miller, and Communism, part I

Examination of a Witch - Matteson
            The Crucible, written in 1953 by American playwright Arthur Miller, is aptly named for the characters that undergo a test or an ordeal.  It is set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, a notorious piece of early American history in which a village in Massachusetts becomes an environment for ignorance, suspicion, and paranoia. 

            It started with an unsettled atmosphere of the community among neighbors and deepened when three young girls began acting strangely.  The illiteracy of some thought it was the work of the Devil, and before long, many innocent people were accused of doing the Devil’s work.   In a year’s time, 200 people were tried and 20 were executed. 

            One of the immediate questions I have when I read a book is “Why does the author think the way he does?”  I want to know all about him.  

Arthur Miller
            Arthur Miller was born in New York, 1915, to affluent Polish Jewish immigrants.   One of his most significant life changing experiences was during the Great Depression because his family lost everything.  He became disillusioned, and like many, he questioned the efforts of capitalism and was open to other solutions to economic and social ills.  About this time, he realized he was not interested in religion.  In addition, he was subjected to anti-Semitism, and his opinions about Christians, especially Catholics, soured.

            At some point, Miller was exposed to Marxism and Communism and may have believed that both were more effective in dealing with social and economic challenges.  Miller was drawn to this, and for several years worked under a pseudo name, Matt Wayne, for the New Masses, an American Marxist publication for theater critics whose editors proclaimed Communist/Marxist loyalty.

Senator Joe McCarthy 
            In the early 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin began the interrogation of suspected Communist sympathizers or party members within the U.S. government, and eventually it included writers, actors, and others being called to give an account for their associations. 

            Soon after, Miller wrote The Crucible, “…motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who, despite their discomfort with the inquisitors' violations of civil rights, were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if they should protest too strongly.”  He was significantly affected by the trepidation of his colleagues should they be exposed for association with Communists or accused of harboring the “wrong ideas.” 

            Then, in 1956, Miller was called before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, which was formed in the 1930s to search out anti-American propaganda.  He denied membership with the American Communist Party and refused to provide names of anyone who may have been affiliated with the Party.  He was found guilty of contempt of Congress and was blacklisted.  Later, he was cleared of all charges.

Go to Part 2

sources: Arthur Miller: Why I Wrote The CrucibleThe Truth About McCarthyism;

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