Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Arthur Miller, The Crucible (1953)

Inspired by the McCarthyist witch hunts against communists and communist sympathisers in the entertainment industry, as well as in the US State Department, military and elsewhere during the early 1950s, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) exposes this type of event as something less noble or less pragmatic than its perpetrators would claim it to be.  Rather than being a principled and pro-active act of defence to protect the realm from those who would seek to destroy it from within and harm its citizens, Miller implies that these events have underlying motives that are ignoble and tragic.  Witch hunts represent an infectious hysteria that can engulf communities and harm the innocent.  This infectious hysteria is fuelled by fear, ignorance, superstition, and an unflinching religious or ideological zealotry that casts suspicion on behaviour that is anything less than orthodox. 

Miller was fascinated, horrified and outraged by the witch hunts of Congressional and Senatorial committees searching for communists and communist sympathisers.  The atmosphere that fuelled these witch hunts was partly due to the demagoguery of Senator Joe McCarthy, a rather dishonest man prone to zealotry in his anti-communism and to making recklessly irresponsible allegations based on flimsy or no evidence. 

While the term ‘witch hunt’ was used metaphorically to describe the hunt for communists and communist sympathisers in the early 1950s, Miller was inspired to investigate an actual witch hunt that happened in Salem Massachusetts in 1692 to determine the essence or nature of this type of political tragedy that engulfed his own era and threatened his left-wing friends and associates in the entertainment industry. 

By writing a play about the Salem witch hunts, Miller could simultaneously comment on the nature of the earlier colonial witch hunt and the McCarthyism of his own times through an analogous comparison that highlighted the logical connections or similarities between the two events. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Crucible meaning, The Crucible themes, The Crucible analysis, The Crucible notes