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THE CRUCIBLE. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CONTEXT OF THIS FAMOUS PLAY. Firstly, what is a crucible?. Crucible: a vessel or melting pot A test of the most decisive kind, a severe trial. So who is this Arthur Miller bloke?. Introducing Arthur Miller.

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the crucible



firstly what is a crucible
Firstly, what is a crucible?


  • a vessel or melting pot
  • A test of the most decisive kind, a severe trial
introducing arthur miller
Introducing Arthur Miller
  • One of America’s most renowned playwrights
  • He was born in New York, and grew up in Brooklyn
  • As a child, he played football and baseball and read adventure stories – wasn’t particularly literary
arthur miller cont
Arthur Miller cont.
  • Worked in an auto parts factory so he could afford to go to college, where he decided to become a journalist
  • Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1938, went back to New York and started writing for radio.
  • Married his first of three wives, Mary, in 1940
arthur miller cont1
Arthur Miller cont.
  • His first play on Broadway was The Man Who Had All The Luck – it ran for only four performances
  • He published a novel in 1945 – Focus.
  • In 1947, his next play All My Sons was much more successful
  • In 1949, Death of a Salesman premiered, and this brought him worldwide fame
arthur miller cont2
Arthur Miller cont.
  • In the 1950s, he was caught up in the furore surrounding Communist influence in all facets of American life, including the arts (MORE ON THIS LATER)
  • His experiences during this time inspired The Crucible
  • It wasn’t initially a success on Broadway, but has since become his most produced play.
arthur miller cont3
Arthur Miller cont.
  • In 1956 he married actress Marilyn Monroe. They split in 1961.
  • He wrote some screenplays, but went back to writing for theatre in the mid 1960s.
  • He married again in 1962.
  • He was still writing in the 1990s, including the screenplay for the film adaptation of The Crucible
  • Miller died in 2005
the puritans
The Puritans

Okay, now you know a little bit about the author…

So what’s the deal with these Puritans?

  • First, some background…


  • A time of great change. Why?


  • The plague swept through Europe, killing up to 40% of the population
  • Lots of wars
  • The authority of Kings and the Church was being questioned
  • New ideas eg. the earth isn’t flat!
  • New inventions ie. the printing press

All of this leads to lots of instability. So…

Let’s kill witches!

  • In Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France and other parts of Europe, hundreds of “witches” were killed.
  • In some instances, people were actually tied up and thrown into water. If you floated, you were guilty (because Satan was helping you), and you would be killed. If you drowned, you were innocent.
the puritans1
The Puritans

So back to the Puritans…

  • They were a religious group in England who had very strict rules about how people should behave. Eventually, the English people got sick of them, and so many Puritans fled to the US to escape religious persecution.
  • They settled in North America in 1620.
the puritans2
The Puritans
  • They firmly believed:
    • in the Bible; they felt that it revealed the Lord’s word, and only through it does he directly communicate to people.
    • They believed man could do nothing to be saved – salvation was a gift that could only come from God
    • Your soul was predestined from birth – you were either going to Heaven or Hell. They constantly searched for hints as to what path they were on.
the puritans3
The Puritans
  • Women were considered subservient to men, and women were more likely to consort with the Devil than men
  • The church was the centre of society
  • They also wanted to purge evil from the world. One way to do this  confront and eradicate witchcraft.
the witch trials
This is one of the most infamous events in American history.

150 people were imprisoned, and 20 people died between 1692 and 1693.

The Witch Trials
the witch trials1
The Witch Trials
  • 2 kids, Elizabeth (Betty) Parris, and Abigail Williams, had ‘fits’ – a doctor suggested witchcraft as a cause
  • The girls, under pressure from various members of the community, accused 3 women of witchcraft. Other accusations followed, people were arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death.
the witch trials2
The Witch Trials
  • Evidence was generally just testimony from those afflicted – basically, one person’s word against another’s.
  • Almost all those who died were hung, although Giles Corey, an elderly farmer, was pressed to death – large stones were placed on his body until he died.
the witch trials3
The Witch Trials
  • The last trial took place in 1693. There’s no one reason why it ended.
  • Today, in Salem, there are numerous museums and memorials dedicated to providing information about this unique period in history
  • Check out
the witch trials4
The Witch Trials
  • Numerous reasons have been offered since to explain the original symptoms the girls showed, including hysteria, hallucinations brought on by food poisoning, and various diseases.
  • There is also no one reason as to why things got so out of control – desire for land and power, strict religious beliefs, and a tightly controlled society are just some of the explanations.
why do we care
Why do we care….


Why did Arthur Miller, almost 400 years after these events took place, decide to write about them?

why did he write the play
Why did he write the play?

Basically, he saw a strong parallel between the witch-hunts in Salem, and what was happening in America in the 1950s. However, this time, the hunt was for Communists.

the cold war
The Cold War
  • Back in the 20th century, there were two world superpowers: the USA and the USSR.
  • In 1946, the USSR acquired nuclear weapons. This was effectively the start of the Cold War between the USSR and the USA – an undeclared war not of bloody fighting but of threat and counter threat.
capitalism v communism
Capitalism v Communism
  • America represented the ideology of capitalism, while the USSR represented communism.
  • In 1949, China became a Communist country, and American paranoia about Communism reached crisis proportions.
fear of communism
Fear of Communism
  • In America, and in Australia to a lesser extent, the common perception was that the Communists were “an empire of Evil”.
  • The struggle was for control of trouble spots. On one side were the good (the US, with it’s freedom loving, democratic traditions), while on the other, was the bad (the USSR and China, with repressive police states, human rights abuses and lack of freedom). This is how it was portrayed in the Western media.
  • Into an American society that was extremely paranoid that the Communists were going to take over the world, a Senator named Joseph McCarthy rose to prominence.
  • He made a speech in February 1950, where he claimed to have a list of more than 200 Communist party members who were working for the US State Department.
  • The attempt to ‘weed out’ Communists had been going on before McCarthy, and continued after him, but he became symbolic of the era, and his involvement coined the term “McCarthyism”.
the hunt for communists
The Hunt for Communists
  • This whole period of United States history was characterised by suspicion, paranoia and hysteria. People were encouraged to turn on each other, and to name suspected Communists.
the house un american activities committee huac
The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
  • This committee was formed in 1938, and its focus soon shifted to identifying Communists.
  • Its most notorious investigation was into the Hollywood film industry. Actors, writers, and directors were called to testify about the Communist beliefs of themselves and their colleagues.
the hollywood ten
The Hollywood Ten
  • Initially, ten guys refused to answer under the First Amendment. They were sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress.
  • All of this investigation and suspicion led to ‘blacklists’. No-one every really admitted that these lists existed, but what it meant was that hundreds of people working in the entertainment industry were denied work because they had been accused of being Communists, or refused to cooperate with inquiries.
who was blacklisted
Who was blacklisted?

Some of the people blacklisted include:

  • Charlie Chaplin (actor)
  • Orson Welles (actor, author, director) (Citizen Kane)
  • Leonard Bernstein (composer) (West Side Story)


  • Arthur Miller
  • Hundreds were imprisoned
  • Tens of thousands lost their jobs
  • Some of these people did have a past or present connection with the Communist Party, however, may not have meant any harm to the United States at all.
  • For most, the evidence linking them to the Communist Party was dubious at best.
the crucible1
The Crucible
  • Arthur Miller was in the middle of all of this hysteria about Communism.
  • He saw clear parallels between that and the hysteria over witches that had existed 4 centuries earlier.
  • He wrote The Crucible as an allegoryto illustrate how ridiculous the paranoia about Communism in the US was.
  • It’s really two stories in one:

One: a dramatisation of the real-life events of Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1690s


Two: a comment on how ludicrous the hunt for Communists in the 1950s was.

Through this play, he makes clear comments about American government and society.