Allegory in The Crucible

Allegory in The Crucible
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  • 0:03 A Modern-Day Witch Hunt
  • 0:20 The Red Scare
  • 1:44 The Salem Witch Trials
  • 2:41 Arthur Miller's Adaptation
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In the early 1950s, the Red Scare prompted Arthur Miller to write an allegory about his victimization from McCarthyism. Let's find out more about how fear led to rights violations in America.

A Modern-Day Witch Hunt

Accused of communism by a government committee led by Republican Senator Joseph P. McCarthy, playwright Arthur Miller fired back with The Crucible. This play is an allegory, or metaphor, that compares McCarthyism to the Salem witch trials.

The Red Scare

What do you consider the most frightening occurrence in America of this century? The September 11 attacks? The Ebola crisis? ISIS? How do politicians use their constituents' fear in order to gain support? After World War II, Americans were terrified of communism spreading throughout the world. Communism had taken over Russia, China, and North Korea. By the time the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, America was ripe for a war hero to step into leadership using the Red Scare as a political platform.

Promising to find communist sympathizers in America, Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin was elected after accusing many leading liberals of being communist traitors. Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which allowed the United States to require those accused of being dissidents to submit to government surveillance. Out of fear of reprisal, many people made false confessions and accused their friends and coworkers, but especially their enemies, of being communists.

Among those whose rights were violated were Hollywood legends like Lloyd Bridges, Harry Belafonte, Charlie Chaplin, and Lena Horne. In the end, none were found guilty of any crimes, although their careers suffered tremendously. McCarthyism came under heavy fire and eventually, Senator McCarthy fell from power. McCarthyism was compared to a witch hunt.

The Salem Witch Trials

After a recent visit to Salem, Arthur Miller returned home to find that his friend and collaborator, Elia Kazan, had provided names in his testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee. While he refused to cooperate with Congress by providing names of communists, Arthur Miller began writing his play that compares the hysteria that resulted in McCarthyism to the hysteria that resulted in the Salem witch trials. The Salem witch trials happened after a group of young ladies claimed to be possessed by Satan, mass hysteria broke out, and accusations of demonic activity led to the hanging of 19 women. Allegations were brought against 150 more men, women, and children. As with the McCarthy trials, fear resulted in false confessions, and old grudges resulted in fabrications of guilt. Eventually, the verdicts were overturned and the families of those who had been sent to the gallows were compensated, but that did not alleviate their grief or anger.

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