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Copy of The Crucible as Allegory: McCarthyism and the 1950s

Created by Kris James for Honors English 11 Northwood High School
by

Kris James

on 5 August 2013

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Transcript of Copy of The Crucible as Allegory: McCarthyism and the 1950s

Early in 1692 in Salem Village, a collection of girls fell ill, victims of hallucinations and seizures.
Puritan New England was extremely religious and the unexplainable illnesses were quickly attributed to the devil or his cohorts.
It wasn't long before the villagers began accusing other villagers of witchcraft.
Old grudges and a religiously-influenced judicial system overtook any attempt at rational explanations.
Within weeks, dozens were in jail on charges of witchcraft.
By late August 1692, 19 people (and 2 dogs) had been convicted and hanged for witchcraft.
The Salem Witch Trials
Salem Witch Trials
Become Allegory
More than 250 years later, Arthur Miller wrote "The Crucible."
At the time of its first performance, nearly everyone understood the play to be a direct attack on McCarthyism.
Why?
What was it about the Salem witch trials that ran parallel to the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee and its leader Joseph McCarthy?
An understanding of the era is important if we are to grasp what many agree Miller was trying to express.
1930-1945:
The Great Depression
Politicians and common citizens alike were motivated by a desire to end the Great Depression.
In 1932, the unemployment rate was nearly 25 percent, leaving many feeling desperate.
Concerned citizens searched for relief from hunger and unemployment in many places.
Communism was an attractive option for some. Why?
The Communist Party championed the rights of labor and farmers.
It also worked to provide food for the unemployed.
The Communists were also vehement opponents of Hitler and the rise of Fascism in Europe.
For these reasons, over 50,000 people joined the Communist Party in America.
1945 marked the end of World War II, a celebration, but...
...new fear also arose because the USSR made many Eastern European countries into satellites, extending Soviet influence.
In addition, China fell to Communism.
1946-1950:
A Growing Fear of Communism

In 1948, Alger Hiss was accused of spying for the USSR.
Then in 1949, the USSR successfully exploded an atomic bomb.
Fear was accelerated by the Korean Conflict, a fight over Comunist expansion in Korea.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for the USSR.
They were eventually executed for their crimes.
Although the House Un-American Activities Committee was organized in 1937 to ferret out political enemies, particularly Nazis...
...by 1947, HUAC shifted its attention from identifying Nazis to looking for Communists.
HUAC paid particular attention to people involved in the motion picture industry.
The Hollywood Ten were the first targets.
They refused to answer questions or name names of Communist sympathizers.
1950-1954: McCarthyism
The country's fear of Communism made it ripe for manipulation.
Joseph McCarthy was the man who supervised the harvest.
In February 1950, Senator McCarthy claimed to have evidence that 205 Communist sympathizers were employed by the State Department and that the State Department knew about them.
McCarthy explained that Communism had risen because "subversives" had infiltrated U.S. government at all levels and were undermining the nation by disclosing secret information.
Fear spread and the number of HUAC hearings increased.
People called before the committee were expected to swear loyalty to the nation and name names of anyone with past or present Communist learnings.
McCarthy used slander and innuendo to bully witnesses. He challenged their patiotism and called them names without any evidence to support his accusations.
McCarthy never identified a single Communist in government but did ride the media attention to reelection to the Senate.
McCarthy was also instrumental in passing the McCarran Act, despite President Truman's objections.
It required the registration of Communist organizations with the US Attorney General and established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate persons suspected of engaging in subversive activities or promoting the establishment of a “totalitarian dictatorship.”

It required the registration of Communist organizations with the US Attorney General and established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate persons suspected of engaging in subversive activities or promoting the establishment of a “totalitarian dictatorship.”

McCarthy accused the Army of harboring Communists.
Hearings to investigate his charges were televised for the first time, allowing the public to see McCarthy's bullying techniques.
Joseph N. Welch, special counsel to the Army, challenged McCarthy as a bully for accusing innocent people without adequate evidence.
1954: McCarthy's Fall
Edward R. Murrow also challenged McCarthy on TV on his program "See It Now." Once again, McCarthy made a bad impression.
By fall, McCarthy had lost popularity and was censured by Congress.
He was dead of alcoholism three years later.
1954-mid1960s:
The Legacy Continues

J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, continued to investigate and keep secret files on "subversives."
“Due to Hoover’s insistence upon keeping the identity of his informers secret, most subjects of loyalty-security reviews were not allowed to cross examine or know the identities of those who accused them. In many cases, they were not even told what they were accused of.”
Loyalty oaths continued, and hundreds were imprisoned.
Ten to 15,000 people lost their jobs, including over 300 in the motion picture industry.
The Witch Trials Allegory
Revisited

In writing "The Crucible," Arthur Miller was reflecting his experience with McCarthyism.
However, the Salem witch trials could also be seen as an allegory for other events in which individuals became scapegoats for a community's fear and distrust.
Other "Witch Hunts"
What are the parallels between "The Crucible" and...
...the Holocaust?
...Apartheid?
...the Japanese internments camps?
...the treatment of Arab-Americans since 9/11?
...the Scottsboro Boys?
...the "child molesters" who worked at the McMartin Preschool?
Have we learned
our lesson?
Does Miller's play still ring true?
Do we still
stigmatize
those who
are different?
Do we still give up rational thought when faced by a majority with a view different from our own?
What do you think?
Full transcript