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Crucible Vs McCarthyism- A Comparison Study

A comparision into the role of hysteria in the era of McCarthyism and Miller's The Crucible

Billy Watson

on 22 March 2014

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Transcript of Crucible Vs McCarthyism- A Comparison Study

A Comparison Study
IB English IOP by Billy Watson
The Era of McCarthyism
Arthur Miller's The Crucible
The Comparison
In the end, hysteria can thrive only because people benefit from it. It suspends the rules of daily life and allows the acting out of every dark desire and hateful urge under the cover of righteousness.
This bizarre pursuit of "justice" displays the way that many of the inhabitants approach the hysteria as an opportunity to gain ultimate satisfaction for simmering resentments by convincing themselves that their rivals are beyond wrong, that they are in league with the greatest level of evil.
Miller's The Crucible can be seen as symbolic of the paranoia about communism that pervaded America in the 1950s.
The House Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthy, and the FBI were all involved in rooting out suspected communists, similar to the actions of the Salem Court under the leadership of Judge Danforth.
Further, as with alleged witches of Salem, suspected Communists were encouraged to confess their crimes and to "name names," identifying others sympathetic to their radical cause.
Both atmospheres contained narrow-minded officials, excessive zeal, and disregard for the individuals involved that characterized the government's effort to stamp out a perceived social ill.
To examine the correlation between the role of hysteria that occurs throughout Miller's The Crucible and the Era of McCarthyism
In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, various Salem residents utilize the hysteria generated by the onset of the Witchcraft trials not out of genuine religious piety but rather the opportunity to express repressed sentiments and long-held grudges.
In addition, during the Era of McCarthyism, Republican Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin manipulated and capitalized on the fear of the Second Red Scare by proclaiming that communist spies were omnipresent and that he was America's only salvation.
In both situations, the role of hysteria is primarily used to further one's own motives and desires in a given society. In the end, hysteria can thrive only because people benefit from it.
Republican Senator Joesph McCarthy of Wisconsin (In Office 1947-1957)
Salem's Fallible Accuser's
Reverend Parris
"There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit. Do you understand that?" (Miller Act 1)
Reverend Parris strengthens his position within the village, albeit temporarily, by making scapegoats of people similar to Proctor who question his authority as the Minister of Salem.
Reverend Parris
Actual (1653-1720)
Film Portrayal
Reverend Parris, a paranoid and insecure figure, begins the play with a precarious hold on his office, and the trials enable him to strengthen his position within the village by making scapegoats of people like Proctor who question his authority.
"Beware this man, Your Excellency, this man is mischief."
"They've come to overthrow the court,sir!"
"Excellency, you surely cannot think to let so vile a lie be spread in open court!"
"Such a Christian that will not come to church but once a month!"
"Excellency, since I come to Salem this man is blackening my name."
In the five aforementioned quotes, Parris attempts to silence the detractors of the Salem Court, which include Francis Nurse, Giles Corey, and John Proctor. Parris thrives off the trials and accuses the detractors of undermining the court to secure his power in the Salem theocracy.
The Verdict on Reverend Parris
Salem is a deeply religious and superstitious society, and most of the characters in the play seem to believe that rooting out witches from their community is God's work.
However, there are plenty of simmering feuds and rivalries in the small town, and many Salem residents take advantage of the hysteria to express long-held grudges and exact revenge on their enemies.
Abigail, the original source of the hysteria, has a grudge against Elizabeth Proctor since Elizabeth fired her after she discovered that Abigail and John were involved in lechery, or adultery.
As the ringleader of the girls whose "visions" prompt the witch craze, Abigail happily uses the situation to accuse Elizabeth and have her sent to jail via a poppet.
"I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet!"
-Abigail Williams, Act 1
Abigail has no such sense of closure. As she begs him to come back to her, her anger overflows, and we see the roots of what becomes her targeted, destructive romp through Salem.
Her jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor and her fantasy that if she could only dispose of Elizabeth, John would be hers, is conveyed.
Perhaps more important, Abigail conveys a fierce loathing of the entire town of Salem.
Thomas Putnam, the wealthy and ambitious land-grabber, gains revenge on Francis Nurse by getting Rebecca, Francis's virtuous wife, convicted of the supernatural murders of Ann Putnam's babies.
Thomas Putnam's motivations:
"Your grandfather had a habit of willing land that never belonged to him, if I may say it plain"
-John Proctor responding to Putnam's land claim
Nurse prevented Putnam's brother-in-law from being elected to the Salem ministry
Nurse is engaged in a bitter land dispute with one of Putnam's relatives.
Thus, the Putnam's not only strike a blow against the Nurse family but also gain some measure of twisted satisfaction for the tragedy of seven stillbirths.
Historical Background
Speech of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950
McCarthy identified suspected communists through a variety of channels. Some were members of organizations with reported communist sympathies. Some were associates of known communists, and homosexuality was also an apparent cause of suspicion.
The irony of the whole McCarthy scandal is that, despite his highhandedness, lack of evidence and general recklessness, there definitely was a communist presence in the United States at the time, as illustrated by the Rosenbergs and others.
In fact, a number of the people McCarthy interrogated were later identified as communists and even Soviet agents.
The evidence he had so desperately sought became available in 1995 with the release of the Venona intercepts. The documents identified multiple communists in high government positions.
World War II was over and the Cold War was beginning.
Communist governments had gained hold in Eastern Europe and China, and Americans were increasingly concerned about it.
Rumors circulated of high-ranking U.S. government officials who were secret communists.
McCarthy took advantage of the mounting fear, but because it isn't actually illegal to be a communist, he started charging people with the act of subversion
Subversion--the systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working from within.
McCarthy then began prosecuting them for selling or giving American security secrets to communist governments.
"The great difference between our Western Christian world and the atheistic Communist world is not political, gentlemen, it is moral...When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be from enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within...The reason we find ourselves in a position of impotency is...because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this nation... I have here in my hand a list of 205...being members of the communist party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."
Harry S Truman was president at this time.
The Secretary of the State was Dean Acheson, a democrat, who defended his employees.
In addition, the Democrats were seen as socialist due to the New Deal program by FDR and their policy stance on communism in the world.
After the speech, Americans became Frantic to identify and remove communists from positions of power.Much of the hysteria was due to Mao Zedong gaining control of China, the Soviet Union detonating an atomic bomb in 1949, and the leaders of the communist party had recently been convicted of conspiring to overthrow the US government.
So began the witch hunt for communists.
McCarthy used severe intimidation to get information.
He often had little or no solid evidence on which to base his claims.
The names of many witnesses and suspects were released publicly, resulting in the defamation of character and guilt by association.
Careers and reputations were irreversibly damaged.
And when all was said and done, there were no convictions for subversion.
While there where, however, no actual witches in Salem, there were certainly Communists in 1950s America.The theme presented in The Crucible is not whether the accused were actually witches, but rather the unwillingness of the court officials and the public to believe that they are not.
Works Cited Page
Arthur Miller's The Crucible
"Our job as Americans and as Republicans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they've been sent to do their traitorous work." -Joseph McCarthy, speech before the Republican National Convention (1952)
"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?"
-the Question
The Comparison
Full transcript