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Allegory in the Crucible

A brief intro to The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Includes allegory, mccarthyism, biographical info and character lists.

Jessica Porter

on 3 October 2018

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Transcript of Allegory in the Crucible

Arthur Miller
The Crucible, which premiered in 1953, is a fictionalization of the Salem witch-hunts of 1692, but it also deals in an allegorical manner with the House Un-American Activities Committee. In a note to the play, Miller writes, "A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence." Dealing as it did with highly charged current events, the play received unfavorable reviews and Miller was cold-shouldered by many colleagues.
1956-1957: Miller was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and was convicted of contempt of Congress for his refusal to identify writers believed to hold Communist sympathies.
1958: The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction
1959: the National Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Drama.
A story in which characters, settings, and events stand in for other people, events, or abstract ideas, or qualities. An allegory can be read on one level for its LITERAL meaning, and on another level for its ALLEGORICAL,or SYMBOLIC meaning.

-Often criticizing something about society (but different from satire!)
The term "allegorical" refers to anything that has qualities of an allegory.
The 1950s
The Soviet Union
What was Miller's Impression?
Why Allegorical?
Early in the year 1692, in the small Massachusetts village of Salem, a collection of girls fell ill, falling victim to hallucinations and seizures. In extremely religious Puritan New England, frightening or surprising occurrences were often attributed to the devil or his cohorts. The unfathomable sickness spurred fears of witchcraft, and it was not long before the girls, and then many other residents of Salem, began to accuse other villagers of consorting with devils and casting spells. Old grudges and jealousies spilled out into the open, fueling the atmosphere of hysteria. The Massachusetts government and judicial system, heavily influenced by religion, rolled into action. Within a few weeks, dozens of people were in jail on charges of witchcraft. By the time the fever had run its course, in late August 1692, nineteen people (and two dogs) had been convicted and hanged for witchcraft.
At the time of its first performance, in January of 1953, critics and cast alike perceived The Crucible as a direct attack on McCarthyism (the policy of sniffing out Communists). Its comparatively short run, compared with those of Miller’s other works, was blamed on anti-Communist fervor. When Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of spying for the Soviets and executed, the cast and audience of Miller’s play observed a moment of silence. Still, there are difficulties with interpreting The Crucible as a strict allegorical treatment of 1950s McCarthyism. For one thing, there were, as far as one can tell, no actual witches or devil-worshipers in Salem. However, there were certainly Communists in 1950s America, and many of those who were lionized as victims of McCarthyism at the time, such as the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss (a former State Department official), were later found to have been in the pay of the Soviet Union. Miller’s Communist friends, then, were often less innocent than the victims of the Salem witch trials, like the stalwart Rebecca Nurse or the tragic John Proctor.
"If Miller took unknowing liberties with the facts of his own era, he also played fast and loose with the historical record. The general outline of events in The Crucible corresponds to what happened in Salem of 1692, but Miller’s characters are often composites. Furthermore, his central plot device—the affair between Abigail Williams and John Proctor—has no grounding in fact (Proctor was over sixty at the time of the trials, while Abigail was only eleven). Thus, Miller’s decision to set sexual jealousy at the root of the hysteria constitutes a dramatic contrivance.

In an odd way, then, The Crucible is best read outside its historical context,—not as a perfect allegory for anti-Communism, or as a faithful account of the Salem trials, but as a powerful and timeless depiction of how intolerance and hysteria can intersect and tear a community apart. In John Proctor, Miller gives the reader a marvelous tragic hero for any time—a flawed figure who finds his moral center just as everything is falling to pieces around him."
When are Sparksnotes a resource and when are they cheating?
John Proctor
Elizabeth Proctor
Reverend Parris
Rebecca Nurse
Francis Nurse
Giles Corey
Thomas Putnam
Ann Putnam
Martha Corey
Ezekiel Cheever *
Herrick *
Abigail Williams
Ruth Putnam
Mary Warren
Betty Parris
Mercy Lewis
Reverend John Hale
Judge Danforth
Judge Hathorne
the year the Salem Witch Trials took place
the number of pounds in compensation received by victims in 1711
the number of dogs killed for witchcraft
the number of accusers punished in any way for the damage they did
the number of people executed during the trials through other means than hanging.
the number of people wrongfully hanged and excomminicated for witchcraft


Allegory in Lord of the Flies
What allegorical representations can
you determine for these characters ?

Ralph represents:
The Littluns

What do you think is the allegorical theme/message in LOTF?

In Your Notes:




-Impact: What does it DO??
Full transcript