Crucible Tale Of Trials A political cartoon shows a massive stone wall surrounding tall office buildings which bear labels of “Department of Energy,” “Defense Department,” “National Security Agency,” “CIA,” and “FBI.” Outside the wall, which is tagged “Government Secrecy,” a couple huddles in a roofless hut called “Personal Non-Privacy.” At the top of the cartoon is printed “Somehow I feel this is not the way the founders planned it.” Indeed, America’s founding fathers most likely did not plan for the United States to be governed in such a manner that the people of its democracy would feel debunked. How, then, did the United States since its founding in 1776 come to this feeling of exposure? Such an expansive question does not possess only one answer, of course. Multiple factors have caused United States citizens to feel the “personal non-privacy” Washington Post cartoonist Herblock depicts. Throughout American history the government has taken advantage of its ability to control; and, often led by an incendiary, people have been brought forth and laid bare in front of turbulent crowds. One of the first instances of this public inquest occurred in 1692 during the Salem witch trials, and then the probing happened again in the 1950s during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) trials. Hysteria gripped the small colony of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as adolescent girls cried out that they saw Satan talking to some of the colonists. These accused were then put on trial and made to either confess and name others who were associating with the Devil, or the accused who did not confess to working with the Devil were convicted, imprisoned and, not infrequently, killed.
Ultimately, the governor of Massachusetts intervened and put an end to the witch trials, but not before fourteen women and five men hung as witches in Salem (“Witch Hunt Hysteria”). A similar excitement occurred again in the 1950s. Throughout the decade the United States faced the Red Scare, which included a hunt for Communists led by Republican Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The long, bloody battles of World War II were finally in the past, but a new war had begun (Chun).
The Cold War between the United States and the United Soviet Social Republic commenced because of land rivalry, then continued with the United States claiming that the U.S.S. R. had communist groups working in other countries with an plan for world control (Chun). President Truman released his doctrine stating the United States’ intentions of battling communism throughout the world, and in 1947 he authorized a program to investigate the loyalty of federal employees. Senator McCarthy then decided to lead his own anti-communist group to ensure privacy in the State Department and other offices. What began as moderate concern developed into frenzied excitement as Congress restricted the civil rights of communists, and many suspected communists were questioned and later blacklisted. During the Red Scare, Constitutional rights were often compromised, and the government turned secretive.
Journalist Athan G. Theoharis said of the increasing governmental concealment and censorship, “Recently released FBI files revealed a more serious threat to political liberties-the freedom of authors to publish’dangerous’ thoughts-stemmed from the often covert, behind-the-scenes efforts of conservative academics, members of Congress, and FBI and Justice Department officials.” The maintenance of personal privacy and public government began fracturing before the United States government was even ratified, and continues even today to cause debate and dissent. While there have been numerous episodes of governmental concealment and public exposure, the Salem witch trials and the HUAC trials are two of the more predominant. In the heat of the Red Scare and rampant McCarthyism of 1953, playwright Arthur Miller-who in 1956 appeared before the HUAC and was later held in contempt of Congress-published his play The Crucible. A work centering on the effects of the Salem witch trials in 1692, the play is often associated with the HUAC trials of the 1950s. While Miller somewhat denies these correlations, he speaks of the lack of “plays that reflect the soul-racking, deeply unseating questions that are being inwardly asked on the street, in the living room, and on the subways” in a New York Times article published just months before The Crucible appeared.
In the same article Miller says, “Is the knuckleheadedness of McCarthyism behind it all? The Congressional investigations of political unorthodoxy? Yes.” The Crucible, whether meant to incite public support against McCarthyism or simply portray the events of the Salem witch trials, indeed shows undertones of the events surrounding Miller and other suspected communists in the 1950s. However, the play does more than just reiterate the current events of the time it was published. The political cartoon aforementioned was not published during the Red Scare. It appeared in the November 29, 1999 edition of the University of South Carolina’s student newspaper, The Gamecock. The secrecy of government and its removal of individual privacy spawned from events not only in Miller’s 1950s, but also from incidents that occurred three hundred years ago.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible reflects the development of a feeling of anti-privacy by depicting the intense drama of the Salem Witch Trials in a context of the McCarthyism of his own time. In The Crucible, Miller strains to focus on the desperate emotions which engulfed the Salem townspeople and led to the eventual defeat of privacy and as well as common sense. The author of “Hysteria and Ideology in The Crucible,” Richard Hayes, says, “It is imaginative terror Mr. Miller is here invoking: not the solid gallows and the rope appall him, but the closed and suffocating world of the fanatic, against which the intellect and will are powerless.” Miller’s play depicts the young Abigail Williams as agitator and the trials and decisions of those accused of witchcraft. They were each left with bleak choices-life or death. To live would mean they had to falsely confess to being in league with the Devil, and then name others who did the same.
If those accused did not admit guilt, they were hung. Miller emphasizes the moral decisions of one man, John Proctor, who has himself been accused of witchcraft. Proctor is divided by ambiguity, which Hayes describes as “the dilemma of a man, fallible, subject to pride, but forced to choose between the ‘negative good’ of truth and morality, and the ‘positive good’ of human life under any dispensation.” In the end Proctor’s decision costs him his life, and all for the price of his good name. One of The Crucible’s most intense scenes occurs because of Proctor’s devotion to keep his name unblemished. In Act Four, the anguished man refuses to sign a confession that would save his life.
Proctor, with a cry of his whole soul, says he cannot sign the confession “because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” Proctor hangs that very day. It was in this way also that numerous colonists accused of witchcraft make their own decisions of action. Some confess, others do not. Regardless of the var …