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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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And afterward no one wants anything to do with you. You were
called in to testify, there had to be a reason. You must be a
Communist, or at least have been working for them. You lose
your friends, your job, sometimes even your family. You
become an outcast. Your life is ruined.

This was the fate of many innocent people. Those who were
spared either joined in the witch-hunt or kept silent for fear the
same thing would happen to them. A lot of the victim never
recovered, even long after the rest of the country lost interest
and Joe McCarthy had been discredited. By 1957 it was pretty
much over, and America could look back with a sad smile,
wondering how anyone could have been so foolish.

But in 1953 it was no joke. Arthur Miller already knew about
the Salem witch trials from his college days at the University of
Michigan (1934-38). In The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller he
describes how The Crucible took shape in his mind:"... when the
McCarthy era came along," he says, "I remembered these stories
and I used to tell them to people when it [the investigation]
started. I used to say, you know, McCarthy is actually saying
certain lines that I recall the witch-hunters saying in Salem. So I
started to go back, not with the idea of writing a play, but to
refresh my own mind because it was getting eerie".

One day, while he was reading some documents in the Salem
museum, some tourists came in and wanted to see the pins.
There was no need to ask, "What pins?" During the trials in
1692, the so-called witches often "sent out their spirits" to stick
pins into the flesh of the girls who were accusing them. Now, as
Arthur Miller watched, "the tourists pass the books, the exhibits,
and no hint of danger reaches them from the quaint relics. I have
a desire to tell them the significance of those relics. It is the
desire to write".



The significance of those relics was, in part, that the same thing
that happened in 1692 was happening all over again. "It was not
only the rise of 'McCarthyism' that moved me," he writes, "but
something which seemed much more weird and mysterious. It
was the fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign
from the far Right [Communists were said to be on the far left]
was capable of creating not only a terror, but a new subjective
reality... and that such manifestly ridiculous men [as Senator Joe
McCarthy] should be capable of paralyzing thought itself.... it
was as though the whole country had been born anew, without a
memory.... Astounded, I watched men pass me by without a nod
whom I had known rather well for years...." And so Arthur
Miller began to write The Crucible.

A few years before, Arthur Miller had become famous. His
second play, Death of a Salesman, had won the 1949 Pulitzer
Prize and a host of other awards. By the time he was 37, in
1952, he was a respected writer of established reputation, and
people were looking forward to his next play. What he had to
say was bound to be important.

There's a saying that a prophet is honored everywhere except in
his own country. This could certainly be said of the author of
The Crucible when it first opened on Broadway on January 22,
1953. No one missed the parallels between 1692 Salem and
1953 America. "But," many said, "witches never did exist, then
or now. Communists are real." Some critics complained that the
play was too cold and intellectual. Others said it wasn't a play at
all, but some kind of outburst, a political speech. Most people
found a way of saying that it wasn't worth bothering with. The
play ran for a few months, playing to almost empty houses.
Then it closed. But the witch-hunt went on.

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