Arthur Miller was born in 1915 and was therefore only 14 when the wall street crash occurred, this obviously affected his life in a major way. His plays are often centralised upon contemporary society and the various problems that face it, which is why, at first sight, ‘The Crucible’ appears to be a bit ‘off the track’, with it being set 250 years previous to the time in which it is written. It is based around the Salem Witchtrials of the 17th Century. However, the play is in fact an oblique comment on the mass hysteria which swept America concerning a huge fear, Communism.
America is a right-wing society, and adopts many capitalist attitudes towards life, which is why communism was seen as a massive threat to American society, the ‘American Dream’. The ‘dream’ where if you lived in America, you would find great wealth and prosper, with the ‘perfect’ family and a high quality of life. Rich, upper and middle class citizens of America feared the far left extremists because the thought of a communist state being established in America and distributing their wealth evenly among the population horrified them, that it would shatter their American Dream.
In America at this time there was a series of investigations led by the Un-American Activities Committee. The suspicion that ordinary people had Communist sympathies and that these people had to be tracked down. Senator Joseph McCarthy led a movement to check the citizens of the United States for political ‘purity’. This means people should prove complete loyalty to the USA. McCarthy is a similar character to Danforth who is mentioned later in this piece. Any who was suspected would be investigated and made to apologise in public and were forced to inform on other people who were suspected.
Many innocent people were persecuted at a series of public hearings. Arthur Miller himself was accused of having communist links but was later acquitted. The story in the play is based upon the true events in Salem. The town had been founded by the pilgrim fathers, a group of puritans that had fled England to practice their religion in freedom. Miller writes knowledgeably about Puritanism and their beliefs and values. They were very strict in personal habits and morality. Swearing drinking and gambling were all frowned upon and punished.
Modern technology was not used by them and still isn’t today and the Puritans have always kept their lifestyles simple and old fashioned. This is reflected in the play by the clothes that are worn by the characters, very dull, drab clothing that are simple and very dismal colours, e. g. black, grey. There was no work, trade or sport allowed on Sundays and decorations and cosmetics were denounced. Theatre and entertainment were condemned and forbidden. The people of Salem, Mass. Were strong believers in the existence of the devil and they thought that witchcraft should be hunted out.