‘The Crucible’ was first produced in 1953 in 1952 in the middle of the McCarthy political ‘witch hunts’. Miller was trying to convey the parallel between the witch-hunts in Salem and the ‘witch hunts’ for communists. The hysteria in Salem can be blamed on the individuals or the whole society. Although many individuals contributed to the hysteria the social conditions the characters, the young girls in particular, had to endure is also to blame.
There are a number of characters to which some degree of blame could be attributed. One of these characters is Abigail. Abigail is the character who really gets the whole thing started;
‘Uncle, we did dance’Order now
She first openly admits to dancing in the woods and when the pressure is put on her she says that it was to blame on witchcraft. She uses the situation to her advantage and manages to get back at Goody Proctor who has ‘blackened’ her name in the village.
Although she is very manipulative in some ways she is a victim. She is treated as a child even though she is no longer innocent and virginal;
‘Sweated like a stallion’
Abigail is very forward and speaks and acts like she is much older than she is. She is a young adult but nobody will treat her like one. Abigail had a relationship with Proctor, but still he calls her a ‘child’. Abigail seems to want to break free of the stereotype and this is what leads to hysteria.
Abigail did not plan for the situation to get out of hand or lead to the death of innocent people, but she could not really stop it once the ball had started rolling. The accusations led to the hysteria to spiral out of control as more and more people were blamed.
Society really is to blame though when it comes to Abigail as society put great pressure on her, which led her to try and break free of her stereotype.
Another character that contributes to the hysteria is Parris. The way Parris approached his ministry led to problems. His selfish attitude contributes to the reaction of the girls. The way he runs the church leads to resentment and ‘bad blood’ in the village. He should be preaching about God but instead he preaches about money.
He is always thinking about himself too much and does not consider others;
‘I cannot offer one proposition, but there be a howling riot of argument’
He may have been able to solve the problems but he couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of it and would rather deal with his own problems.
He is selfish and only really thinks about money. He thinks he deserves luxuries because he is a minister;
‘Don’t a minister deserve a house to live in’
His selfish attitude contributed to the hysteria in Salem. In some ways it is society to blame for creating the conditions in which man like Parris, who is quite obviously not a very holy man, can ‘lord’ it over others simply because he has the title of priest.
John Proctor also contributes to the hysteria in Salem. His inability to control his lust contributes to events. His lust for Abigail led Abigail to believe that there could be a proper relationship between them;
‘I’ll not be comin’ for you no more’
He does try to make it clear to Abigail but he has already led her on too much. When Proctor calls her ‘child’ it makes Abigail want to prove herself to him and she shows him how powerful she can really be.
It seems as though if he had come forward earlier then he could have stopped what was happening. He would not admit to adultery because he did not want his name blackened in the village. Society is really to blame because it condemned sexual impropriety and it made him feel that he could not confess because it is a sin.
Putnam is another one of the characters that contributes to the hysteria. He is the prime example of the land owning citizen. He seems to be motivated to make the problem worse. He is very selfish about his land and possessions;
‘You load one oak of mine and you’ll fight to drag it home’
He is always fighting and bickering with other people about what belongs to him. As a prominent citizen he could have stopped the hysteria rather than fuelling it. He, instead of dealing with the problems he would rather try and gain more land by getting his daughter to cry rape. Society really is to blame for creating a man like Putnam who is given power through possession of money and use that power for greed. In fact Proctor indicates how the village seems based on money not equality.
There is also a collective blame. All the characters build up to create a society, which is prone to this type of situation. The land disputes add to the problems. No single character tries to whole heartedly to solve the crisis because of fear of damaging their own reputation.
The way women and children are treated also contributes to the problem. Many of the young women are treated like children and want to demolish the stereotype. There are certain attitudes towards pleasure which means that many of the girls would have had a starved imagination and social life which would have made the witch hunts seem exciting and appealing.
The girls were rarely made centre of attention so this sudden interest shown towards them would have also been appealing. It would have seemed ridiculous to them to remove themselves for the spotlight, which they rarely have upon them. Overall it was the whole of society to blame rather than the individual characters.
As the village was in the middle of nowhere there was no escape. This made the situation more intense because everyone was trapped. These external influences slightly contribute to the atmosphere.
There are many parallels between the society in Salem and the communist ‘witch hunts’. Both conditions are similar; in both cases people are being persecuted without a proper trial or any evidence. Both societies have resentments and jealousies.
Miller uses the book to create an absurd situation to mock the McCarthy witch-hunts. It is the individual characters that contribute to the chaos. All of the characters build up to create a society prone to this type of situation.