Grade 10: The Crucible

For students

1. It is important to understand the context that any piece of literature is created in –
historical, social, cultural, economic
2. It is important to understand the character of the writer – their experiences, biases, beliefs
3. It is important to know who the intended audience is
4. Any fictional piece of work will not only have a context and an intended audience but a thematic
point that is conveyed through the events and characters

A YouTube clip showing Act 1 of the play The Crucible

Arthur Miller was an American playwright who died in 2005. Two of his most famous plays are “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible”.

An extensive biography is found here: Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller based his play The Crucible on events that occurred in 1692 in Salem Massachusetts when 19 people were hanged for allegedly being witches and hundreds more were jailed. Because it is a dramatic work, it is not an exact representation of what happened (Miller made changes in events and characters) but thematically it has great value for us. Not only does the play have an historical context but it also has a social context relevant to the period of time in which it was written and produced.

When the play was first staged on January 1953 it was during a time in America when anti-communist feelings were high. A United States Senator, Jospeh McCartney led a special committee called “The House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities” that was created to search out people who were communists in America. People who were questioned were encouraged to ‘dob’ in others. If someone was accused of being a communist they could have been jailed or executed and their careers were certainly damaged. When it was first performed people certainly saw it as an attack on McCarthyism. It is ironic that in 1956, Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. When he refused to name people accused of being communists he was convicted of contempt but later won an appeal.

picture source:

You can read about McCarthyism at Wikipedia:

A more accessible show describing what this fear of communism meant for people is found in the classic M.A.S.H series season 8 episode 2 where Major Margaret Houlihan is accused of being a communist sympathiser because she had an ex-boyfriend who was found to be a communist.

View the episode

To fully understand the play you do need to have an understanding of what happened in 1692 in Salem Massachusetts and specifically what the social and cultural climate was like then so that the analogy with McCarthyism can be understood.

It is important to note that Salem was settled by English Puritans in 1629 and that in 1642 British law made withcraft a crime you could be executed for.

The Puritans settled in Boston (Massachusetts) around 1630. They were a religous group from the Church of England who had wanted to reform it but had not been successful. So many of them had left England to set up a ‘better’ version of the Church of England. Therefore it was Puritans who settled Salem where the story took place.

You can read about them in more detail here: Puritans

O Christian Martyr Who for Truth could die
When all about thee Owned the hideous lie!
The world, redeemed from superstition’s sway,
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.
–Words written by John Greenleaf Whittier and inscribed on a monument marking the grave of Rebecca Nurse, one of the condemned “witches” of Salem.

A chronolgy of events can be accessed here: Chronology of evens in Salem 1629-1752

An overview/commentary on the events and the key characters can be read here The events and key people – a commentary

Visit Spark Notes for study help Spark Notes: the Crucible

The full play can be opened here The Crucible full text

Act 1 Crucible act 1

Act 2 The Crucible Act 2

Act 3 The Crucible Act 3

Act 4 The Crucible Act 4

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