Salem witch trials
(May–October 1692), in American history, a series of investigations and persecutions that caused 19 convicted “witches” to be hanged and many other suspects to be imprisoned in the town of Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Stimulated by voodoo tales told by a West Indian slave, Tituba, a few young girls claimed they were possessed by the devil and subsequently accused three Salem women, including Tituba, of witchcraft. As Tituba and other accused persons were pressured and consequently incriminated others in false confessions, public hysteria over the threat of witchcraft mounted throughout Massachusetts.
Civil magistrates, encouraged by the clergy, set up a special court in Salem to try those accused of practicing witchcraft, and Samuel Sewall, John Hathorne, and William Stoughton were chosen as the court's judges. The list of the accused increased (even Massachusetts governor William Phips's wife was implicated) until 150 people had been imprisoned and were awaiting trial. By September, however, the climate of mass hysteria had begun to abate, and public opinion first stopped, and then condemned, the trials. Governor Phips dissolved the special court in October and released the remaining prisoners. The Massachusetts General Court (legislature) later annulled the witch trials' convictions and granted indemnities to the families of those who had been executed.
McCarthy, Joseph R.
born Nov. 14, 1908, near Appleton, Wis., U.S.
died May 2, 1957, Bethesda, Md.
Joseph Raymond McCarthy U.S. senator who dominated the early 1950s by his sensational but unproved charges of Communist subversion in high government circles. In a rare move, he was officially censured for unbecoming conduct by his Senate colleagues (Dec. 2, 1954), thus ending the era of McCarthyism.
A Wisconsin attorney, McCarthy served for three years as a circuit judge (1940–42) before enlisting in the Marines in World War II. In 1946 he won the Republican nomination for the Senate in a stunning upset primary victory over Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Jr.; he was elected that autumn and again in 1952.
McCarthy was a quiet and undistinguished senator until February 1950, when his public charge that 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department created a furor and catapulted him into headlines across the country. Upon subsequently testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, he proved unable to produce the name of a single “card-carrying Communist” in any government department. Nevertheless, he gained increasing popular support for his campaign of accusations by capitalizing on the fears and frustrations of a nation weary of the Korean War and appalled by Communist advances in eastern Europe and China. McCarthy proceeded to instigate a nationwide, militant anti-Communist “crusade”; to his supporters, he appeared as a dedicated patriot and guardian of genuine Americanism, to his detractors, as an irresponsible, self-seeking witch-hunter who was undermining the nation's traditions of civil liberties.
McCarthy was reelected in 1952 and obtained the chairmanship of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and of its permanent subcommittee on investigations. For the next two years he was constantly in the spotlight, investigating various government departments and questioning innumerable witnesses about their suspected Communist affiliations. Although he failed to make a plausible case against anyone, his colourful and cleverly presented accusations drove some persons out of their jobs and brought popular condemnation to others. The persecution of innocent persons on the charge of being Communists and the forced conformity that this practice engendered in American public life came to be known as McCarthyism. Meanwhile, less flamboyant government agencies actually did identify and prosecute cases of Communist infiltration.
McCarthy's increasingly irresponsible attacks came to include President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other Republican and Democratic leaders. His influence waned in 1954 as a result of the sensational, nationally televised, 36-day hearing on his charges of subversion by U.S. Army officers and civilian officials. This detailed television exposure of his brutal and truculent interrogative tactics discredited him and helped to turn the tide of public opinion against him.
When the Republicans lost control of the Senate in the midterm elections that November, McCarthy was replaced as chairman of the investigating committee. Soon after, the Senate felt secure enough to formally condemn him on a vote of 67 to 22 for conduct “contrary to Senate traditions,” and McCarthy was largely ignored by his colleagues and by the media thereafter.
(With An Introduction by Christopher Bigsby)
[Penguin Books, New York, 1976, 143 pages, ISBN: 0 14 24.3733 6]
The word “Crucible” means “a place of extreme heat”, “a severe test” (introduction page XVI), or “a vessel, usually of earthenware, made to endure great heat, used for fusing metals, etc.; a melting-pot”, a hollow or basin at the bottom of a furnace to collect the molten metal” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Since “The Crucible” is not a play about an iron and steel factory with a melting furnace, the term “crucible” must have a metaphorical (indirect or comparable) meaning. Whatever it should mean, it should be a story about something extremely uncomfortable and serious. The serious situation occurred in the town called Salem east of Massachusetts in 1692. The dramatic event is known in American history as the “Salem Witch Trials”
So “The Crucible” is a play based on a true historical record of the Salem witch court trials in 1692. But Names, sequence of events have been changed to give a better dramatized effect.
Not only that, it was also inspired by another event of comparable nature in 1953. This later event is known as “McCarthyite-witch-hunts of the House (of Representatives) Un-American Activities Committee”.
The United States politics around 1953 was under the threat of communism. Many politicians in Washington, D.C. were afraid of the people who might have secret belief in communist idea. Communism was thought to work in favor of helping poor and against the rich capitalist owners of big businesses and industries. The Communists believed in the use of force to bring about revolutionary change in the government. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin (Republican Party) led a fight against communism in America. Many people were investigated and forced to admit their guilt or reveal names of other friend who may be communists, just like the people in Salem 261 years earlier. In Salem many people in the court trials confessed falsely that their friends were witches. This led to the arrests of 39 Salem women (page 53).
In the House Un-American Activities Committee the same situation happened. Many people tried to blame others of being communists. Arthur Miller himself was investigated before the committee in 1956 (page XXIII) but he refused to blame other friends or name names. He said: “it is not for me to make easy answers and to come forth before the American people and tell them everything is all right, when I looked in their eyes and see them troubled…my criticism, such as it has been, is not to be confused with a hatred.” Arthur Miller was accused of being a communist trying to undermine the American government and democratic value. Miller, like John Proctor in Salem, kept his personal pride and integrity. He refused to yield to authority, just like John Proctor in Salem. John Proctor was forced to sign a confession paper but he said it was a lie (Act Four, pages 132-133). Many people in Salem were hanged after the trials. (Please see text from Encyclopaedia Britannica below.)
Before Proctor was hanged he said: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another (name) in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lie! 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!” (Act Four, page 133)
John Proctor did not want to live without his good name. By not saving his life he saved his name.
Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” at the time of McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt but he chose to use the Salem witch trials as the story to represent the communist witch-hunt and all other stories of the same implication. It is a warning to those societies or governments where the citizens might be wrongly accused of untrue wrong-doings. It is also a warning to those accused who might betray their friends to save their own skins. It is indeed a play that gives strength and inspiration to the people who have strong will and resolve to adhere to the truth even if their own lives may be at risk.
Since it is a play “The Crucible” is short and not a lengthy narrative like a fiction. Not much background information is given. American readers normally know the Salem witch story. It is up to foreign readers to be informed beforehand. The play also uses the English language of the 17th century New England. Many words and expressions are unfamiliar to contemporary readers, American and foreign alike. For examples:
Goody Putnam = the good wife of Mr. Putnam
Goody Proctor = the good wife of Mr. Proctor
Sit you down = you should sit down
She ails as she must = She is ill
Was it man or woman came with him? = Was it a man or a woman that came
“The Crucible” was not a successful play on stage. It ran only 197 performances comparing with 742 for “Death of Salesman”. But as a book, it lives up to the name of Arthur Miller whose previous plays are great modern American classics. Some of his major plays include “All My Sons” (1947), “Death of a Salesman” (1949), “The Crucible” (1953), “A View from the Bridge” (1955), and “After the Fall” (1964). He also wrote two novels, “Focus” (1945) and “The Misfits” (1960). One of his wives was a beautiful actress names Marilyn Monroe.
12 June 2019