This study will discuss the theme of McCarthyism as portrayed in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.
The theme of McCarthyism is not dealt with directly in the play, and Miller has been adamant at times in his disavowal of McCarthyism as the inspiration for the work, but it is undeniable that the theme of the communist witch-hunts in the early 1950s in the United States is closely tied with the literal witch-hunt occurring in the play. The nation was in the midst of a red scare in 1952, when the play was written, and Miller himself was deeply affected as an individual in the center of that scare, having been called to testify against others and refusing to do so.
Miller's play is about McCarthyism in a less limited way than many observers have noted. His work is not merely meant to be a condemnation of the communist witch-hunt, or the Puritan witch-hunt, but is rather meant to be an investigation, a dramatization, of how a false reality can be installed in a nation's consciousness with such ruthlessness that a kind of national madness ensues. The story is about universal lies and truth, not merely the lies and the truth surrounding the witch-hunts of the various centuries, but the lies and the truth which are perceived and experienced by the individual, and particularly the individual artist.
Is the knuckleheadedness of McCarthyism behind it all? The Congressional investigations of political unorthodoxy? Yes. But is it all? Can an artist be paralyzed except he be somewhat willing? . . . Guardedness, suspicion, aloof circumspection--- . . . what have [these traits] ever had to do with the creative act? . . . Out of the hectoring of columnists, the compulsions of patriotic gangs, the suspicions of the honest and the corrupt alike, art never will and never has found soil (Miller 160).
The point Miller is making is that his play should not be seen as a political treatise arguing against McCarthyism and nothing ...