In the highly poignant novel The Crucible written by Arthur Miller, the legendary event of the Salem Witch Trials was portrayed in four scenes. The story was set in a small village of Massachusetts in the year of 1962. A group of young girls, namely Abigail Williams, had begun a series of accusations charging numerous villagers of practicing witchcraft. Thus a period of pure hysteria had been initiated as the accused ones started to name other innocent Puritans out of fear. Within merely a month, almost half of the entire Salem was indicted for being witches, and many were hanged after being forced to confess the non-existing crime of exercising witchcraft such as in the case of Giles Corey. Miller was able to demonstrate the strictness of the Puritan society and the weakness of human beings.
The historical account of the Salem Witch Trials was closely correlated with the Red Scare occurred during the McCarthy era. In The Crucible, paranoia of being hanged displaced the normal logic of the people and eventually led the villagers into hallucinating and believing that the convicts had been involved in activities that never existed. For instance, Mary Warren, the servant of John Proctor, was so certain that she had seen the Proctors practicing witchcraft that she was actually seeing the unreal images in her mind. The same situation happened to other Puritans as people accused of neighbors whom an individual might hold a grudge against. This particular history repeated during the McCarthy era centuries after the happening of the Salem Witch Trials. During the period of the Red Scare, hundreds of innocents were charged with either being a communist or supporting the communist ideology.
This was due to the elevating fear of the infiltration of communists in the United States. Akin to the characteristics of the Salem Witch Trials, the accused Americans, afraid of the cruel questionings by the U.S. government, started to name random others for being communists. Hysterias had again covered the society and blinded justice. Miller attempted to convey to the readers of the idea that contemporary politics often only concern about the outcome instead of the means used to achieve the outcome. The Red Scare exemplified that the single aim of the U.S. government was to convict people in order to perhaps install fear onto the civilians. It appeared indifferent to the government officials what methods were used to fulfill the goal or who that were accused. Similarly in The Crucible, the ultimate objective was to forbidden any beliefs or actions that were unrelated to Puritanism. The Puritans were so focused on the goal that no one cared to logically consider the accusations.
Arthur Miller had portrayed the Puritans as absolutely intolerant of non-Puritan beliefs and actions. They looked upon the moral codes of Puritanism as the same as the societal laws. Committing a sin against God eventually meant committing a fatal crime. The name of Puritans also suggested the concept of maintaining complete purity in every corner of the Puritan society. The exercise of witchcraft was seen as an activity that could possibly endanger that absolute purity or leave a “stain” in the society. They also opposed to any radical changes that might produce doubts on the beliefs of Puritanism. In Miller’s society, nationalism and unconditional loyalty to both the country and the government was considered to be the key in sustaining the United States.
In order to prevent the country from falling into the hands of the communists, the government attempted to eliminate anyone who seemed to show even the slightest indication of siding with the communists. This appeared to the U.S. government as the only way to keep the society pure of intruding ideas. After the horrifying occurrence of 9/11, suspicion was once again aroused as individuals who resembled the appearance or even qualities of the attackers were being distrusted. Innocent people were being shunned and discriminated against from the rest of the society. This was all an aftereffect of an attempt made by the U.S. government to maintain safety in the country. Their concept was to be over careful instead of being under careful.
The purpose serving behind portraying the story of The Crucible in the confines of the stage was to better illustrate and emphasize on the idea of religious intolerance in the Puritan society. As mentioned before, the Puritans are a group of extremely pious people who refused to accept any beliefs outside of the religion of Puritanism. The limited space of the stage enhanced the effect of being restrained or the feeling of strictness. The characters in the story such as Mary Warren felt intimidated by such restricted space as people all crowded about her anticipating impatiently of the name or names that came out of her mouth. These Puritans, in fact, had no choice but to charge someone under the many pairs of anxious watching eyes. On the contrary, bringing the play from the confines of the stage to the great outdoors had obliterated the message of religious intolerance. In the movie, the wilderness suggested the feelings of freedom and openness. The characters were no longer being held in a limited space but were instead being released to wander freely in the community. This deemphasized the concept that Miller had hoped to convey to the readers. The movie made the Puritan society appear to be lenient on the villagers when in reality no deviation was allowed anywhere in the village of Salem.
The novel of The Crucible which depicted the historical incident of the Salem Witch Trials in a Puritan society was overall a sensational story. Arthur Miller, the author of the play, had succeeded in portraying the human weakness of fear of death with a number of characters. The effect of hysteria having on the minds of the people was also demonstrated in the Red Scare during the McCarthy era and the post 9/11 period. The reason behind the continuous repetition of the accusations of innocent civilians was the idea of retaining purity in the country. As a matter of fact, the use of the limited stage to present the play was for the purpose of further accentuating the religious intolerance in the Puritan society.