[It's amazing the things you run across while looking through old information. One such thing is this quick little review of the Crucible that I wrote for my Western Theatre class. It was a good movie, though a much better play. Enjoy!]
Arthur Millerís "The Crucible"
We all know that Arthur Miller based his play The Crucible upon the HUAC (House of UnAmerican Activities Commitee) proceedings that sought to eliminate the "communist threat" from American shores. Obviously his disdain for the commission radiated from his every pore enticing him to verbally assault the ridiculous parody of justice. And, of course, he was able to draw a parallel between those proceedings and the Salem witch trials. Those trials were just as big of an embarrassment to American history as the mockery that HUAC had become. But, considering that he could just as easily have created an original play not drawn exclusively from a historical context but from his fictional imagination, one has to wonder why exactly he chose the witch trials as a comparative analogy. I propose a rather simplistic underlying reasoning: religion.
So what does religion have to do with HUAC? Well, even if McCarthy wasnít a severely right wing Christian Conservative extremist, Iím not saying he was, the commission itself was on a crusade to rout a potential problem-one that didnít exist but they went plowing for it anyway. Truth was never a deterrent for a determined zealot-or at least it seems to me Mr. Miller felt that way. What better way to draw a comparison to an ill-advised council than through the allusion of persecution of a personís liberties? Certainly the commission didnít have peopleís best interests in mind and we can say that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, those perpetrating the witch trials didnít care about a personís personal rights. Already weíre seeing a parallel between Salem and McCarthy.
Arthur Miller first learned of the Salem witch trials back in his college years. I imagine that, being an intellectual thinker, he may have harbored ill feelings towards the religious elite and their zealot followers. Now, Iím not going to say this is a fact and obviously itís just an opinion, but Iíve seen enough of his material to have picked up some cynical feelings towards religion. He probably felt that Salem was a perfect example of human willingness to engage in exemplarily disgraceful actions all in the name of God. And surely this realization must have crept back into his conscious thoughts once HUAC reared its ugly head. After battling self-righteous hypocrites and getting through the Ďproceedingsí relatively unscathed, he took a one-two sucker punch at HUAC and the cultish incessantry that probably inspired them. The end result was a visual representative crusade against the crusaders culminating in a play that is destined to long outlive his memory.
Of course, I wonder if some of the cynicism is not my own. Afterall, I was the one who saw the moments that seemed to suggest a biased hatred towards what many would consider the devout. And it was my personal opinion extricating the postulation of religious opposition-or rather the opposition to that which is religious. Yet, maybe Iím not simply hallucinating the whole matter. Perhaps a bit of exploration is in order, eh? And it will be an exploration immersing itself in only that work of art of Millerís going by the title The Crucible.
The play and movie both begin rather innocently depicting a group of young girls frolicking in the woods. Yes, it does get a little out of hand: girls get naked, fires are lit, and a frog must die. Your average night out. But, of course, one of the religious elite has to run across their jovial activities (well, Abigailís curse towards Mrs. Proctor wasnít what I would call innocent fun, but, yíknow...) and infer something evil has transpired. "What!? Girls dancing in the woods!? Nakedness!?" (* Please see the "Graphic Depiction" on page 6 for further details.) Heís the minister of course, Paris if I recall correctly, and he strictly forbids the girls from returning to their scandalous activities. Unfortunately, one of the girls has to, just HAS to, cause problems for everyone involved and before you know it the town is plunged into a guilty orgy of deceit, greed, and the passing of the proverbial buck. This whole line of sequencing seems to suggest Mr. Millerís disliking of religious attitudes towards normally playful things-minus the cursing thing, of course! It could be seen as comparative to McCarthyís whole attack on communism. The personal fears of the unknown lead to the line of thought that "only evil communists would dare to express an opinion in direct opposition to the United States of America!" With The Crucible, though, that faction takes on the form of the Church. OH! How poignant. Therefore, evil dancing + communism = really bad people.
This whole aspect leads into the lies the girls end up telling. This becomes a Ďsave your own skiní mentality which is prevalent in any atmosphere where religious zealotry flourishes-or at least it seems. Once the accusations start flying, everyone starts repenting their own sin by blaming someone else. This is most definitely true of McCarthism. No one wanted to think that maybe they might be wrong about their beliefs and therefore looked for anything Ďevil.í "Who else is a communist? Save yourself." Or so one would be led to believe.
Mr. Miller presents us with a fairly strong central character whose very flawed. He even has a perceivable disliking towards the authoritative theocracy ruling over their very existence. Maybe John understands moral obligations but he is intelligent enough to recognize that everyone has different needs and desires and that a determined set of rules is not always the answer. When an author (Heh, he is an Author!) writes such a character, thereís generally an underlying piece of his own self-interests inherent. This may not always be so, however I can see it being true in Mr. Millerís case. The views expressed towards corruption and power are ever so subtly presented in a respectful manner, but it is still a chastising tone. Since The Crucible was written after the HUAC trials, or at least presented after, I can only conclude that it was Authorís own disdain towards the religious hypocrisy surrounding the personal opinions of people trying to exact their own rules, if you will, that manifested itself in the character of Proctor.
We canít dismiss the stereotypical representations of the HUAC commission that the judges pose when they first hit the stage. Theyíre self-assured and rather holier-than-thou. "May God have mercy on your soul." They are devout individuals who view the world through a narrow spectrum much like the commissioners themselves. This must have appalled Author to no end and it found a release in the story. These "judges" come in without any real knowledge on the events playing out before them. It is only from speculation and prejudicial information that they are able to provide any real insight into matters- and that insight is just as narrow as the view they are partaking. Many are those who feel that they can do no wrong if God himself has ordained them to judge mortal man. Yet, and Iím sure Author Miller would agree with this point, God never came down to anoint them with holy oil or whatnot. They were appointed by other men and this distinction has to be at the root of Millerís disdain towards the religious higher-ups. Itís not the belief in God itself but the following of the organized zealotry that I imagine he couldnít tolerate. The whole play is oozing with these themes. Neighbor being pitted against neighbor, one death upon the next in the name of the Lord, able-bodied Ďvirginsí seeking revenge and self-adulation, clueless judges stumbling haphazardly throughout the entirety of the proceedings-though even so they handle themselves well-, and the innocent caught up in the mired pit of hateful stench that gets kicked up whenever a holy crusade is waged.
And at the head of those trying to just survive is John. He is pretty much the equivalent of Arthur in this story- a fact that canít be disputed if we remember that he himself considered what John would do when faced with a personal dilemma in a trial. Both decided to stay true to themselves and keep their names sacred in the face of the corrupted onslaught of fear and paranoia. The whole idea being to not lose oneís identity when the whole world seems to have gone mad, especially when the status quo is engaged in a dangerous gamble.
Alright, so this has turned more into a rant than a dissertation on what Arthur Miller might have been thinking when he wrote The Crucible. However, I donít believe that anyone could rule out a certain discontent with the religious theocracy that seems so prevalent in society. Obviously it was more so back in the days of the Puritans. But, there is a steep undertow towards that avenue still present in the extremist right wing of Christian faith. Faith is good, and I know Arthur believed that as well. However, taking faith as a mandate to kill, maim, destroy is probably not what God had in mind when he dished out servings of zealotry. The message is almost definitely the avoidance of mindless adherence to the lies and half-truths told to us be the authoritative powers that be. Just because the talking head says itís fact, doesnít make it fact.
I myself have never been big on religion. It breeds hatred and shallow minded thinking. It is at the root of so many wars that I truly believe history has lost count. The Crucible is still poignant in this day and age as we can still see religious persecutions playing out every day and in every nation. Lesser forms of this narrow-mindedness can be seen in secular attacks against video games and other forms of entertainment. Perhaps that was Millerís greatest fear, that the elitist extremist would gain so much favor as to bring theatre, and indeed any medium of entertainment, to its knees in worship to their "God-given" might. Mayhaps he made his stand in hopes that others would follow his example, just as they did with the real-life Proctor, and say that "we will not be intimidated and ruled by your fanaticism." Then again, maybe it all really is just in my mind and I never wrote anything on the matter. If this is the case, I truly need more sleep and to be a little less analytical about matters involving humanity.
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