Literature as a Window on History: The Crucible

We are opening our school literature season with a reading of the play, The Crucible by Henry Miller.  This play, written in the 1950’s, revisits Salem Massachusetts at the time of the Salem witch trials.   Today we discussed the nature of the insular Puritan society and the perceived impropriety of two girls caught dancing in the woods.  We discussed the ease with which a small lie can escalate into a communal lie and how quickly a community can rush to persecute the individual, in particular to protect itself from humiliation, or in this case, death.

This play was produced during the era of McCarthyism and ominously warns of the dangers in fearing the unknown and in erroneously accusing others. The notorious witchhunts of the 1950’s ruined the careers of many artists and playwrights as they hastened to defend themselves against accusations of Communism.

We talked about modern applications and the efforts that we make today to avoid these types of global persecutions.  The Crucible portrays fear, persecution and the phobic need for continuity of the current society as unfortunate aspects of the human condition.

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