Home » Season 4 » Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Reflections on Miller’s The Crucible

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Reflections on Miller’s The Crucible

By Carrick Zhu, V Form

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Reflections on Miller’s The Crucible

A lack of decency and empathy has caused many unnecessary deaths and trauma throughout history. As Joseph Welch once asked Senator McCarthy during the “Red Scare” hearings, “Have you left no decency?” [1] The Salem Witch Trials depicted by Arthur Miller in The Crucible took place more than three hundred years ago, yet Miller’s message has not lost its relevance in modern society. The hysteria surrounding the story still has the potential to reoccur in America. Arthur Miller portrays the evil side of humanity through the trials by depicting the selfishness, impressionability, and the atrocities committed because of fear. These characteristics portrayed in The Crucible remain poignant today because of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Red Scare of the 1920’s, and the Third Reich regiment.

The characters in the play display human selfishness, which mirrors the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The similarities between the play and the Culture Revolution are astounding. In The Crucible, for instance, selfishness makes its thematic appearance throughout the book from the beginning of Act I when Reverend Parris wants more land and money for firewood to the end of Act IV when Danforth refuses to postpone the executions. Also, when Abigail tries to slander Elizabeth Proctor, she says, “She [Elizabeth] is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! She is a cold, sniveling woman, and you bend to her! Let her turn you like a—” (Act I 22). However, as the story progresses, Arthur Miller reveals that Abigail Williams has been lying the whole time. She first accuses Tituba of witchery, and the group of girls cannot stop from there because of their need for selfish attention. From this egotism, hysteria ensues, and everyone concocts lies so that they can benefit from their neighbors’ imprisonment. Thomas Putnam, for example, accuses others so he can purchase their land after they hang. Also, later in the story, Abigail Williams accuses Elizabeth Proctor of witchery because she wants to replace Elizabeth and be with John Proctor. Abigail’s selfishness has caused her conscience to deteriorate. Now, fast-forward three hundred years ahead in history. The same selfish hysteria took place in China but with a different name— The Cultural Revolution. In 1966, China’s communist leader Zedong Mao launched a so-called Culture Revolution to solidify his authority over the Chinese government. Qing Jiang, the leader of the Revolution, saw the incident as a magnificent opportunity to eliminate her political enemy Enlai Zhou. She charged Enlai Zhou with attempting to change the Chinese political system, a serious accusation back in the 70’s. Qing Jiang started to accuse intellectual people such as writers, philosophers, and teachers. Unsurprisingly, her accusations were based on no evidence and the government supported her. Qing Jiang and her three colleagues ignited unfound hysteria just as Abigail and the group of girls did three hundred years ago. The Chinese Cultural Revolution revealed the evil side of humanity where people would harm others for their own interests. All in all, selfishness has been proven to be one of the igniters of mass frenzy.

Besides the Revolution, the Red Scare in the 1950’s revealed the impressionability, which also occurs during the Salem Witch Trials. In the book, towards the end of Act I when Abigail and the group of girls start to accuse others, they say, “I [see] Bridget Bishop with the Devil! I [see] George Jacobs with the Devil! I [see] Goody Howe with the Devil! I [see] Martha Bellows with the Devils!” (Act I 45). The court authorities including Reverend Hale all believe that they are telling the truth, which shows how loose-minded and impressionable they are. They do not fully investigate these accusations and blindly believe them. After Act I, Abigail Williams along with the group of girls become the primary witnesses of the trials and have special roles in the court. Similar to the Salem Witch Trials, the Red Scare stimulated by Joseph McCarthy also shows how people could be impressionable and believe this hysteric propaganda. The Red Scare was a movement in America spawned from the fear of a potential rise of communism. In 1950, during the Wheeling Speech in West Virginia, Joseph McCarthy says, “I have here in my hand a list of 205… a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department….”[2] Joseph McCarthy’s speech triggered the Red Scare and led the whole nation into chaos. Huge anti-communist movements took place and people lost their jobs and their reputations because they were suspected of being communists. The people’s impressionability during the Red Scare proved that this stain could be passed on to future generations.

Finally, the Nazi party under the rule of Hitler that committed heinous acts against others during the Third Reich in World War II and shows the atrocities that can be ignited by fear corresponding to a theme in The Crucible. In the book, suspects who refuse to confess are sentenced to death, which shows how brutal the judges were. When Deputy Governor Danforth is asking for the name of person who signed the deposition, Giles Corey replies, “You know well why not! He’ll lay in jail if I give his name” (Act III 90)! Giles Corey refuses to tell Danforth the name because he knows that the person who signed the deposition will be persecuted by the court. Moreover, the ways to identify witches were ironic. For example, the water trial is that suspects tied with huge rocks were thrown into deep water. If the suspect sinks, then she is innocent whereas if she floats, then she is a witch. This trial shows how brutal and irrational people are because the suspect will die no matter the test result. Similarly, during the Third Reich under the rule of Adolf Hitler, six million people were killed innocently during the holocaust. Many notable scientists and artists were slaughtered because they were Jewish. The Nazi soldiers not only targeted the Jews but also those people who sheltered them. The massive killings and ferocious maltreatment against Jews during the Third Reich revealed the presence of atrocities that exist in human society.

To conclude, the three character traits of selfishness, impressionability, and the ability to commit atrocities present in The Crucible and are still prevalent in society. In modern times, these characteristics were prominent during the Chinese Culture Revolution where innocent people were being accused for others’ interests. The flaw of impressionability was seen in those involved in the Red Scare where people blindly judge others based on their impressions. The Third Reich was atrocious because Nazi soldiers slaughtered Jewish people without mercy. History repeats itself– When Donald Trump made his debut in the presidential debate, his platform stood on fear, and he made statements such as, “Mexicans are taking our jobs and killing us.” During his presidential journey, Trump has shown his overarching prejudice. Therefore, we should be careful not to exercise our selfishness, not to be impressionable, and not to engage in atrocities based on hateful rhetoric. Unfortunately, Trump’s remarks show a striking similarity to the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, which we may be doomed to repeat if it is not outshined by our selflessness, intelligence, and love.

42164637dCarrick Zhu is a V Form boarding student from Orlando, FL. He lives in Coe House, plays soccer, and pursues fashion and styling.




[1] American Rhetoric, 30 Oct 2016, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/welch-mccarthy.html

[2] History Matters, 10 Nov 2016, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6456

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