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The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, now available in audio books format.

Without knowing the background of The Crucible, at first sight, the play seems to depict the story of witch trials which it is reported took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.

These trials were founded on the testimony of a young girl, Anne Putnam, who stated that she had seen a group of people holding rituals which included consorting with the devil. She also claimed that they were residents of Salem, and that they were conducting black Sabbaths, which is a term for the assembly of witches.

Resulting from her testimony, Samuel Parris, a clergyman of English stock, was responsible for the prosecution of scores of so called witches in this New England state. As a result, the Salem jury returned guilty verdicts and at least nineteen defendants were put to death by hanging.

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953, a time when contemporary America was paranoid with the fear of communism. It was a time when Senator Joe McCarthy spearheaded a ‘witch hunt’ of his own, hunting down people who were deemed to have communist views or who formed alliances with known activists. This witch hunt has been described as ‘McCarthyism’ and was almost a reign of terror, as many guiltless people were branded as Anti-American as a result of false accusations, the spreading of malicious rumours bordering on mass hysteria. Many Hollywood actors suffered accusations which had adverse effects on their careers. Even Arthur Miller came under McCarthy’s spotlight and for a time was accused of having left wing sympathies. He was called before the House of Representatives and cross examined.

In reality, Miller wrote The Crucible as a satirical commentary of McCarthyism and made use of the Salem witches trials as a metaphor. He uses the Salem events to satirise the ongoing frenetic attempts to lay the blame for the problems facing society on the irrational conduct of a minority of narrow minded individuals.

Initially, reviews of his play were met with poor reviews, until in 1953, it won the Best Play Tony award. The play has garnered international acclaim and its premise has been compared to many situations where human rights have been violated. It has been performed in many countries and its relevance is and will persist while societies are punished for speaking their minds and criticising authority.

The Crucible now features on the recommended reading list of many high schools and universities in America because of its literary position and because of its portrayal of an era in which many Hollywood actors became the target of McCarthyism through an extensive over reaction to an imagined left wing crisis.

Thankfully, students can now listen to The Crucible in audio books format, dramatised by Stuart Pankin, Jerome Dempsey and cast.

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