Sometimes you wait forever to read a book, hoping for the best, and you get Death of a Salesman.
And sometimes you wait forever to read a book, hoping for the best, and you get something deep and wonderful.
You get The Crucible.
These two most famous plays by the late and accomplished writer Arthur Miller moved and changed theatre at the time, with The Crucible also winning a Tony just like Death of a Salesmen had.
But while many more of the multitudes cheer on Salesman, and it has received praise I feel unequal to what is it, The Crucible makes the grade as a far better and more meaningful story.
Premiering in 1953, The Crucible was a political allegory of the current McCarthy communist witchhunts that was sweeping the landscape of the United States. McCarthy was a minor senator who latched onto fame and glory, in his twisted mind, by leading a committee to ferret out alleged commies all over the American government and entertainment industry. Flimsy proof and outright lies was offered as evidence of being a traitor. Many famous people, including Lucille Ball, were targeted. Some, like Ball, survived with their name intact. Others, like Charlie Chaplin, left for Europe and only returned decades later.
Miller did a smart tactic and decided, when exposing this insanity, to go back to the past and dramatize an earlier witchhunt in American history, also equally insane.
In the early 1690’s the religious settlers in pre-America America were very strict Christians who feared the everywhere evil of the devil. They also have plenty of petty squabbles, legal wranglings, and illicit affairs between them, enough that it appears their religious lifestyle is a bit of a sham.
Into this potent mix is a sick young girl, daughter of a prominent member of the community, who suffers from a mysterious ailment. Whispers spread as to what is wrong and stories spread that the girl and some friends were dancing in the woods.
Fear breeds as to what this all means, but the only real conclusion is the devil.
Not that the girls might be making up stories or people might have agenda’s.
Quickly accusations and deranged trials occur with alarming regularity.
And it took years for the community to heal from the damage their own paranoia wrought.
The Crucible admits to not being completely historically accurate, and many scholars point to even more details and characters that are not entirely correct. But the gist of tragedy, and how it relates to the events Miller was really going on about, are all here.
In the play, shortly after the girl falls ill, the tale shifts to one man and his family. John Proctor is outspoken and has issue with the local Reverend. He also cheated on his wife Elizabeth with a younger woman Abigail. To get revenge and to make John hers, Abigail raises accusations against Elizabeth. It all spirals into a courtroom scene where John tries to clear his wife and the situation goes even more off the rails. By the end, so many are dead and about to die and the community in falling into chaos. The religious/political leaders know this, but are desperate to keep power and not loose face, so they resort to brutal and manipulative tactics to get the results they desire.
John Proctor’s argument at the end, one where he makes even more excellent points, reminds me very much of themes inherent in A Man For All Seasons. Individuality versus the State. What you are worth as a person. The honour of your name and what it means to you. How your sins are really between you and your God. The corruption of all around you and how it affects you and yours. How oppression can crush you. Both plays are very connected and should be taught together in schools as invaluable discussions points on these topics and tons more they raise.
Thankfully after the personal debacle of my experiences with Death of a Salesman, The Crucible was a welcome and refreshing look at history and religion and humanity.
The Crucible tells us history should not always be repeated.
…is currently reading Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling.