Parallel Worlds: McCarthyism and the Crucible’s Subtext

Category: Crime, Justice
Last Updated: 30 Aug 2023
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"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller, one of the most well-known dramas in American literature, is based on the Salem witch trials. Beyond its historical context, Miller's masterwork might be seen as an indictment of his own time, the McCarthyist period. During this time, there were widespread anti-communist suspicions similar to the widespread panic portrayed in Salem. The symbiotic link between "The Crucible" and McCarthyism reveals how history may sometimes mirror itself in unsettling ways.

The Historical Context and Fear as an Incentive

It's critical to comprehend the backgrounds before delving into the comparisons. During the Salem witch trials in the 1690s, people were tried, imprisoned, and put to death due to spurious charges of witchcraft. Time travel to the 1950s in America, when Senator Joseph McCarthy oversaw an effort to expose suspected communist espionage in the arts, politics, and other organizations. As a result, the word "McCarthyism," which refers to the unjustified allegation and retaliation against persons based on little or nonexistent evidence, was coined.

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Fear served as the primary incentive throughout both the McCarthy period and the Salem witch trials. It was a dread of the unknown, the devil, and evil powers in Salem. It was the 'Red Scare,' the threat of communism, and the probable collapse of American democracy during the McCarthy era. In all cases, this anxiety produced illogical choices, retaliation, and a pervasive air of mistrust.

The Role of Authority

Miller emphasizes the risky position authority persons take when they give in to widespread panic. In "The Crucible," characters like Judge Danforth take on the role as the epitome of faulty justice. Similar to how President Obama used his authority to charge people and damage their reputations, Senator McCarthy did the same.

The danger of disagreement is one of the significant parallels between the two periods. In "The Crucible," individuals who dared to disagree with the court's rulings were falsely accused. During the McCarthy era, criticizing McCarthy's methods or standing up for the accused may get you labeled as a supporter or even a communist.

Miller wasn't only a bystander. In 1956, he was asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and his political sympathies were questioned. His firsthand encounters with the injustices and suspicions of the day had a significant impact on "The Crucible."


The drama "The Crucible" is more than simply a history of the Salem witch trials; it also serves as a mirror reflecting the concerns of Miller's day. The parallels between the communist fear of the 1950s and the witch hunts of the 1690s highlight a repeating issue in history: the dangers of unbridled popular hysteria and the possibility for power brokers to take advantage of such circumstances. Miller's writing serves as a timeless cautionary tale, emphasizing the perils of obedience, the price of having blind confidence in authority, and the value of personal integrity.


  1. A. Miller (1953). In the Crucible. Penguin Books.
  2. (1998) Schrecker, E. The crimes of McCarthyism in America are many. The Little Brown Company.
  3. D. Blakesley, 2002. The Dramatism Elements. Longman.
  4. J. E. Haynes (2000). American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era: Red Scare or Red Menace? Dee, Ivan R.

Cite this Page

Parallel Worlds: McCarthyism and the Crucible’s Subtext. (2023, Aug 24). Retrieved from

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