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McCarthyism and Its References in the Crucible: Historical Parallels and Outcomes

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During the 1950s, Americans feared the concept of Communism. This is when the government has complete control over the economy. America was built on democracy and free-enterprise, while the Soviet Union based their country off of Communism. After World War II, China had its own civil war and fell into the Communist Party. This is referred to as the “red scare”. People feared that U.S. citizens were secretly part of the Communist Party. They questioned neighbors, politicians, celebrities, etc. Due to the growing fear, the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigating.

Throughout this time, Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy, was a power-hungry politician. He looked for an issue to make himself famous and found the perfect topic. On February 9, 1950, McCarthy made a list of 205 names who were “communist.” This gave him the platform he desired. He became the Chairman of the Senate Committee and instigated investigations. Celebrities were often targeted and blacklisted if they were associated. People referred to this as “McCarthyism.” It was around this time when playwright, Arthur Miller wrote his play, The Crucible, in 1953. In short, Salem residents are accused of witchcraft. Some deny the accusation, others confess. Nevertheless, many were hanged and shunned from the rest of the town. The parallels between these two moments in history are quite obvious. The hysteria, the blaming, and the sacrifice that took over both situations are some of the key factors as to why McCarthyism and The Crucible are similar.

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In the summer of 1949, the Soviets expanded their control to most of eastern Europe, and China was on the verge of becoming a communist nation. Everybody in the United States became hysterical. Political Cartoonist, Herblock created a cartoon called “Fire.” It basically represents a man who is “hysteria” pouring water on to the fire of the torch that is held by the Statue of Liberty. The torch symbolizes the freedom for immigrants that entered the United States, but it also reminds Americans of their freedom. When the torch is put out, it eliminates freedom and power.

Hysteria is what causes many Americans to accuse their neighbors or celebrities. Just like in The Crucible, it is stated that Abigail is “talking to a bird” who has taken the shape of Mary Lewis. The tables started to turn against Abigail in Act III when Mary Warren began to testify against her. On page 114, Abigail begins to point and yell towards a beam. Everybody looks towards the direction and the group of young girls begins to follow along. Judge Danforth says, ” What is it, child? …What’s there?… She is transfixed… Girls! Why do you – ?” (Page 114). The group of girls turned their backs against Mary Warren. Everything Mary Warren says or does is mimicked. Like on page 115, Miller’s stage direction says, ” Abigail, now staring full front as though hypnotized and mimicking the exact tone of Mary Warren’s cry. Mary Warren, pleading: “Abby, you mustn’t!” Abigail and all the Girls, all transfixed: “Abby, you mustn’t! ” (Page 115). Now that the young girls have joined the act that Abigail is portraying, Mary Warren no longer has power in what she says due to the girls’ hysterical acts.

Elia Kazan was just one of Hollywood’s famous directors. On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire are just some of his infamous movies. In the years 1934-1936, Kazan was a member of the Communist Party. Sixteen years later, he was called by the HUAC to testify under oath. He initially refused to “name names” on January 14, 1952, but returned three months later because “the American people needed the facts … [and] aspects of Communism in order to deal with it wisely and effectively.”(Document A) This could be because people who refuse to give names were blacklisted. Meaning that they were denied employment because they would not cooperate with the HUAC. When Kazan returned, he named many people from his former Group Theatre. Most of the names he gave were already familiar to the HUAC, except Arthur Miller’s. Miller and Kazan were good friends until he named his name. Elia threw them under the bus in order to save himself. In The Crucible, Reverend Hale is begging Tituba to “give all their [witches] names.” Abigail is afraid that Tituba will give her name out, so she interrupts by saying, “I want to open myself! I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book… I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!” Betty then wakes up and yells names who also were with the Devil. Everybody then sees Abigail as the brave young girl who broke the curse. Both Kazan and Abigail blamed others for their action in order to save themselves and their name.

Nobel Prize winner, Albert Einstein is one of the world’s best physicists in the world. He is most remembered for creating the atomic bomb during World War II. In 1953, A New York school teacher asked Einstein how he opposed the Congressional investigation that was occurring. Einstein’s response is simple, “Every intellectual who is called before one of the committees ought to refuse to testify. He must be prepared for jail and economic ruin, in short, for the sacrifice of his personal welfare in the interest of the cultural welfare of his country… [those who do not] deserve nothing better than the slavery which is intended for them’. He tells people to those who refuse to testify must be prepared for what will come. That giving up their careers is worth having rather than giving in to the games that their country is playing. Those who do testify deserve nothing, even though they thought they were helping their country. In Act IV, John Proctor and Elizabeth talk about their neighbor, Giles Corey. Corey was condemned for not giving names of “suspected witches.”, Elizabeth proceeds to say, “He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stands mute and died Christian under the law. His sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without the indict, aye or nay.” Giles resisted the court because he knew that if he either admitted or denied the accusation, they would sell his land. So he stayed mute. Only saying the words, ” More weight.”

He sacrificed his life in order to make sure that his children get the property. In the end, The Crucible and McCarthyism have a lot of common. During both time periods, people became hysterical, they blamed others for their action or they snitched, and many people sacrificed their lives or their careers. Some may argue that these two moments in history are nothing similar, but without a doubt, there is concrete evidence that there is.

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