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The Crucible as an Allegory for Mccarthyism

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Defined by Iain Mackenzie, ideologies are ‘different sets of ideas and principles about the possible or desirable organization of particular societies’. Written as an allegory to satirize the political climate of McCarthyism in 1950’s America, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible upholds ideologies that conform to the strict adherence of the Bible, oppressive gender roles, and resolute obedience to authority figures. While allowing these ideologies to prevail within the play, Miller simultaneously exposes them as the cause of innocent people’s condemnation and thus uses theatre to form a resistant critique against the political and social context in which he wrote the play. Miller both resists and conforms to certain aspects of the established gender roles of the 1950s, rooting the wavering politics of his play in its resistance to the social context in which it was written, however, failing to completely escape the ideological depiction of socially dominant males and hegemony, he enables the theatre to walk a ‘knife edge’ between ideological conformity and resistant critique.

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Miller sets his play in 1962, Salem Massachusetts, a town dominated by secular puritan leaders who established a society founded upon religious intolerance and strict adherence to the Biblical text. Characters such as Judge Hathorne, Reverend Parris, and Danforth epitomize the corruption of Salem’s authority figures as Miller depicts them as products of a theocracy believing they were appointed by God to carry out his command on earth. Equating church and state when warning the girls to speak truthfully on their accusations ‘Now, children, this is a court of law, the law based upon the bible and the bible written by almighty God’. Danforth insinuates the virtually inseparable nature of religious authorities and the government; those who challenged their position were accused of questioning divine authority and thus subject to a justified punishment. Miller immediately establishes the ideological austerity of Salem’s religious beliefs by opening the play following the ailment of Betty Paris; caught dancing in the woods with several girls. Her sins and purity are immediately called into question as they become a matter of public concern, ‘It is a marvel. It is surely a stroke of hell upon you. Her abnormbehaviorour threatens traditional Puritan values and without room for deviation from these social norms the actions of the girls fail to conform to the ideological power of puritan laws and thus they present a threat to the divine authority and position of those in power. Later in Act III Danforth suggests ‘a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it. Implying that dissent is not solely unlawful, but stands in association with satanic deviance, it is this dichotomy that operates as the rationale for the witch trials. Throughout the play, Miller purposefully introduces several characters with whom he allows the audience to sympathize. It is through the portrayal of these characters’ innocence that he successfully exposes the injustice behind Salem’s hangings. Rebecca Nurse, held in high regard by all of Salem’s community and a voice of reason within the play, fails to escape her unjust end and is sentenced to death by hanging. John Proctor, the play’s tragic hero also meets the same untimely death and although Proctor is no stranger to sin, he too is innocent of his accused crimes. By allowing these injustices to prevail within theatre, Miller’s play conforms to religious sovereignty and further empowers the ideological dominance of hegemony. 

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