The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, perfectly mirrors the absurdity of Senator Joseph McCarthy's quest to rid the United States of Communist Party infiltration. This protest piece (considered an average work by some) captures the essence of McCarthyism by making use of The Salam Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Miller masterfully weaves the names and lives of actual participants in the Witchcraft Trials into his tale of deceit and greed. Although not a historical rendering, Miller's play helps the reader discover "the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history." In this work, the reader is taken on a journey of hysteria brought about like many others throughout the history of human kind. Just as a fruit lurks in each seed, a lie grows in the womb of each public terror that plagues the hearts of men.
At the outset of the play, the reader is introduced to the manipulative Abigail Williams and her self-centered uncle Reverend Parris. It appears that Abigail and several young girls have been dancing naked in the woods. Dancing is not permitted by the practitioners of the Puritan faith, but is a forgivable offense if confessed. Once the offenders receive a sound flogging all are once more embraced by the warmth of the one true God. Abigail's offense and that of the other girls is not only dancing, but alledgedly conjuring spirits with Parris' slave girl Tituba. Reverend Parris himself discovers the girls who are so frightened by him that many run away while others fall to the earth as if gripped by "a stroke of hell." Among the fallen are Betty, Parris' daughter, and Ruth, the daughter of a prominant Salam landowner. The former lingers with eyes closed while the latter ails with eyes open. All are perplexed and most want the onlslought of the Devil in Salam to be made public knowledge. To pronounce or denounce the devils presence, a Reverend John Hale is summoned. He alone, armed only with books "weighted with knowledge", can discover and exile the fiend before all souls are damned to the firery pit. But is the devil alive and well in Salam or is self-gain and want for attention the true culprit?
As the action rises, an affair is revealed, a decades old land dispute is visciously settled, a mother avenges the deaths of her still born children, a saint is crucified, a father honors his sons, and a wife exalts her husband. Arthur Miller infuses charcters of multiple layers into a tale of sin and ultimate redemption. I highly recommend this play to anyone intrigued by societal chaos and the hysteria that follows. The events exposed in The Crucible continue (on some level) today and reveal to all "the grin" that sometimes lurks "behind the smile." The beginning of this work is tangled in underlying agendas and its ending would cause a Shakespearean Tragedy to blush. Happy reading all!