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Fear of Witchcraft as Metaphor in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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Fear of Witchcraft as Metaphor in The Crucible

The Crucible uses fear of witchcraft in the America of the 1600s as a metaphor for the fear of communism that was widespread in America in the 1950s. Arthur Miller wished to show that the attitudes and behaviour of the villagers of Salem were as irrational and ill-founded as the attitude and behaviour of the committee chaired by Senator McCarthy. Essentially Miller uses the 17th century setting to provide critical distance between the events described and the emotions that they aroused. After three hundred years everyone understands that witchcraft was never a threat to society and we can look at the way people behaved fairly sensibly. The Crucible argues that communism is
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John Proctor has committed adultery, Parris is in dispute over his pay and there are numerous examples of jealousy and greed among the inhabitants. The important thing is that, at the beginning of the play, the town seems harmonious but the tensions caused by Abigail and the girls bring completely unconnected problems to the surface. Miller seems to be suggesting here that although 50s America seemed to be at peace with itself it was just as likely to be full of 'sin'.

The way in which the 'witch-hunt' mentality develops is well illustrated by the progress of the children's accusations of witchcraft. At first the children only accuse people whom they know are weak within their society so that the accusations are easily accepted. However, as others observe the children pointing the finger of suspicion, they too start to accuse their neighbours of witchcraft as a way of taking revenge or for personal gain:

"...if Jacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property- that's law! And there is none but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece."

Miller uses incidents like this as a way of showing, without too much risk to himself, that this is what the committee chaired by Senator McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the communist paranoia were doing - people were using it to
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