The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible by Arthur MillerI wasn’t planning on reading Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, but when our daughter Teresa was recently cast in the role of Elizabeth for her final high school play, I wanted to reacquaint myself with the story. I’m pretty sure it was assigned reading for me in high school, but I don’t remember if I actually read it or not. Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t wait to see it performed on stage. I was caught up in the story from beginning to end, and found it both unsettling and powerful.

Written in 1953 as an allegory of McCarthyism, The Crucible is a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials around the year 1692. The story begins quickly and dramatically, and as the tragedy unfolds it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know what’s coming, but you can’t do anything to stop it.

It’s sad to say, but the issues The Crucible addresses are still relevant today, perhaps now more than ever. Christopher Bigsby writes in the introduction to the Penguin edition,

It was as an allegory of our times that Miller seized upon it, and though it was to be the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee that seemed to offer the most direct parallel, he…recognized other parallels, in a war then only four years behind them, for the Nazis, too, had their demons and deployed a systematic pseudo-science to identify those they regarded as tainted and impure.

The Crucible shows us the extent to which our fears and hysteria can lead to tragedy for those who are regarded as “tainted and impure” by those in power. This is not a problem for only one political party or ideology. It is a temptation for all in power, whether religious or secular, male or female, conservative or liberal.

From the publisher:

One of the true masterpieces of twentieth-century American theater, The Crucible brilliantly explores the threshold between individual guilt and mass hysteria, personal spite and collective evil. It is a play that is not only relentlessly suspenseful and vastly moving, but that compels readers to fathom their hearts and consciences in ways that only the greatest theatre can.

If you’ve never read it, give The Crucible a try. And if you last read it in high school or college, it may be time for a reread. You may be disturbed, but I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Note: Readers in Spokane, WA, can see The Crucible performed at Gonzaga Preparatory School on May 12, 13, 19, 20, and 21, 2017.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller
First premiered January 22, 1953
First edition New York: The Viking Press, 1953
Kindle edition Penguin Classics, 2016
Print length: 178 pages

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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