Classic · FrighteninglyGoodRead

Frighteningly Good Reads: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

A required reading from my high school that I resisted as part of my Salem Witch Trials readings. This book means so much more to me now than when I read it at 15.


SYNOPSIS

“I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history,” Arthur Miller wrote of his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller’s drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town’s most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminates the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.

Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “witch-hunts” in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing, “Political opposition… is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.” from Goodreads

The back of a woman’s head is shown wearing the white cap of a Puritan.

REVIEW

I had to read The Crucible in high school. For years (and years) if you had asked me what happened at the Salem Witch Trials I would have told you it was a bunch of terrible little girls making up lies. This narrative might have been my own misunderstanding or it was emphasized by my Catholic high school. Either way, I boiled down this tragedy to the simplest reasoning.

Re-reading the play now, combined with more world knowledge and actually reading the introduction (thank you New Years Resolution 2016!), the depth of the story and the nuances of the history of Miller’s time really came alive. But, more impressively, many of the themes are so vibrantly applicable to our modern issues.

Hysteria, mob mentality, attacks for monetary or political gain, an inability to defend oneself, and the importance of your reputation all continue to be important themes and concerns today. In Puritanical times hysteria was fed by a lack of facts and an absence of applicable science. Today, the mountains of information available to us via social media creates its own hysteria. That same social media also allows us to publicly persecute individuals in a way that does not allow them to defend themselves. Faceless people create virtual mobs and even arrange to meet like-minded people in person to overwhelm those they oppose and ideas they deem wrong. For better or worse, being part of a society make us susceptible to the sins of that society.

It was the emphasis on the urge to confess and the importance of our reputation that struck me the hardest during this re-read. I will admit that I live in fear of doing something that ruins my reputation, something unintentional that I cannot explain because the minds of my accusers are pre-determined before I speak. All that I will have left is to ignore the assault on my reputation or confess to the accusation. We have all seen this again and again online and whether you agree with one side or the other, not listening to each other has become its own monster.

Rest assured, next time I see a scandal unfold on Twitter I will be watching people to see whether they mob together to ruin the accused and whether the only option is confession or social death and I will think of Arthur Miller.


Tell me, please! Has a classic book struck you so differently on a re-read?


5 thoughts on “Frighteningly Good Reads: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

  1. “I will admit that I live in fear of doing something that ruins my reputation, something unintentional that I cannot explain because the minds of my accusers are pre-determined before I speak. All that I will have left is to ignore the assault on my reputation or confess to the accusation. We have all seen this again and again online and whether you agree with one side or the other, not listening to each other has become its own monster.” — omg! yes, yes, yes!! This scares me so much. I think we talked about this before as regards Jon Ronson’s book.

    But, ugh, it’s just so scary, because even when trying to explain yourself, there’s an element of predetermination at play, or people who just don’t see any room for nuance. It’s sad and frustrating, even though at the same time I think the internet has also been a vehicle for good in not letting people/companies get away with certain things, but the cost of it is a steep one nevertheless, and it’s a pretty big dragnet too…

    Anyway, such an interesting take on this. I remember being somehow both bored by it in high school but also intrigued because of the parallels our teacher drew to McCarthyism and the Red Scare at the time it was written. How scary that it’s come back around in importance yet again. We really are failing so hard at learning from our history.

    Also I wondered if you were doing Frighteningly Good Reads again this year! I might have a couple to put together for this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the time and attention you gave for this comment! We did speak about this before and I love that you pinpoint the work of predetermination. I think you will be greatly interested in The Woman Who Smashed Codes (it will be up Friday) because this fantastic woman bucked all the experts around her to speak her opinion.

      I did NOT enjoy the Crucible in High School but it was a quick and poignant read this time through. The 1996 movie however did not age very well. Hah!

      I do so hope you will join in on FGR! You always bring such cool books to the discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

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