.. ious decisions, though, the government powered by theocracy had undermined both the people’s rights and their privacy. One civilization taken by madness is harrowing enough, but the real-life drama that submerged Salem Village and left its people in a state of hysteria was unfortunately to be repeated in almost parallel form. Indeed, the similarities between the HUAC trials in the 1950s and the Salem witch trials as portrayed in The Crucible are horrifying.
Both trials were initiated by individuals who called out the guiltiness of others in order to somehow better their own positions in society. Abigail Williams and her friends went against the conformity of their Puritan religion, which allowed them a feeling of incredible power. In the same fashion also, Senator McCarthy gained unexpected authority. On February 9, 1950 he dropped a bombshell of a speech at the Republican Women’s Club of West Virginia where he suddenly announced that he had a list of 205 communists in the State Department (Schultz). While no press members actually saw the list, McCarthy’s shocking proclamation made national news and commenced the Senator’s powerful hunt for communists (CNN Interactive). While both Abigail and McCarthy accused people of horrendous crimes, neither of them ever proved the guilt of those indicted.
When those accused of being witches or communists went to trial, they were questioned in an atmosphere that would put anyone on edge. The courtroom of Salem was a place few desired to occupy, especially with the dark eyes of Assists John Hathorne and Jonathan Curren glaring at them. Once on the stand, those accused were pounded with questions, many of them repeated until the person testifying would change his answer to please the court and get himself out of the limelight. For example, the actual testimony of Sarah Good, which is very similarly portrayed in The Crucible, transpired as follows: Hathorne: What evil spirit have you familiarity with? Good: None. Hathorne: Have you made no contract with the devil? Good: (Good answered no.) Hathorne: Why doe you hurt these children? Good: I doe not hurt them.
I scorn it. Hathorne: Who doe you imploy then to doe it? Good: No creature but I am falsely accused. Hathorne: (repeated variously) Have you made no contract with the devil then? Why doe you hurt these children? Who doe you imply to do it? The questions continued, Hathorne becoming more animated and Sarah Good becoming more despairing. This method of questioning was used again in the HUAC trials. Each person called to testify was asked “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?” In both the Salem witch trials and the HUAC trials, those on the stand were virtually harassed until they gave the answer their tormentor desired.
The trials were not alike only in the line of questioning; they also both involved “spectral” evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. Abigail and her adolescent girlfriends called out in opposition of those against whom they held grudges or simply did not like. Some of these people were hung because they would not admit to appearing in spirit or trafficking with the Devil. While the spectral evidence in the HUAC trials was slightly subordinately otherworldly, it was nonetheless an indication of guilt through the same sort of “crying out.” For example, Hollywood singer-actor Martin Dies cried out against others, causing the court to conclude “the accused might have been engaged in the silent diffusion of subversive doctrine.” Thus spectral shapes were perceived to be reality in the HUAC trials as well (Marshall 62).
Perhaps the most common characteristic of the two trials is the problem onlookers found. The public did not know whether Abigail or McCarthy were telling the truth, or if others were telling the truth about them (Rovere). Throughout The Crucible, characters were constantly questioning Abigail’s honesty. However, only a few were brave enough to speak out against her, including Mary Warren, who changed her dissension after Abigail turned against her, and John Proctor, who eventually hung. There was no glory to be found in going against the preponderance in either trial.
During the Red Scare “it was no longer possible to challenge the basic assumptions of American policy without incurring suspicions of disloyalty,” says author Ellen Schrecker. So it was that both of the trials were traps-those who did not outwardly support Abigail or McCarthy could never be secure in their own status. The Salem witch trials and HUAC trials both resulted in a more secretive government and caused increasing exposure of citizens. Because of the controlling agents, Abigail and McCarthy, anyone was at risk, and so no one fought back.
During the Salem witch hunt, nineteen people died-and for what reason? Simply because some of those accused told the truth, they faced a noose. Three hundred years later, in late 1950, a group of University of Chicago graduate students sent around a petition for a coffee vending machine to be placed outside of the Physics Department for convenience. Their colleagues refused to sign the document, however, because they did not want to be associated with the radical students who had already signed. “This incident, and it is not unique, exemplifies the kind of timidity that came to be seen, even at the time, as the most damaging consequence of the anti-communist furor,” Shrecker says. The same confusion that overwhelmed people in seventeenth-century Salem attacked people during the HUAC trials.
Without doubt the loyalty programs, congressional hearings, and numerous blacklists affected the lives of the people caught up in them (Shrecker 92). As a result of these anti-Communist trials, people increasingly began to face non-privacy issues. The drama and delirium that took over Hollywood and the general public during Arthur Miller’s playwriting in the 1950s surely laid anti-McCarthyism tones in The Crucible. Indeed, the development of today’s surreptitious government and its need to keep citizens open for inspection is a repercussion of both the Salem witch trials and the more recent hunt for communists infesting the American nation. “Somehow I feel this is not the way the founders planned it,” says Herblock’s cartoon.
The Crucible shows life before “the founders planned it” in a context of Miller’s perception of McCarthyism, and the work also resonates the United States’ increasing feeling of non-privacy that citizens feel even today. Bibliography Chun, Debbie. “The Red Scare and the Salem Witch Hunt.” Electric Soup. 11 Nov. 1999 .
Hayes, Richard. “Hysteria and Ideology in The Crucible.” Commonweal 57. Feb. 1953. 11 Nov.
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29 Nov. 1999: 6. Marshall, George. “Salem, 1950.” Masses & Mainstream Jul. 1950: 62-63. McCarthy’s State Department Speech.
CNN Interactive. 9 Nov. 1999 . Miller, Arthur.
The Crucible. New York: Viking, 1953. —. “Many Writers: Few Plays.” New York Times 10 Aug. 1952: B1. Rovere, Richard H.
Senator Joe McCarthy. 1996. 9 Nov. 1999 .
Schrecker, Ellen. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Schultz, Stanley K.
Lecture 23-The Coils of Cold War. Ed. Shane Hamilton. 9 Nov. 1999 .
Theoharis, Athan G. “Authors, Publishers, and the McCarthy Era: A Hidden History.” USA Today. Sept. 1993: 90-92. Witch Hunt Hysteria. www.letsfindout.com.
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