The Crucible: cultural context

The Crucible: cultural context


  • “The Crucible” was penned by Arthur Miller during the 1950s, an era in which America was gripped by the fear of Communism, often referred to as the Red Scare. This was a time when people suspected of having Communist sympathies were persecuted, similar to the witch-hunts in the play.
  • Miller wished to highlight the paranoia, hysteria, and danger of mass conformity that took place during the McCarthy era. McCarthyism was named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who led the campaign against alleged communists. This is analogous to the character of Judge Danforth in the play.

17th Century Puritan Society

  • It is essential to understand the cultural context of the 17th century Puritan society, in which the play is set. Puritanical society was founded on strict religious principles. Dancing, music, and anything considered ungodly were forbidden, and fear of the supernatural was widespread.
  • The play portrays the Puritan’s strict social hierarchy and theocratic leadership. In this context, dissenting voices were not tolerated and conformity was demanded which invariably led to a repressive society.

Power Dynamics

  • “The Crucible” explores the power dynamics within Salem. Land and property disputes played a significant role in the friction between the characters - a subplot based on the historical events of the real Salem witch trials.
  • Gender dynamics, too, play a significant part in the play. Women were subordinate and often scapegoated. The character of Abigail Williams manipulates societal fear and suspicion to wield power.

Themes and Allegory

  • The play’s themes of hysteria, fear, and abuse of power reflect not only the historical era in which the play is set but also extend to any time or culture where unfounded fear and mass hysteria can lead to devastating effects.
  • Understanding this dual historical context - the Salem witch trials and its parallel with 1950s America - can significantly enrich your understanding of Miller’s intentions and the play’s meaning and themes.
  • Notably, “The Crucible” was written as an allegory. While the witch trials are the main plot, they symbolize the ‘witch hunts’ of Communists in America during the 1950s. Understanding this allegorical aspect is important for analysing the play’s key themes and messages.