The Crucible: historical context

The Crucible: historical context

Historical Context of “The Crucible”


  • “The Crucible” is a play by Arthur Miller, written in 1953, and reflecting two key historical periods; 1950s America and 17th Century Salem.

McCarthyism and 1950s America

  • The play mirrors the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, during which Miller was writing. This period, known as McCarthyism, saw thousands of Americans accused of being Communists or sympathisers.

  • The witch trials in the play are an allegory for the ‘witch hunts’ of McCarthyism. Miller himself was interrogated by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956.

  • Miller’s personal experience influenced his portrayal of the trials. He saw parallels between the Salem witch trials of 1692 and the McCarthy trials of his own time.

Historical Context of 17th Century Salem

  • The Salem witch trials took place in a Puritan society in 1692-93. Over 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft or “the Devil’s magic”, leading to panic and chaos.

  • The historical context of the 17th century is important. Puritans, a religious group who had left England due to persecution, were extremely superstitious and believed in the existence of witches and the power of the Devil.

Society and Social Dynamics in Salem

  • Salem was an insular community with a deep fear of outsiders. This fear served to intensify the hysteria that led to the witch trials.

  • The play also comments on the power dynamics and gender roles of the Salem society. Power was largely held by the dominant male figures, while women were often seen as weak, tempting and manipulative.


  • The stringent moral code and religious fervor of the time played a significant role. Dancing was seen as sinful and evidence of witchcraft, as portrayed in the play.

Overall Themes and Message

  • Miller used “The Crucible” to highlight the dangerous consequences of mass hysteria, false accusations and guilt by association which led to both innocent people being singled out as witches in the 17th century Salem and ‘Communists’ during the McCarthy-era witch hunts.