The Crucible: sub-text

The Crucible: sub-text

Understanding Sub-Text in The Crucible

Sub-Textual Themes:

  • Sub-text refers to the underlying meaning or message conveyed by a piece of literature. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller uses sub-text to convey wider socio-political comments, principally about the McCarthy era.
  • One clear sub-textual message seen in The Crucible is ‘Fear of the Unknown’. Salem’s theocratic society creates a setting where community fears transform into mass hysteria and paranoia. This mirrors the Second Red Scare, where public fear was manipulated to quash political dissenters.
  • Another sub-textual theme within the drama is ‘Abuse of Power’. The actions of figures like Parris, Danforth, and Hathorne reflect abusers of power. This reflects Miller’s critique of those in power during the McCarthy era who propagated fear for their gain.
  • The Danger of Ideology’ is a further sub-text. The Puritan’s religious ideology led to an extreme and rigid moral code, which helped spur mass hysteria. The parallels with the anti-communist ideology of the McCarthy era are apparent.

Characterisation and Sub-Text:

  • Characterisation also embeds sub-text within the play. For example, John Proctor’s struggle to confess and later recant his confession can be seen as an exploration of personal integrity against societal pressures.
  • Presentation of women in the play offers another level of sub-text, highlighting their marginalised status and susceptibility to blame. From being mere property to accused witches, this can be seen as Miller’s criticism of women’s roles in society.

Form and Structure:

  • Sub-text can also be found in the play’s form and structure. The formality of the court scenes reflects the oppressive societal and governmental structures of the time. This formality is juxtaposed with the chaos of the witch trials, an echo of the turmoil of the McCarthy trials.


  • In conclusion, understanding The Crucible’s sub-text and how it comments on the McCarthy era, societal pressures and fear manipulation can add depth to your appreciation and interpretation of the play.