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This paper considers “the Crucible” as a great piece of literature since it utilizes thematic elements from the 1700s in order to explain concepts related to hysteria, corruption, the abuse of power and hypocrisy. It is a perfect example of what happens when a logical system of checks and balances is not implemented within the governing body of a society resulting in the proliferation of governmental policies based on personal agendas. The story helps to showcase that not all acts by a ruling body are for the benefit of the local populace; instead, some acts are done under the guise of helping when in reality what is occurring is nothing more than a subversive means of promoting an agenda that is in no way, shape or form something that benefits the society as a whole.
What Makes the Crucible Great?
One of the most poignant aspects of the Crucible was how it showcased how quick the general public believed the words of Abigail and the Reverends regarding the presence of “witches” in the town of Salem and how their actions sparked what can undoubtedly be described as a witch hunt. The phrase: “Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven” helps readers to understand how the townspeople were so easily lulled into believing the Reverends due to their position of power and how they were leaders within their respective societies (Colton 1). The mere concept that they are being tricked or that the accusers are doing this for their own benefit never seems to enter into their minds at all. Their belief in the infallibility in those that lead them resulted in the promotion of societal hysteria involving the concept of witchcraft and the resulting hyperbole involving several women in the town being witches.
Vulnerability within Society
The concept shown in the previous section shows an inherent vulnerability within society since it is likely to fall victim to the schemes of those in power which are cloaked in subtle lies meant to entice and convince people that what is being done is for their own good. This can be seen in the following phrase in the book:
“This is a sharp time, now, a precise time-we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.” (Colton 1)
The aforementioned phrase is attributed to the character of Danforth who has become so thoroughly convinced by the witchcraft accusers that what they are doing is the work of God that he zealously believes that what he does is being done for the greater good despite the fact that everything that has been said involving witchcraft has been nothing but a lie from the start. When examining these concepts, it can be seen that the work of Miller is actually applicable to not only during the period of McCarthyism but also to the present wherein lobbyists in the government, corporate influences as well as party allegiances often dictate the development of internal and external government policies that affect the citizens of a country (Colton 1). It is often the case that various policies are enacted not for the good of the people, rather, they are for those that have a vested interest in such policies in the first place. For instance, the NRA (National Rifle Association) in the U.S. is considered to have one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country and this has resulted in the continued promotion of gun rights and policies associated with owning guns despite the various media stories that have depicted gun violence as one of the leading causes of preventable death in the country.
Evidence from countries such as Japan, France and Germany has shown that extensive gun control combined with preventing people from purchasing semi-automatic weaponry and military grade hardware has resulted in far lower gun related deaths within their respective borders and is clear evidence that the rampant gun ownership within the U.S. is one of the reasons why violent deaths via gunfire continues to be an issue. However, despite such evidence, concrete policies to reduce or rescind gun ownership have not been implemented due to the NRA lobby. This particular aspect shows a considerable level of parallelism with the Crucible since it shows how those in power often put forth policies that are more detrimental to the public than they beneficial. This shows how timeless the concepts present within the book are since, decades later, they continue to be applicable to present day society.
Hyperbole and Hypocrisy in the Crucible
Going along this line of thought, of particular interest to this paper is how the book portrays hyperbole and hypocrisy and connects it with the events of the McCarthy era. This particular aspect is exemplified through the following quote from the story:
“I want the light of God; I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him, I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!” (Colton 1)
Stated by the character of Abigail Williams in the story, this particular quote is actually a metaphor for the way in which people who were accused of being communists were “brought back into the fold” so to speak after they had confessed and then subsequently pointed out others of being communists as well. It is interesting to note that this particular act perpetuates a cycle wherein other people who have been accused consequently admit to the act and then accuse others as well in order to show their innocence (Colton 1). The inherent problem though with this cycle, both in the Crucible and in the McCarthy era, is the fact that all those that have been accused and those that they consequently accuse in order to be acquitted are all innocent. The cycle simply continues due to the desire of those in power to justify the persecution in the first place and it is the general public that acquiesces to such actions due to the way in which they are controlled through fear.
The concept of fear, both in the Crucible and in the McCarthy era, is the manner in which those in power control the perception of the general public. For the people in Salem, it is the fear of being subject to witchcraft and the unknown that results in them allowing the witch hunt to continue while in the case of the McCarthy era communist witch hunts, it is the fear of war and subversive communist agents within the country that causes the public to acquiesce with the witch hunts of the government. In both cases, it can clearly be seen that it is fear that allows unreasonable and unlawful actions to continue under the guise of lawful actions that are for the common good. It is based on this interpretation that when viewing the work of the author as a whole, it seems to be a call to action for the public to stand up against the fear that holds them back, to go against personal agendas in the guise of government policies and to develop the clear notion that those in power are there to serve them and not the other way around.
All in all, what makes the Crucible a great piece of literature is the timelessness associated with its various ideas and concepts. Though it utilizes characters and situations from the 17th century in order to criticize events during the mid 1900s, they still continue to be applicable to this very day. This may be due to the fact that society itself has not changed drastically over the past hundred years. While it may be true that technological improvements have resulted in a far more interconnected world, the fact remains that social concepts and ideas that existed several hundred years ago continue to run rampant at the present. However, instead of such ideas existing on a small scale, they are now attributable to events on a regional and international stage. It is based on this that the message Miller imparts become all the more important since it is evident that the events in Salem and during the McCarthy era should not be repeated. This can only be prevented if people begin to realize that they hold power over the government and not the other way around.
Colton, Alyssa. “Literary Contexts In Plays: Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Literary Contexts In Plays: Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ (2006): 1. Print