The Crucible By Arthur Miller Is A Greek Tragedy

1173 words - 5 pages

            When Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953, America was in a state of unrest.  Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee were spreading fear and hysteria with their Communist “witch hunts.” Miller wanted to address the subject in a way that would not blatantly denounce the hearings, and with his previous knowledge of the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, he created an allegory, and The Crucible was born.  By examining the universality of the theme of the play and its tragic elements, it will be apparent that The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s greatest achievement.
The Crucible was not as instantly successful as Death of a Salesman because “its merits were at first overshadowed by the notoriety of its most obvious theme.  The Salem witch trials of 1692, was distractingly applicable to what has been called the witch hunts of the 1950’s” (American Writers 156).   However, The Crucible has survived and is constantly revived because “the play transcends mere topicality” (Matlaw 175).  While the obvious connection between the Salem witchcraft trials and the “Red Scare” is apparent to anyone who reads the play with any knowledge of history, The Crucible is not only an allegory of America in the 1950’s, but a potential allegory for any time and any place because the themes of “betrayal, denial, rash judgment, self justification are remote neither in time or place” (Bigsby xvi).  The power of the play does not lie in the political or social themes, but rather “a study of the debilitating power of guilt, the seductions of power, the flawed nature of the individual and of the society to which the individual owes allegiance” (Bigsby xxiv).  The power of John Proctor’s guilt about his adultery drives him to save his wife from the court, even at the cost of his own life.  Guilt plays a role in each individual’s life and motivates their action to some degree.  When Abigail Williams and the other girls gain the power to determine who lives and who dies, they use this power towards selfish causes.  It corrupts the young girls because they had always been in subjection to everyone.  The corrupting nature of power is a theme that constantly repeats itself through life and literature.  Every person and every society has a flawed nature, because it is impossible for an individual to be without fault just as it is impossible to find a perfect and harmonious Utopia.  The play was not created “from purely social and political considerations,” but also considerations of the plight of the individual facing his own guilt and imperfections (“Why I Wrote “The Crucible”” 827).  In this way, the themes of The Crucible are universal.
The Crucible contains elements of a classical Greek tragedy.  When studying the Salem witchcraft trials, Marion Starkey comments, “Here is real Greek tragedy, with a beginning, a middle, and an end” (Starkey qtd. in Bigsby ix). Greek tragedy has a beginning, middle, and end.  It is one of Aristotle’s...

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