The Purpose Of Allegory In The Crucible

The purpose of an allegory is to reveal an underlying message to the audience about an aspect of society through the story of fictional characters. The Merriam-Webster definition of allegory states that it is the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.

The Crucible serves as an allegory for the mass hysteria in the late 1940s and 1950s towards communism and the consequences that it brought, and warns readers of the consequences that followed. Miller does this through the historical setting of the 1692 Salem witch trials in Puritan-American Massachusetts. In the late 1940s and 1950s, a US Senator called Joseph McCarthy, through the fear of the “Red Scare” from Russia, lead senate hearings which accused American citizens being or sympathetic towards communists. Those who were suspected communists then were blacklisted from jobs, and unable to work, in some cases they were imprisoned for their views. From this, the term “McCarthyism” originates, and is defined as the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.

Miller parallels the events occurring in his time in his writing of The Crucible, with Salem representative of the United States during the Cold War in the late 1940s and 1950s. The hysteria of witchcraft brought by Abigail and the girls parallels the hysteria in the United States, only that McCarthy and the FBI were accusing everyone of being communist instead of being witches. However, in both situations, fear is instilled into members of the community of Salem and the citizens of America, thus an urgent need was developed to hide any views which do not align with the mob mentality, if one wished to stay alive. This is seen near the end of the play, where Reverend John Hale pleads with Elizabeth for John to lie in “Let him give his lie. Quail not before God’s judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.” Hale parallels the fear within the American community, and chooses instead to “appease” the mob to stay alive and attempts to keep those who were innocent alive by asking them to lie.

Intolerance towards those who do affiliate with the “wrong side” is also mirrored in Miller’s play. Judge Thomas Danforth is the representative of this, as seen in the lines “I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime. It is not just.” Danforth’s error has cost him too much, and now, it is not worth for him to rectify the problem. Admitting this, a riot may arise in the village, as seen in the next town over where the town overthrew the courts. This parallels to the events during the Second Red Scare, where the accusations towards American citizens kept going as the hearings have now gone “too far” to solve.

In the representation of The Crucible as an allegory for the events occurring within the late 1940s and 1950s, Miller provides the audience with a perspective to the experiences during a time of hysteria and persecution. Miller also uses the opportunity to warn readers of the consequences and the power that an individual has, and the length that the individual will take to maintain power.  

16 August 2021
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