A haunting examination of groupthink and mass hysteria in a rural community, presented here with enlightening criticism and commentary
"I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history," Arthur Miller wrote in an introduction to The Crucible, his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria.
In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.
Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy's "witch-hunts" in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing: "Political opposition...is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence."
This Viking Critical Library edition of Arthur Miller's dramatic recreation of the Salem witch trials contains the complete text of The Crucible as well as extensive critical and contextual material about the play and the playwright, including:
- Selections from Miller's writings on his most frequently performed play
- Essays on the historical background of The Crucible, including personal narratives by participants in the trials and records of witchcraft in Salem from the original documents
- Reviews of The Crucible, in production by Brooks Atkinson, Walter Kerr, Eric Bentley, and others
- Excerpts from Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Sorcières de Salem, a "spin-off" of Miller's play, and three analogous works by Twain, Shaw, and Budd Schulberg
- Critical essays on the play, on Miller, and on the play in the context of Miller's oeuvre
- An introduction by the editor, a chronology, a list of topics for discussion and papers prepared by Malcolm Cowley, and a bibliography