Arthur Miller was a Jew living in 1950s America. At this time, the Senator, Joe McCarthy, led an anti-communist movement. American citizens would be forced to give all names of people involved in un-American activities. If those accused did not stand before the committee, they would be blacklisted and they would have problems finding jobs. Arthur Miller himself was accused of communism and he wanted to display his feelings about this matter. The story, ‘The Crucible’ is based on fact but it is an allegory. Miller used an event, the Salem witch trials, which occurred many years before, to reflect his views on the anti-communist hysteria. He believed that both events were very similar in the way that both involved people accusing others to protect themselves.
The play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, which was a theocratic society, which means that it was governed by the church. It was a very strict society and no pleasure was tolerated. In fact, people who indulged themselves in pleasure would be excommunicated. People at that time would have believed in witchcraft and the supernatural, and they would accuse people they didn’t like of being witches because they knew that it would be regarded as a very serious crime and the punishment would be severe. The puritans were very strict Christians who would have been persecuted in Britain because of their religion. They emigrated to the east coast of America for a new life. They believed that witches were partners to the devil and the puritans searched Salem for supernatural activity.
‘The Crucible’ tells the story of how people in Salem would accuse others of being witches to gain land or revenge and exploit their enemies. Abigail is the main accuser in the play. At the beginning of the play, she and some of the other girls from the village were dancing in the woods. This was seen as indulging in pleasure, which was a serious offence to their religion, especially as at least one girl was dancing naked. Abigail knew that they would be whipped or excommunicated, so she told the courts that she had been possessed and that all the girls were involved in witchcraft. This was, in fact, the beginning of the witch trials in Salem and the hysteria that came with them.
At the start of the story, Abigail appears to be a frail, innocent, young girl, but we soon see that she is manipulative and controlling. She lies about witchcraft and she seems to convince all the citizens in Salem, including the girls involved, that her lies are true. Truth and lies are both very important in ‘The Crucible.’ Many false accusations are made and many shocking confessions are revealed.
The first lie starts from the very beginning of the play. Abigail says that she has been involved in witchcraft, which we know is not true. She only says this because she knows if they are caught dancing in the woods, then they will be whipped or excommunicated. However if they plead guilty to witchcraft they will not be punished as severely. We can see from the start how manipulative Abigail can be. She manages to persuade all the people in the town that witchcraft is going on. She even manages to convince the other girls that they were involved. She tells that Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sisters, but she did not tell the fact that Abigail drank blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor. When the girls recognise this, she says to Betty:
“You never say that again!” Moreover, when they continue to argue she says: I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down.” This shows us that by threatening the girls into believing her lies, she is in fact starting the hysteria of the witch-hunts. She possibly didn’t mean things to go as far as they did, but when she realised the power she had to get rid of people she didn’t like, she lost control. However, she needed to know that she would be believed, so she started with the weak and vulnerable people. The first person she accuses is Tituba, who is a likely target, because she is a black slave and at that time people were very racist towards black people.
“She comes to me every night to go and drink blood!” Throughout the play, Abigail and the other girls accuse many frail and susceptible people because she knows they will not be believed in court. For example: “I saw Goody Osborn [midwife to Mrs Putnam] with the devil!” As soon as she knows that the people in Salem will believe whoever she accuses, she starts to move on to her ultimate goal. She hopes to see the end of Goody Proctor.
We first hear of her being accused in Act two when Mary Warren comes home to tell the Proctor’s that her name has been mentioned in court. We suspect the accuser is Abigail as does Elizabeth, but this is just an assumption. We see how convincing Abigail is towards the end of this act, when she tries to incriminate Elizabeth by informing the jury of a needle found embedded in her stomach, which coincidentally appears in the same place on Mary Warren’s poppet. This, in fact, is the accusation which eventually condemns Elizabeth.