Have you ever had a finger pointed at you unfairly? If so, how would that feel? Despite being a country that has fairness and justice as core values, the United States has been and is currently a neutral witness to such events, which has caused irreparable damage. When these events have occurred in the U.S., the targets were usually a certain group of people who were highly feared in society. Targeting a group in this manner was known as a “witch hunt.” In Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, he discusses how a small suspicion of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts during colonial times ultimately escalated to hysteria and destruction of innocent life. While the Salem Witch Trials were the most quintessential example of a “witch hunt”, similar instances sadly reappeared in different forms during the 20th century. To comprehend how modern events parallel witch hunts of more than 300 years ago, it is important to first examine the main events in The Crucible, which captured the first such significant event on U.
S. soil. Miller’s play starts out with a physician who attempts to save 2 ill-feeling girls, Betty Parris and Ruth Putnam. When the doctors tell Betty’s father, Reverend Parris, via Susanna Walcott that she appeared to be fine, Walcott says “But he the doctor bid me tell you, that you might look to unnatural things for the cause of it” (9). Here, the doctors resorted directly to witchcraft instead of looking into the fact that Betty could have been traumatized by witnessing her cousin (Abigail Williams) drinking blood and killing a frog. Later in the play, resentment also played a major role in driving Salem’s people to commit selfish acts with deadly consequences on others.
For instance, Ann Putnam (Ruth’s mother) was upset about the deaths of her seven children due to stillbirth. Like with the doctors who attempted to cure Betty and Ruth, Goody Putnam goes directly to witchcraft as being the cause, with the victim being her midwife, Rebecca Nurse. In expressing her anger by saying “You think it God’s work you should never lose a child, nor grandchild either, and I bury all but one?” (28), it is also clear that social status was a major role in the accusations because the Nurses’ have a large and fit family, whereas the Putnams’ have a small family that is suffering from grief and illness. However, the real factor that escalated the Salem crisis to unreasonable levels was the fact that well-respected members of society, like Goody Nurse and protagonist John Proctor, were being accused of an atrocious crime. Salem’s scholar on witchcraft, Reverend John Hale, was so shocked about Rebecca Nurse’s accusation that he said “G– forbid such a one should be charged” (64). In looking at Hale’s reaction, it is evident that Salem had abruptly transitioned from a town that valued religion and welfare to one that is dangerous and berserk.
At the end of the play, John Proctor was killed because he refused to disclose the names of potential “witches” when asked to do so . Sadly, it appears that the U.S. did not learn their lessons from the Salem trials, because a similar pattern of events appeared more than two centuries later. In the 1950s and 1980s, the U.S. had two “witch hunts” were almost direct parallels to the one that occurred in Salem.
While both hunts were equally defamatory, one of the hunts attempted to tackle a nationwide fear while the other attempted to address just a local fear. After the end of WW2, the Soviet Union’s (Russian) government was governed by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, a despot that believed in Communism. This “… is an economic system designed to equally benefit everyone in the society” (Hoyt). Since these governments are usually led by tyrants such as Ulyanov, the United States was concerned that they would be negatively affected by Communism.
In 1950, the fear ultimately rose to unsafe levels because then-U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy “… waved around a list of 205 names of supposed active communists holding jobs in the State Department” (Hoyt) during a formal lunch for Abraham Lincoln. Like in Salem with “witches”, U.S.
leaders and citizens wanted to weed out anyone that had some belief in Communism and attempted to do so by “… making accusations with scant evidence” (Hoyt). Like in Salem, the ramifications for suspects were often grave and irreparable.
One such consequence was that “Careers and reputations were irreparably damaged” (Hoyt). One of McCarthy’s victims was a movie-making business known as the Hollywood Ten. Like John Proctor 258 years before, the Hollywood Ten refused to disclose the names of possible Communists out of fear that their standing in the community would be destroyed. As a consequence, the movie-makers were incarcerated and “blacklisted” by the government, which meant that they were fired and barred from working. Thirty-three years later, a preschool teacher in a school near LAX Airport was charged with rape. Like with The Crucible and McCarthy’s dealing of Communism, the situation started out as a small concern. Like with Betty and Ruth, the accuser’s reasoning was only based on visible signs, which in this case was the fact that “There appeared to be some physical damage to his Judy Johnson’s son private parts..
.” (Willick). What turned this incident into hysteria was that “The police sent out a letter to hundreds of parents asking if they had suspicions about the teacher” (Willick). Like in The Crucible, victims and witnesses in the Los Angeles case were often “…
coaxed, prodded, and trained…” (Coleman) to give false truths. In looking at the Salem Trials, McCarthyism, and the Preschool Trials in Los Angeles, we can see that all three events had a similar pattern of events and were damaging in their own aspects. Miller’s play explains how an event from before our country’s birth is pertinent to events in the 20th century. Looking beyond that, the events in The Crucible even resemble today’s political scene in the U.S.
where Muslims are being defamed.