A parrallel between HUAC and the Crucible
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Throughout the history of humanity, there are many examples of horrible and completely hideous crimes. While many of the crimes committed were pushed by the desire for power of some persons (mostly men: Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin and Idi Amin Dada are good examples), others were realized in the name of God, as the ones who planned them say (all the wars among different religions and, more recently, Osama Bin Laden). It is well known that the “big names” of these crimes had a very strong ability to manipulate people. I think that one of the things they were very good at is that they could manipulate many thousands of people to make them accept to be complitely submitted and believe that what they were about to commit was not a crime but something that had to be done.
In this essay, we will discuss two crimes that are very similar in the way that the governements in control were very good at directing the population into the ideas they wanted them to believe in, and in having them act the way they wanted them to. The first situation is the witch trials of Salem that took place in the 1690s (as reported by Arthur Miller in The Crucible), and the second is the massive anti-communism movement that took place in the United-States between 1947 and 1954. By looking at the facts found in the play, and by looking at the history of the anti-communism movement , we will make the parrallels between these two major crimes against freedom of expression.
Arthur Miller’s play is written in a way that really shows the parrallels between the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism of the mid 50s. This is because Miller wrote this play during the crisis that created a mass-hysteria against the communism. Both the play and the McCarthy period started after a long period of uncertainty among the two populations. As the colonists (in The Crucible) landed in America, they feared many things. They were frigthened of the Natives because they were said to be savages and able to communicate with the devil. The new Americans were also terryfied by the giant forests of the North America continent because they thought that the Devil was living in it: “…the Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his home and the citadel of his final stand.[…][It] was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God.”(15)
In the 1950s the Americans were just getting out of the World War II and the Cold War and communism were what made them hesitate. There was also some kind of race to be the dominant economic association between the USSR and the United-States (as an example, the race for the moon that took place soon after this situation). The USSR found the recipy for their own nuclear bomb, and their was the fear of a nuclear war between the two super powers. There was also a fear of having a war between a democratic country and a communism nation. More and more countries were falling for the communism (such as China), and the democratic governements had to make sur that they would win the “war” against communism.
This is why they decided, at that point, that everything that had to do with communism had to be hidden or had to disappear completely. Everything that had to do with communism frightened the population and the idea itself of communism became “evil” in the mind of the population. This is when Senator Joseph Raymond McCarty created the House of Un-American Activities Committee. So, like witchcraft is what created the climate of fear and hysteria in 1690s in Salem, the pressure coming from the Soviets, the war against communism and the fear of a nuclear war is what created the climate of fear in the 1950s.
The way that the authorities present in those times used to keep the power is that they created a threat from inside the respective populations. In the Salem witch trials, some of the people were beginning to think that the Devil was no longer in the forests because they had been in America for as long as 40 years, and they never had a single sign of a witch or of a devil. The theocracy in place had to find a way to keep power. They therefore took advantage of the situation when a couple of girls did something they should not have done: they had fun. What the people in charge did is that they told the population that the devil was among them, so that it would create the hysteria cited above. The HUAC did the same thing when Senator McCarthy went before the media with a file that contained approximately 200 names (the number was different every time he came before the journalists) of persons who worked for the governement and who were supposed to be communists.
Because the treat was from inside of the governement, the population agreed that actions had to be taken in order to stop this movement. The action plan they decided to follow is that they would clearly hunt the communists one by one until there would no longer be any and they would also maintain fear among the population, so that no one would be tempted to become a member of a communist organization. Something that helped keep the fear in the minds of the population is a TV show in 1953 that was called “I Led Three Lives”. In the TV show, they would tell the story of someone accused of being a communist and begin with a sentence like: “This is the fantastically true story of Herbert A. Philbrick, who for nine frightening years did lead three lives- average citizen, member of the Communist Party, and counterspy for the FBI. For obvious reasons, the names, dates and places were changed, but the story is based on fact.”(Pink Monkey) The function of a show like that was to show the population that the communists were everywhere, and that they were very dangerous…In other words they manipulated the populations’ opinion.
Another of the parrallels that can be made between The Crucible and the McCarthy period is that in the point of view of the authorities present in those times, a person was either with the committees or against them. So anyone who was supporting any of the ideas of the communism (it surely can’t be all bad…) was considered as a treat to the democracy. For example, Miller, because he wrote the play The Crucible and that the play showed that the way that the HUAC was dealing with the “communism problem” was stupid, he could have been blacklisted and not been able to find any work nor been able to sell a book because none of the publishers would agree to publish the work of a communist in fear of being blacklisted themselves. In The Crucible the same thing is happening, as Dantforth himself says: ” But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between.”(85) Every single character in the play watches what he is doing in order to remain pure in the eyes of the theocracy. They had to live a very serious life, without any fun, any sex, or anything that could be considered as sinful.
Both the courts and the committee were unstructured, illegal and not serious at all. McCarthy and his committee were accusing persons with very little or no proofs. The only thing they had to give as a proof is as mentionned in “The Rise of Joe McCarthy” : ” a badly outdated committee file.”(Worthen 875) So they had no real and/or actual proof to condemn many of the people they managed to “blacklist”. They also condemned people for being communists while they were not communists but something else that these people had the right to be or to think(as an example, homosexuality(Worthen 874), but the committee did not like. The exact same situation was happenning at the Salem witch trials.
For example, when they accused Tituba of being a witch, they said that she led the other girls into drinking chiken blood. This action was seen as witchcraft, but it could have been many other things, she came from the Barbados, so it is normal that she knows some remedies that they don’t. To prove the complete stupidity of the court in the witch trials, here is a quote from Danforth saying to John Proctor that he will be hang if he does not confesses the truth, but Danforth knows that the truth is not that Proctor is a wizard: “Is that document a lie? If it is a lie I will not accept it! What say you? I will not deal in lies, Mister! You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope.”(124) Miller even tells in the expository notes to the Act 1 that “one could cry witch against one’s neighbour and feel perfectly justified in the bargain.”(17)
There was also no presumption of innocence in both courts. In the case of the Salem witch trials, if someone said you were a witch, you were a witch and the only two options that were possible were to provide a public confession and to name the names of other people that you “saw” or to be hanged. John Protor and Rebecca Nurse were faced with these two choices and they decided that they would die before they would lie in front of the other member of it’s town and in front of God. The absolute opposite would be Abigail, who could represent Joseph McCarthy in The Crucible.
She is the one that initiates the pattern of accusations and naming of names in Salem. She begins by saying that it was Tituba who led them into witchcraft, because she saw this as an escape from the blame placed on her. Then she goes on and names the name of Sarah Good before saying that someone she really wanted to be out of her sight is a witch too, Elizabeth Proctor. She named her only for her own and selfish concerns, because she wanted her dead so that she would be able to marry John Proctor. The same thing was present with the McCarthy committee and the cited above file (homosexuality etc.). All they had to do was to name names and they were nearly already condemned.
In the 50s, the only way to get your name off of the blacklist created by the HUAC was to go before the committee and tell the names of other communists. If the committee thought you had interesting information for them, they would then reconsider your status and maybe allow your name to be removed from the black list. A good example of where they would blacklist many people is in the movie industry, because the movies have an impact on many persons at the same time. They were also forced to name names in The Crucible with the questions they asked to the “witches”. At the end when Proctor is about to confess a “crime” he has never committed, Danforth asked him “When the Devil came to you did you see Rebecca Nurse in his company?” (121-122). He did so with the names of Mary Easty and Martha Corey before he asked him if he saw anyone with the Devil(122).
In both cases, people could also be judged guilty only because someone else was guilty or because they were friendly with persons who were “communists” or “witches”. For example, when Giles Corey presents his proof that Putnam’s daughter accused George Jacobs only because Putnam wanted to buy the land of Jacobs at the auction. In Miller’s time, there was many innocent people who were accused of Communist Party afflication simply because they were at a party with communists.
Both of the committees were discontinuated soon after the events described. In the book, it is said that “Twenty years after the last execution, the government awarded compensation to the victims still living, and to the families of the dead.”(123) The trial in Salem was also the last witch trial. McCarthy, and the movement he started, also died soon after the last hearings they had, concerning the US Army. The persons who were accused became members in good standing again:”In solemn meeting, the congregation rescinded the excommunications – this in March 1712.”(123) The McCarthysm effect faded away and in 1960 the first movies by people who had been blacklisted appeared on the big screen (as an example, Spartacus).
Another astonishing parrallel between HUAC and The Crucible is that Proctor asks himself “…what is John Proctor, what is John Proctor?” (120) and Miller himself wanted to find someone who could be the tragic hero of his real world.
In conclusion, the parrallels that can be made between The Crucible by Arthur Miller and the House of Un-American Activities Committee are that they both began during a time of uncertainty among the population; both The tribunals and the committee used a threat from within to maintain their power; in both cases one was either with the committee or against it, there was “black-listing” in the case of the HUAC and hanging if condemned by the tribunals, the courts were a joke; there was no presumption of innocence, and one had to name names in order to be free. There was guilts by association, and the two committees disappeared soon after the events describded. Let’s just hope that after having witnessed as many crimes against humanity with a governement that has manipulated his population, we as members of a society that constantly evolves and where the women are beginning to assume their rightful place, (have we ever seen a genocide planned by a women? Maybe they should fill more important spots) letting less submission occur for them, we will stop being as naïve as we were, and we will wake up (even if it does not seem to be the case looking at the military actions of the United-States in the last year).
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Bigsby, Christopher. “Introduction.” The Crucible. Arthur Miller. Toronto:Penguin Books, 1995. VII-XXV.
Worthen,W.C. The HGB Anthology of Drama. Toronto: Harcourt, 2001. 872-87.