Arthur Miller uses this play about the witch trials, haunting the Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and leading to the deaths of many innocent people to criticise on the so called "McCarthyism" during the 1950s, when the US Senator Joseph McCarthy started a modern witch hunt against Communists in the country.
Rumour has it that witchcraft is being practised in Salem as Betty, the ten-year-old daughter of the town minister Reverend Samuel Parris has gone into a mysterious stupor. Parris has already sent for Reverend John Hale of Beverly, an acknowledged expert on witchcraft, hoping that the latter will deny any unnatural cause for his daughter's sickness. Hale soon arrives at Parris' house. Abigail Williams, Parris' seventeen-year-old niece, who also lives at his house since her parents are both dead tells that the night before she was dancing in the woods with some other girls, Betty being one of them and Parris' Negro slave Tituba. In their strict community, where children are treated the same as adults and any kind of enjoyment is discouraged this is regarded as a crime. Therefore, being afraid of harsh punishment Abigail says that she and her friends have been bewitched by Tituba, who then "confesses" to be a witch and claims to have seen Sarah Good and Goody Osbourn with the Devil.
Throughout the course of the play many people and not only women are accused by the group of girls with Abigail as its ringleader. Some of them are Elizabeth Proctor, Martha Corey, who often reads books at night and the elderly, virtuous and widely respected Rebecca Nurse. So their husbands John Proctor, Giles Corey and Francis Nurse try everything to save them and to end the madness and hysteria that has overcome Salem, knowing that Abigail and her friends are only pretending.
Proctor and Abigail had a romantic affair, when she was working at the Proctors' house seven months ago. Elizabeth has been acting coldly towards her husband ever since he has told her about it. Now she fears that Abigail wants her dead in order to replace her. Besides, Proctor, who openly criticises and dislikes Reverend Parris and has been absent from service on Sundays many times, does not know all Commandments and has not had his youngest child baptised.
At court the defendants can only save themselves from being punished to death by confessing to witchcraft. However, some refuse to do this, fearing that they will end in hell for lying. The relentless judges Hathorne and Danforth are determined to have all the witches in the province killed. To them "spectral evidence", which means one of the girls telling to have seen someone with the Devil, is sufficient to announce a verdict.
I really enjoyed reading this play! There is a great number of characters in it, which was sometimes confusing but the main ones were very complex and I developed strong (positive and negative) feelings towards them. I really loved the intelligent and courageous John Proctor as well as Reverend Hale, who in the end realises that what is happening in Salem, is terribly wrong and tries to use his position to put an end to it. The character I found most repelling was Abigail. Her actions can be partly understood as she has had a very hard life and seems to long for love, which she has never felt. Yet she is a mean, egoistic and manipulative person, who does not care at all about the consequences of what she and her friends are doing. Besides, I disliked Reverend Parris, who seems to turn more and more into some kind of religious fanatic.
Shockingly, a great part of the events depicted in this play are based on historical facts as some of its characters really existed. Many people in 1692 Salem accused their neighbours out of reasons that had nothing to do with religion or piety of witchcraft, often because they had thrown an eye on someone else's land or to take revenge.
To me this play is a very interesting and suspenseful piece of literature. I was hoping until the very end that Proctor and Hale would manage to stop the terrible killing of innocent people and save their loved ones. "The Crucible" shows very well the abyss of human behaviour. It can easily serve as a warning of all kinds of past and future acts of tyranny and ignorance.