Arthur Miller was an American playwright, known for plays such as Death of a Salesman or A View from the Bridge. One of the best examples of his outstanding work is The Crucible, a play that made him a major contributor to the development of American horror literature.
The play is a fictionalized account of the witch trials that took place in 1692 in Salem and revolves around Abigail Williams, whose false testimonies lead to the death of nineteen innocent people. Tragedy or historical fiction?
Read our essay to discover why The Crucible puts Arthur Miller among the founders of modern horror.
What Makes Arthur Miller A Founder of Modern Horror
In 1953, playwright Arthur Miller published The Crucible, where he uses fiction to relate the historical events that surrounded the witch hunt in the town of Salem.
After taking a trip to Salem and reading archives and documents related to the incident, Arthur Miller uses the tools of horror and thriller to recreate the atmosphere of the historical witch trials.
What’s The Crucible About?
In the small town of Salem in the Massachusetts Bay, John Proctor is an upstanding and honest citizen who, in a moment of weakness, engages in an extramarital affair with the family’s servant, Abigail Williams.
Feeling remorseful and afraid that his secret will be discovered, Proctor watches in silence as Abigail starts falsely accusing the townspeople of witchcraft. The town becomes gripped by hysteria and many innocent people die.
Unable to solve the mess, Proctor ends up confessing to witchcraft too, even though he is not guilty of such a crime. Like all tragic heroes, Proctor dies due to his inability to fight larger forces.
Why is The Crucible A Unique Tragedy?
A play inspired by Greek tragedies, The Crucible revolves around hysteria, repression, the vilification of innocents, resentment, and death.
With all these themes lurking beneath the surface, the play is considered a precursor of modern horror due to the dark tension it creates.
To delve deeper into these literary issues, The Crucible essay examples can provide useful guidance for college students.
Since essay examples focus in-depth on important aspects of the play, they can reveal the connection between Arthur Miller’s play and the horror literary tradition.
What are some unique elements in The Crucible?
- Social repression. The main antagonist in the play is the town of Salem, who becomes a metaphor of social oppression. The residents gradually lose their sense of community and began accusing each other of heinous crimes. As the repressive forces of the town become greater, individuals lose their freedom and agency.
- Hysteria. As rumors of witchcraft spread among townspeople, they became victims of a general hysteria that pushes them to act in blind ways. As more and more people become involved in the witch hunt, a lot of resentment and envy comes to the surface. The Crucible is thus one of the first examples of literary works where the atmosphere contributes to the plot.
- Villains and victims. An important aspect in The Crucible is that characters are separated into two categories, villains and victims. However, for the characters themselves, the victims are the villains and vice-versa. This confusion of not knowing where are the evil lurks makes people suspicious of each other. Afraid of becoming a victim themselves, the characters become villains and wrongly accuse others.
- Human nature. John Proctor wants to restore order in the town, but his attempts to bring back order by using rational arguments and honesty fail. Meanwhile, the residents of Salem use the witch hunt as an opportunity to take revenge on people who angered them in the past. The good and evil of human nature are thoroughly explored in the behavior of the townspeople, and this is one of the most explored themes in essay samples on The Crucible.
- Morality. Proctor must reevaluate his moral principles in the play. When Abigail Williams accuses Proctor’s wife of witchcraft, he hesitates to testify and save his wife because he fears that the trial will reveal his affair with Abigail. He wants to do the right thing, but he’s struggling to make the moral choice.
The Crucible: A Tragedy About the Evil Forces of Society
The Crucible is a tragedy set in a theocratic society ruled by the strict religious principles of Puritanism. Here moral laws and state laws are one, which means that any moral wrongdoing is punishable.
A moral sin is a crime like any other. Any person who deviates from social norms in his public and private life becomes a threat and needs to be annihilated.
Residents of Salem believe that when someone does not respect the true religion and the laws of God, that person becomes an ally of the devil.
In this context where people believe in satanic and evil forces, accusations of witchcraft are taken very seriously and are a matter of life and death.
Only in such a society, witch trials are possible. People give up on logic and start accusing each other of absurd and unbelievable magic crimes.
This climate of hysteria and paranoia is a huge component in the success of the play, and it is a common element in horror stories.
Through his fictionalized account of the witch trials of Salem in The Crucible, Arthur Miller managed to create an atmosphere of evilness, terror, and hysteria that will later become hallmarks of the horror genre.
This puts the playwright at the forefront of American literature.