Arthur Miller penned the play The Crucible in the context of McCarthy-era rhetoric and anti-communist propaganda in the United States. Although it has a literal and direct historical reference and application to the Salem witch trials, the play serves as an overarching metaphor for public persecution and the dangers a police state poses to the general public. Through The Crucible, Miller critiques American society and indirectly accuses patriarchy of dismantling some of the core norms and values upon which the nation was built. Moreover, Miller deftly draws analogies between Salem's persecution of women during the witch-hunts and Washington's persecution of all Americans during the Cold War. Whereas women were the only real targets during the witch trials of the late 17th century, all Americans had fallen under the indiscriminate policies of political discrimination. Miller therefore presents patriarchy within a Marxist as well as a postmodernist framework. As a Marxist, Miller draws attention to the owners of the means of production of power. As a postmodernist, Miller shows how institutional coercion and conformity to social norms create an entanglement of ideals and a conflagration of the ethos upon which nations are founded. Fear tactics become one of the core means by which the owners of the means of production of power maintain their power. Use of force -- psychological, social, and physical -- is integral to the patriarchal model. Integral to the postmodernist model is the panoptical power of surveillance and mind control. Through it all, fear tactics provide the central means by which individuals are coerced to conform to a dominant ideology.
One of the fear tactics employed by Miller in The Crucible is directed at female power and female sexuality in particular. The central motif of the play is that of women dancing naked in the woods, which instigates a moral wrath among the self-described and self-righteous Christian community. Not only is the community outraged that three young women would have been dancing together naked in the woods, but one of those women happens to be a woman of color. Miller therefore shows how the intersection of race, class, gender, and power is the exact point at which fear tactics are created and maintained. The patriarchal establishment demonizes female sexuality, using fear tactics to enforce social conformity. One of the ways the patriarchal establishment demonizes female sexuality is through the social institution of religion. The other way the patriarchal establishment demonizes female sexuality is through the institution of law. Both of these institutions, the institution of law and of religion, are perpetuated by the persons in positions of power, with no democratization of their policies, procedures, or philosophies. Even when the United States became formalized into a modern democratic nation, as it was when Miller wrote The Crucible, patriarchal processes and procedures dictated issues like interpretation of the law. This is why Jim Crow was able to ferment in the generations after slavery was abolished, and why women were prohibited from voting hundreds of years after the actual Salem witch trials.
Fear tactics directed at homosexuality specifically are implicit in the scorn directed at Tituba. The fear tactics against homosexuality are linked with being non-white and therefore both sexually and socially deviant. As a woman of color, Tituba represents deviance in all its dimensions. Her name symbolizes female sexuality, as Tituba connotes "tits." Furthermore, Tituba is sexually deviant because she is perceived as possessing exotic powers that are directly related to her African ancestry. She is portrayed as being a sort of demonic jungle creature "screeching" and speaking "gibberish ... swaying like a dumb beast," (Miller Act I, p. 11). Tituba also has superhuman powers of communication including telepathy. For example, Tituba is described as "very frightened because her slave sense has warned her that, as always, trouble in this house eventually lands on her back," (p. 8). Here, Miller lets his audience know that Tituba's status as an underclass means that she will be a scapegoat for any problem. The fact that she is black means that a problem like a sick child will "eventually land on her back." Unless the playwright is being purposefully ironic, which is possible given his postmodern milieu, Miller belies his own prejudices in assuming that Tituba possesses a "slave sense." That slave...
The fact that the three girls were naked and "running through the trees" focuses on their physicality, their sexuality, and their innate pagan connection with nature that subverts the Christian ethos (Miller, Act I, p. 11).
Another fear tactic explicitly explicated in The Crucible is directed at the power of the underclass to subvert the power of the authority. Women are the underclass in Puritan American culture, just as the artists targeted during the "red scare" of the Cold War were portrayed as an underclass bereft of access to the avenues of power that launched McCarthy's own career. As Miller himself put it, "the Red hunt was becoming the dominant fixation of the American psyche," (Miller 1). Yet unconsciously or not, Miller ends up playing into the very same patriarchal norms that he attempts to critique in The Crucible. As Schissel points out, The Crucible is a "disturbing work, not only because of the obvious moral dilemma that is irresolutely solved by John Proctor's death, but also because of the treatment that Abigail and Elizabeth receive at Miller's hands" (461). It is as if Miller wants to use the play as a fear tactic to scare readers into supporting politicians and policies that are tyrannical, fascist, sexist, and racist. Yet Miller unwittingly "reinforces stereotypes of femme fatales and cold and unforgiving wives in order to assert apparently universal virtues," (Schissel 461). Unfortunately, The Crucible becomes a "morality play," as Schissel describes it, and one "based upon a questionable androcentric morality," (461). Miller maintains the patriarchal social order in which women, blacks, and persons who do not have access to the means of production are the underclass, leaving the established social order firmly in place in spite of the scathing critique against it. Miller proves it impossible to alter the status quo from within the same patriarchal zeitgeist contemporary to both the Puritanical society Miller writes about and the Cold War society in which Miller writes.
The fear tactics used by persons in positions of power in The Crucible are ones that Miller himself employs. Reverend Hale, for example, serves in the symbolic role of tyrant, who boils the women in the play as if they were pieces of cauliflower wrapped in a dumpling and set to boil in a cauldron on an open flame. Adler concurs: "Miller has, ironically, aligned himself with the very forces that The Crucible condemns," that is, the forces that use fear tactics against women and other underclass members of society (69). The men in positions of authority in The Crucible, including Parris, Putnam, and Proctor "exercise their power arrogantly and arbitrarily to ensure their own continued political and cultural dominion," (Adler 70). As such, the play -- and its core characters like Proctor -- become raised to a sort of Christ-like Biblical status taking the fall for achieving its subversive postmodern goals. Proctor's "hard earned achievement of self-awareness and acceptance" constitutes the realpolitik of the patriarchal social order (Ardolino 1). The only way to ensure the perpetuation of patriarchal power is through intimidation and fear such as that which is used by Hale, Proctor, and Parris.
In The Crucible, the law is the primary vehicle by which power is meted out, which is why fear of legal retribution is a major fear tactic in the outcome of the play. The law in The Crucible is both secular and religious. Reverend Hale and the Puritanical Christian system he represent create a sort of realpolitik overlay that naturally engenders fear in those who are not permitted to make laws and policies. For example, Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor face execution and have no power to contest their position except to controvert their own values, beliefs, and the core truth of the issues. Men possess the power in courts of law, and as legal advocates. Most importantly, men possess the means by which to dictate the word of God. The Bible provides the most formidable fear tactic in Puritan colonial America, much more so than the fear tactics used by the law and its legislators. In the age in which The Crucible was set, there was yet a legitimate centralized central government, which is why the religious authority became pre-eminent. Miller shows that even in 20th century secular America, fear tactics assume the same face as they did during the Salem witch trials. "A play cannot be successful in its own time unless it speaks to its own time ... a play cannot endure unless it speaks to new audiences in new times," (Martin 279).
In The Crucible, Arthur Miller uses the medium of stage play to warn against the abuse of power by patriarchal societies. The play itself…
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