"I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem—-vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!"
Such is the power of those noticeable quotes in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible
; the power to cause the audience to question the issues arising when vengeance is allowed to write common law. Arthur Miller's play was created to be challenging for this very purpose.
This was written at a time when the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) was in full swing. When authors, film makers and musicians could be blacklisted and named as communists if they displayed any 'anti-American' sentiments. As such due to its historical links this is a play that is important historically as well as powerful dramatically. And yet this tale is more than a simply moving historical drama it is a challenge to the actions of the modern man. This is a work of fiction which recalls the idea that those who forget the actions of the past are doomed to repeat them.
In the town of Salem one young girl named Abigail is found dancing in the woods with several other young girls and her Jamaican slave. One of the girls, the daughter of the local pastor falls into an apparent faint and does not stir for hours. As a result the girls are suspected of having committed witchcraft and another reverend - an expert on defeating supernatural evil - is summoned to observe the scenario. What the audience come to discover is that Abigail is in love with a certain John Proctor, a fallen and married man who committed carnal sin. Abigail wishes to have his wife killed so that Proctor may love her. And so the apparent use of witchcraft becomes used for gain as the girls admit to having seen the devil with their enemies.
What follows is the scenes of a town thrown into disarray as neighbour turns on neighbour, accusing them of witchcraft to gain what his neighbour owns.
Thus Arthur Miller parallels the historical insanity in the Salem witch trials with the political aims of what I have heard called the 'McCarthyist regime'. His point is that ultimately humans will use legislation and violence to their own ends, that if a human being simply dislikes another they would use communism as an apparent guise to have their enemy blacklisted by society and condemned. It has gone on throughout history. Even Jesus at his trial had biased witnesses come forth to proclaim him guilty.
The question that must be raised by this play is how do we as modern humans treat others. Do we sit by content to watch others cast false condemnation or do we become the John Proctor of our society? Because I believe that there are many modern issues that we as people are content to watch with apathy and do nothing. For evil exists when good men and women do nothing.
That is why I love this play and rate it as one of my favourite plays. Because of the reaching power of its narrative and its prose. Many do not like the challenge issued by the text. They find it too confronting. But I think we need to be confronted every so often. As Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451: "we need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?"