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The Theme of McCarthyism in Arthur Miller's Play The Crucible

The American continent stretched endlessly west, and it was full of mystery for them. It stood, dark and threatening, over their shoulders night and day, for out of it Indian tribes marauded from time to time, and Reverend Parris had parishioners who has lost relatives to these heathen (Miller 5).

The United States had been swept into World War II, had lost its innocence, and after the war looked around for the next Hitler, finding him in Stalin and finding Nazism in Communism. The McCarthy era was a symptom of the Cold War. The Puritans saw themselves as superior beings (while doubting it at the same time) just as Americans after World War II saw themselves as superior beings in a superior country --- challenged only by Soviet Communism. Evil in Puritan New England was embodied by the "witches" and evil in post-World War II America was embodied by Communists. As Miller writes of the Puritans --- "They believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world" (5) --- so could he have written of the Americans after they saved the world from Nazism, as they saw it.

The witch-hunters in Miller's play did not create the fear upon which they played, and, as we read in The Fifties, "It needs to be emphasized again that Mccarthy did not create the national paranoia over communism. He merely capitalized on it. His rhetoric and tactics, though extreme, were well within the already established framework of cold war politics" (Miller & Nowak 29).

Fear establishes its own reality, step by step, as individuals abandon their own sanity in order to be a part of the community mind, even if that community mind is stricken with terror. We see this immediately in the play, as Parris begins to elaborate on what he saw, or what he thinks he saw, in the woods: "I cannot blink what I saw, Abigail, for my enemies will not blink it. I saw a dress lying on the grass . . . Aye, a dress. And I thought ...

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