Essay on Arthur Miller and his Distorted Historical Accurac

This essay has a total of 1947 words and 8 pages.

Arthur Miller and his Distorted Historical Accuracies


In 1953, Arthur Miller wrote his famous play The Crucible, in response to a fear of
Communism that had developed in the United States during that decade. The “Red Scare”, as
it was later called by historians was led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose paranoia of a
communist takeover spread through the nation like a wildfire. Men and women alike fell
victim to McCarthy’s pointed finger and as a result of this hysteria, were mostly deported
from the country, their careers and lives ruined.


Some argue today that McCarthy’s plan had been to use the fear of the American people to
throw his enemies out of office and gain power himself. Whatever McCarthy’s motives may
have been, Arthur Miller realized the senator’s ludicracy when he attempted to accuse the
President himself to be Communist. Miller and the rest of the American people drew the
line and McCarthy was seen a fraud. By the time the rest of the public had came to this
realization, Miller’s play was written.


The Crucible is a play in which Arthur Miller parallels events of the Salem witch trials
of 1692 to the problems that were plaguing his own society. The statement that most
readers today bring out of the play is that history has a way of repeating itself.
Miller’s play was an extreme hit upon release and won a Tony award. The play is so popular
today that many teachers in secondary schools use it to base their lesson around when
teaching their students about 1692 Salem and there are multimedia activities based on
Salem through The Crucible’s view. Miller is often asked to speak at events where similar
“witch hunts” occur, acting as a sort of expert on the subject of Puritan Salem and acts
of hysteria.


The question is, why is Arthur Miller revered by so many as “the man to ask” regarding the
Salem Witch trials when his play had many inaccuracies, some very obvious? Miller’s play
is not a historical account of the events in 1692 Salem, but rather a work of fiction. It
is important to realize that what Miller wrote is not fact by revealing where his play is
historically flawed. Some of the more important discrepancies are discussed below:


By examining Miller’s main plot relationship between characters Abigail Williams and John
Proctor, we uncover many discrepancies, mainly that there was no relationship at all. To
begin, there was never any love interest between the two of them and according to Susan
Cocalis, Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; the two hardly came in
contact at all. In fact, John Proctor was old enough to be Abigail’s grandfather.


Where Arthur Miller represents Proctor as a 35-year old farmer and Abigail as a 17-year
old, lust-crazed teenager, the reality is quite different. John Proctor was actually the
owner of a tavern on the outskirts of town and aged 60. Even if you were to argue that
Proctor and Williams made frequent contact (In Miller’s play, she worked for Elizabeth
Proctor, John’s wife), Abigail was only eleven. The idea that she would be chasing after a
man five times her age would be unlikely, not to mention that she probably wouldn’t have
any sexual interests for at least five years. The two engaging in a sexual affair would
prove quite a comedy if we consider that Mr. Proctor would most-likely have had problems
with impotence at his age, and Abigail would not be sexually active. The act would have
been more of molestation by John Proctor than an affair.


As for Elizabeth Proctor’s encounters with Abigail Williams; Miller writes Abigail to hate
Elizabeth for standing in the way of her desire. The historical truth is that Abigail and
Elizabeth (John’s third wife, aged 41) hardly knew each other. There is no way that
Elizabeth Proctor could have ever thrown Abigail from the Proctor house because the truth
is that Abigail never worked for the Proctors; they lived in different sections of town.


Other than her age and affair with John Proctor, there are other differences between
reality and Miller’s play regarding Abigail Williams. In The Crucible, Abigail is a
scheming villain-like character with cruel intention. According to the story, when the
hysteria is lifted from the community and Abigail is exposed as a fraud, she steals a
total of 31 pounds from her Uncle Samuel Parris and runs away to Boston. Margo Burns,
creator of a credulous web site entitled “17th c. Colonial New England: with special
emphasis on The Salem Witch Trials of 1692”, argues that:


Abigail Williams probably couldn't have laid her hands on 31 pounds in Samuel Parris'
house, to run away with John Proctor, when Parris's annual salary was contracted at 66
pounds, only a third of which was paid in money. The rest was to be paid in foodstuffs and
other supplies, but he even then, he had continual disputes with the parishioners about
supplying him with much-needed firewood they owed him1.


More alterations of history are revealed when we examine Tituba, the slave of Samuel
Parris. There are small differences such as a 20-year age variation between the play and
reality2, but there are also major ones, including her race. In Salem Village, Tituba was
a South American Indian of the Arawak tribe. There are primary sources in which Tituba is
referred to as Indian, yet Arthur Miller portrays her as an African voodoo woman. There
are many reasons that he could have done this. One is that perhaps he did not wish to deal
with the complexities of describing a native slave and it was easier and more relatable to
make her African. Also, voodoo is stereotypically seen as the workings of “black” magic
and therefore, could be easier linked to what the Puritans would view as witchcraft. Since
voodoo is of African decent, Tituba was made African herself. Voodoo could be easily
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