"The Crucible," a play by Arthur Miller, opened on Broadway in 1953. Research paper topics should center on historical factors and societal influences addressed in the play and those that offer backstory. "The Crucible" is a fictional story of the Salem witch trials, but is based on true accounts. A group of young girls accuse local town members of witchcraft, so several husbands try to convince the trial judges that the girls are lying. One husband, John Proctor, admits to committing adultery with one of the young accusers to save his wife.
Salem Witch Trials
Write a research paper about the real 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials when 19 men and women and two dogs were hanged for supposed involvement in witchcraft. Discuss the negative elements associated with witchcraft during that time, and why Salem residents were eager to prosecute the so-called demonic activists, suggests Randall Bass, English professor at Georgetown University. Research and explain why witchcraft hysteria divided the town and how politicians and religious leaders used the trials for their own ends, according the Department of Theatre and Dance at Florida Atlantic University.
Puritanism and Sexual Repression
Discuss the role Puritanism and theocracy played in the lives of New England residents during the 17th century. Sin of any kind, including witchcraft, was thought to be a destructive force in the lives of Puritans, so patrons and religious leaders took a strong stance against it. Research how intolerance led to poor decisions and a lack of empathy. New England leaders had little respect for individuality and wanted everyone to conform to their Puritan ideals. Discuss how sexual repression likely led to the witchcraft accusations, according to some, including English professor Pat Swenson at California State University in Northridge.
McCarthyism and the Red Scare
Choose a thesis for your research paper that discusses how McCarthyism and the fear of communism influenced Miller's play. The backstory to "The Crucible" centers on American fears during the 1950s, including communism and nuclear war. Tensions between the United States and Russia increased, so many Americans, fearing annihilation, blindly supported the criminal charges made against innocent people by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Discuss the similarities between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy-initiated trials of the 1950s.
"Death of a Salesman" Comparisons
Compare and contrast "The Crucible" with Arthur Miller's most famous play, "Death of a Salesman." Brooks Atkinson, a reporter for "The New York Times," reported the day after the opening of "The Crucible" that theme developments weren't as eloquent as those in "Death of a Salesman." Discuss common themes, similarities between the characters, differences in the settings, outcomes and overriding moods. Explain why "Death of a Salesman" was a bigger box office hit than "The Crucible."
- The University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Law: The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1952)
- Georgetown University: Arthur Miller (b. 1915) -- Contributing Editor: Robert A. Martin; Randall Bass
- West Virginia University: The Crucible by Arthur Miller Study Guide
- Florida Atlantic University: Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"
- California State University, Northridge: The Crucible by Arthur Miller -- Discussion Guide
- ibiblio: Arthur Miller -- Teaching Resources, Guides and Resources for Selected Plays
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