The Crucible and McCarthyism: what are the Parallels?

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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The Crucible and McCarthyism: what are the Parallels?

This essay will draw parallels between Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and the era of McCarthyism. It will discuss how the play serves as an allegory for the Red Scare, with its themes of hysteria, accusation, and the abuse of power. The piece will explore the societal implications of these events and their enduring relevance. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to Salem Witch Trials.

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Introduction: Echoes of the Past

In May of 1693, Salem, Massachusetts, was in complete chaos. The word of witchcraft was spreading through the streets in Salem, and everyone was paranoid. Soon enough, everyone was turning on each other. Over two hundred years later and history began to repeat itself. In the late 1940s through the 1950s, McCarthyism was in full swing. Joseph McCarthy was accusing innocent people of being communists.

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Famous Hollywood actors were blacklisted because they were accused of being communists. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Arthur Miller understood this and decided to write The Crucible to show people that if we do not learn from our past, history will just repeat itself. Miller accomplished this by showing the parallelisms between The Crucible and McCarthyism. During both time periods, fear contributed to the mass chaos; citizens that were accused were considered guilty unless they confessed, and innocent people’s reputations and careers were ruined.

Fear as a Driving Force

McCarthyism and The Salem Witch Trials were very similar in the manner that both were created and fueled by fear. Both time periods had a person who started the fear. During the Red Scare, McCarthy was the one accusing people. Likewise, during the witch trials, Abigail was the one who was making the accusations. McCarthy had the whole nation paranoid that the Russian spies were in the country in search of information to better themselves in the Cold War. Paranoia was all across the nation. No one could trust each other. McCarthy continued to strike up fear as he accused more and more people of being communists. People were terrified of being blacklisted and having their careers ruined. During The Salem Witch Trials, Abigail was the one who struck up all the fear in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Once one person was accused, names kept flying. One after another, the girls accused innocent people. Everyone was in fear that they would be accused of being a witch. In both scenarios, no one stood up against these people because they were in fear that they would then be accused. Fear and paranoia helped fuel both of these time periods.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

During both the Salem Witch Trials and The Red Scare, people that were falsely accused were considered guilty unless they confessed. During the Red Scare, citizens that were accused of being communists would appear in front of a committee where they would be harshly questioned about their political beliefs. They were also asked about other people who had any part in these “rebellious” activities. Just like in the witch trials, if a person refused to answer the questions from the committee or would not give other names, they would be thrown in jail. In The Crucible, most of the people accused did not have any sound evidence against them. It was all through the words of other people. If a person was accused, they would appear in front of a set of judges who would then decide whether or not they were guilty. During their trial, the person accused was set up to be guilty. The prosecutor would ask questions that set the answer up to make them sound guilty. Some of these questions include “Why do you hurt them?” and “Why do you deny it?”. When a person was being tried in court, they had two options, lie and save their own life, or tell the truth and die for it. During the McCarthy period, if you confessed to being a communist, you were blacklisted. During the witch trials, if you confessed to being a witch, you would not be hanged, even if you were lying. In the grand scheme of things, it was in the best interest of the accused to just confess.

The Cost of Reputation

To a famous Hollywood actor and a good puritan Christian, reputation meant a lot. During both of these time eras, reputations, and careers were destroyed. McCarthy would accuse famous Hollywood stars and people who work for the government of communism. Because of this, many people lost their jobs and were blacklisted. If one was accused of communism, they would be avoided by everyone. Their careers and lives were ruined all because McCarthy made an accusation. During the Puritan era, it was important to remain a good Christian. By not maintaining the good Puritan ways, one would be in for punishment. Punishments were normally public humiliation of some sort. These punishments could range anywhere from whipping to being hanged. If a citizen was accused of witchcraft, that would mean they were not being a good Puritan because they were summoning the Devil. Another example in The Crucible of not being a good Puritan would be when John Proctor slept with Abigail, committing adultery. His name and reputation were ruined because he sinned. In both time periods, many lives of innocent people were ruined because of accusations that were made against them.


  1. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. 
  2. Johnson, Mary. “Fear and Paranoia in Historical Contexts: A Comparative Study of McCarthyism and The Salem Witch Trials.” H
  3. Smith, John. “False Accusations and Consequences: Examining the Impact of Accusations on Individuals in McCarthyism and The Crucible.” 
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The Crucible and McCarthyism: What Are the Parallels?. (2023, Aug 17). Retrieved from