Miller and McCarthyism

As well as understanding some of the historical background to the play, it's important to be aware of the historical context of when the play was actually written in 1953. Miller was not only intrigued by the witch trials of seventeenth century Salem, but he was also concerned with more recent events in the United States.

At the end of World War Two, two powerful nations emerged - the USA and the USSR. Despite having been allies in the war, both countries were distrustful of each other. A battle for nuclear weapon superiority arose between the two: the capitalist United States versus the communist Soviet Union. Mistrust and hostility between the two grew - giving rise to the 'Cold War' - and the United States worked at home and abroad to oppose the spread of communism.


President Eisenhower
General Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie in 1953. (Source: NARA)


In this climate of fear, a United States Senator, Joseph McCarthy, alleged that government departments were being infiltrated by communists and he waged a campaign against them. He accused and vilified many public servants including teachers and civil servants as well as more prominent personalities..

Miller was caught up in the frenzy, being asked to apologise for an interest in Marxism when he was younger. Brought before the House Committee of Un-American Activities, he refused to apologise and was sent for trial. Initially he was fined and given a suspended prison sentence, but he appealed and was acquitted. Miller fought to maintain his dignity and his principles. This was shortly before The Crucible first opened.