31 Oct 2023
The Crucible (1996)
Just the Hosts
It's the first years of the Cold War. Fascism has been defeated abroad but a new Red enemy is emerging and the US government is stoking fear among it's citizenry. Neighbour is turning on neighbour; friend on friend; paranoia is spreading. What do YOU do?
Playwright Arthur Miller looked to a similar event in American pre-history to produce The Crucible (1953). Set in 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, the play (and 1996 film adaptation) explores a witch-hunt that consumed the community. Accusations of witchcraft and consorting with the devil abound, scores are settled, lives ruined. Behind it all, Miller issues a clarion call against McCarthyism, and witch-hunts more broadly.
Join the hosts, Joe and Katie, for this two-part discussion of the background to this chilling story, in our Halloween 2023 special.
An approach to rooting out communism from the United States government, and eventually, from wider American society. It swept the country in the 1950s. Named for Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), a chief instigator in the hunt for hidden communists and chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, McCarthyism, has become synonymous with political witch-hunts.
For more information, check out this short video by American Historian Ellen Schrecker: What is McCarthyism? And Why Did it Happen?
Red Scare -
Paranoia about a growing number of domestic communists threatening national security and social stability. The fear of covert communists manipulating public opinion focused on some industries more than others: Hollywood, universities and public education, labour unions, and the arts.
Witch Hunt -
The searching out and persecution of people accused of witchcraft.
Used colloquially to refer to a similar search for and persecution of people thought to hold subversive or unpopular views.
“In times of uncertainty and upheaval witchcraft accusations would increase, and so there were often more witchcraft accusations during times of war and famine. General fears of witchcraft within society could also feed into specific accusations that originated within local community so that somebody disliked by their neighbours might be more vulnerable to being accused.”
A festival associated with chocolate, pumpkins, and costumes (or, fancy dress). But also with darkness, the dead, and general spookiness. There are many various names for similar festivals observed in different cultures around the world, with roots in Celtic practices, Catholic traditions, and perhaps a little devilry.
Learn more about the origins of Halloween and it's connection to Christianity:
Arthur Miller, "Why I Wrote The Crucible", The New Yorker (21 Oct 1996), pp. 158-164.
Arthur Miller, "Are You Now Or Were You Ever?" The Guardian/The Observer (Saturday, June 17, 2000).
Gerald Weales, ed. Arthur Miller: The Crucible: Text and Criticism. New York: Viking, 1971.
On Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism: A short bio with hyperlinks to learn more is available at Senate.Gov; The Eisenhower Library has collated many primary sources on McCarthyism / The "Red Scare"; Journalist Larry Tye provides a comprehensive discussion on Sen. McCarthy's history of antisemitism in his article "When Senator Joe McCarthy defended Nazis"; Tye also authored the book, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Joe McCarthy; You can also check out this short video on McCarthy's downfall, or PBS's excellent documentary on McCarthy for American Experience.
Louis Menand, "Joseph McCarthy and the Force of Political Falsehoods", The New Yorker (27 July 2020).
On McCarthyism and the Jewish Experience: A couple short articles on Jewish Radicalism and the Red Scare for the Jewish Women's Archive, and on The Jews of the Blacklist for the Jewish Book Council; In Witch-Hunt in Hollywood Michael Freedland argues that McCarthy's attack on Hollywood is best view through the lens of Antisemitism; Joseph Litvak's book, The Un-Americans: Jews, The Blacklist, and Stoolpigeon Culture examines those Jewish American who cooperated (it is Open Access).
On McCarthyism and the Black Experience: Amistad Digital Resource (Columbia University) provides a good overview with a few links to primary sources; PBS produced a documentary on The Black Press which includes discussion on the McCarthy era (there is also supplementary information online HERE and HERE); You can read about Jackie Robinson's testimony before the HUAC in a short article for Time magazine, or read some of his testimony itself at The Digital Public Library of America; finally, do listen to the Paul Robeson episode of You're Dead to Me with Prof Shana L Redmond, it's excellent!