Arthur Miller and the Mccartyism



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“I saw men entrusting their own conscience
to other men and thanking them for the possibility of being able to do so.”
Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller was born in New York to a middle class Jewish family. His family, like many others in America, suffered from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the future writer had to work his way through college. His experience in the Depression and his awareness of the horrors of Fascism and Nazism in Europe led him towards left-wing views, which can be traced in the plays that made his reputation and set the standards for American realist drama: All my sons (1947), Death of Salesman (1949) and View from the bridge (1956).
During the Cold War, United States were threatened by communism. In effect, the Truman Administration held a demonised view of the Soviet Union that wanted to convince the Americans to no have contact with the communist party or its members.
A special commission called“ House of Un-American Activities Committee”was born to investigate on people that were suspected of any alliance with the Red Menace.
This climate of general hysteria legitimated, from 1950 to 1954, the anti-communist campaign of Senator Mc Carthy who wanted to silence political dissent. This movement was mainly interested in the intellectuals that had only the fault of believing in freedom and democracy; one of them was Arthur Miller.
In 1949, the writer, was subjected to a scrutiny by a committee of the United States Congress investigating Communist influence in the arts. In this period, Miller wrote The Crucible, an allegory for the Mc Carthy era and mass media hysteria. The novel was based on court records and historical personages of the Salem witch trials of 1692. The daughter of a Salem’s minister called Parris fell mysteriously ill. Reverend Parris was a widower that was not loved by his community and he believed that he was persecuted wherever he went. Rumours of witchcraft spread throughout the people of Salem. The minister accused Abigail Williams of wrongdoing but she transformed the accusation into plea for help: her soul was been bewitched. Young girls, led by Abigail, made accusations of witchcraft against townspeople whom they did not like. Abigail accused Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of a farmer, whom she had once seduced. Elizabeth’s husband Proctor revealed his pas lechery. Elizabeth, unaware, failed to confirm his testimony. To protect him she testified falsely that her husband had not been intimate with Abigail. Proctor is accused of witchcraft and condemned to death.
The play, which received Antoinette Perry Award, expressed his faith in the ability of an individual to resist conformist pressures. Then Miller wanted to precise that he had one theme in mind- he was interested in a moral research concerning the relationship between individual and society.
Miller said: “It wasn’t only the birth of Maccartism that worried me but something that seemed much more absolute and complex. It was the fact that a political campaign easily recognizable as having extreme right-wing ideas was able to create not only terror but a new subjective reality that almost seemed as sacred. I was unable to believe that such a futile and mean cause asserted by men who were obviously ridiculous could paralyse the ability to think and arouse such mysterious emotions.
I saw men entrusting their own conscience to other men and thanking them for the possibility of being able to do so.
You can say that the “Crucible” was written as a result of the dismay and rebellion caused by the mystery of hetraying ones own conscience. A betrayal that was always waiting ….”
In 1956 Miller was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Miller admitted that he had attended certain meetings, but denied that he was a Communist. During the investigation Miller refused to reveal the names of alleged Communist writers with whom he had attended five or six meetings in New York in 1947. Refusing to name others, who had associated with leftist or suspected Communist groups, Miller was cited for contempt of Congress. The guilty verdict was announced in a 15 page “opinion” after over a six-day trial but the ruling was reversed by the courts in 1958.
During the same period also other people were accused by the Government for their political ideas and for their ideologies.