Thursday, June 14, 2007




This play, based on the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690’s that New England still has not lived down, was written by Arthur Miller in an earlier period in American history, the 1950’s, when hysteria over the alleged internal “Communist menace” dovetailed with the opening of the coldest part of the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The dramatic tension of the play cannot be understood except as a parable on that then current atmosphere. Miller draws parallels with the earlier period of hysteria, in this case the irrational hysteria over witches in the isolated, inward-looking Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts. The comparisons in reaction to the witches and ‘reds under the bed’ are startling as far as the response of the societies and individuals in those communities were concerned.

Obviously in the play one needs a hero, even if it is the flawed and ‘fallen’ John Proctor who will stand up, in the final analysis, even unto death for his principles. We will always find a few, even if reluctant, fighters to stand against the herd. In fact we depend on that occurrence. What is more compelling, and frightening, is the reaction of the ‘honest’ town folk. Then, as in the case of the Cold War hysteria, those ‘good’ folk turned the other way, joined actively in on the action or in some way justified the trials. As we are again in a period when the new hysteria is over Islamic fundamentalists and their motives this play remains an extremely powerful cautionary tale. Read the play and/or watch a movie version of it.

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