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January 6, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Arts & Humanities, Performing Arts, Drama
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Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War An Online Professional Development Seminar

Florence Dore Assistant Professor of English University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill National Humanities Center Fellow

Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War


To explore how The Crucible reflects the culture of the Cold War.

To provide fresh material and perspectives for teaching the play.


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

FROM THE FORUM Challenges, Issues, Questions 

Play is popular with students.

Teachers attempt to place the paly in its Cold War context.

How can The Crucible be integrated into an interdisciplinary (history and English), team-taught class on the Cold War?


Florence Dore Assistant Professor of English University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill National Humanities Center Fellow 2008-09 Twentieth-century American literature Southern literature Feminist and gender theory Not Knowing: The American Middle Class and Forms of Privacy in Southern Post-War Fiction (Forthcoming)

The Novel and the Obscene: Sexual Subjects in American Modernism (2005)


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

Framing Questions 

How do you teach The Crucible?

A drama about events in seventeenth-century New England?

An allegory about mid-twentieth century politics in America?

Something else?


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

To what extent might we consider The Crucible as a postmodern text? The term “postwar“ refers to a time frame—the decades that immediately followed 1945. The term “postmodern” refers to the cultural forms that began to emerge in the postwar years (think of rock music). The literary scholar Fredric Jameson has argued that literature of the postwar era reflects the general tendency in these years towards ahistoricity. What he means by that is that everything written in the postmodern moment, even if it appears to be about a prior moment in history, cannot help but focus on the present. As he puts it, postmodern texts expresses “our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way.” This leads to a sense of dislocation.

 Postmodern subjects as “deaf” to actual history.  In literature, the past is contrued as an earlier version of the present.  Attempts to creat coherence in a moment of profound dislocation.


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

Discussion Questions  Is Miller’s portrayal of the seventeenth-century witch trials in The Crucible a symptom of a “deafness,” as Jameson calls it, to history?  Why did Arthur Miller choose to set a play “about” mid-twentieth-century politics in seventeenth-century New England?


For more information:


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

Part One: Class Part Two: Gender Part Three: Race


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

Part One: Class

Does the role of property in the play indicate something more about Arthur Miller’s present than the American past?


From The Crucible, Act One Parris: The salary is sixty-six pound, Mr. Proctor! I am not some preaching farmer with a book under my arm; I am a graduate of Harvard College. Giles: Aye, and well instructed in arithmetic!

Parris: Mr. Corey, you will look far for a man of my kind at sixty pound a year! I am not used to this poverty; I left a thrifty business in the Barbados to serve the Lord. I do not fathom it, why am I persecuted here? I cannot offer one proposition but there be a howling riot of argument. I have often wondered if the Devil be in it somewhere; I cannot understand you people otherwise. Proctor: Mr. Parris, you are the first minister ever did demand the deed to this house— Parris: Man! Don’t a minister deserve a house to live in! Proctor: To live in, yes. But to ask ownership is like you shall own the meetinghouse itself; the last meeting I were at you spoke so long on deeds and mortgages I thought it were an auction. . . . Parris: There is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning! Proctor: Can you speak one minute without we land in Hell again? I am sick of Hell! Parris: It is not for you to say what is good for you to hear! Proctor: I can speak my heart I think!


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War From Andrew Hoberek, The Twilight of the Middle Class: Post-World War II American Fiction and White Collar Work, 2005

“There is... A kind of false pastoralism in accounts of the postwar middle class as the refutation of Marxism....The fate of the middle class in recent years ...seems to confirm Marx and Engels’ assertion that ‘society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great classes directly facing each other;: those who own capital and those who must sell their labor at the former group’s terms.” From William H. Whyte, The Organization Man, 1956

“Like the office with no division between carpet and linoleum, suburbia demands perception. How in the world, you wonder when you see Park Forest, can anyone tell rank—or, for that matter, pull it? To the stranger’s eye the usual criteria of status are almost entirely absent.”


From The Crucible, Act Four

“He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay”

Discussion Question What does witchcraft have to do with property in The Crucible?


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

Part Two : Gender Is this a feminist play? How do we read the ending in relation to gender? Has Elizabeth herself become an individual, or does her refusal to guide John indicate a deference? What transformation do the women in The Crucible undergo?

How might we read the living dead aura of various females in the play in relation to a “Stepford Wife” mentality?


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

From Mother Takes a Holiday, 1952 Produced by the Whirlpool Corporation How the all-electric home emancipates women: a drama of how the women in the family manipulate their men to upgrade the laundry facilities.


From Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 1963 “The suburban housewife—she was the dream image of the young American woman and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife—freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment … In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture.”

Discussion Questions What do you notice about Mother Takes a Holiday? How does Mother Takes a Holiday portray “emancipation” for women? What do make of the fact that they are drinking Cokes? Of the fact that Whirlpool produced this? In terms of Friedan, how does this movie exemplify “The Feminine Mystique”? What do make of Carol, the stupid girl in the film? What is her function? How might we read Elizabeth Proctor in this sense?


From The Crucible, Act Four

Danforth: …Goody Proctor you are not summoned here for disputation. Be there no wifely tenderness within you? He will die with the sunrise. Your husband. Do you understand it? (She only looks at him.) What say you? Will you contend with him? (She is silent.) Are you stone? I tell you true, woman, had I no other proof of your unnatural life, your dry eyes now would be sufficient evidence that you delivered up your soul to Hell! A very ape would weep at such calamity! Have the devil dried up any tear of pity in you? (She is silent.) Take her out. It profit nothing she should speak to him. Elizabeth: Let me speak with him, Excellency. . . .

Elizabeth: It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War

Part Three : Race How does race function in The Crucible, and what do you make of the fact that Brown v. Board of Education was passed a year after The Crucible was published? In what sense is Tituba a representative of Puritan times, and to what extent does she function as a sign of 1950s racial integration in the United States? What does rock n’ roll have to do with the Puritans in The Crucible? Watch:


From The Crucible, Act One ABIGAIL: She hates me uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. It’s a bitter woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman! They want slaves, not such as I. Let them send to Barbados for that. I will not black my face for any of them! . . . Reverend Parris: I saw Tituba waving her arms over the fire when I came on you. Why was she doing that? And I heard screeching and gibberish coming from her mouth” She were swaying like a dumb beast over the fire”-Abigail: “She always sings her Barbados songs, and we dance.” Ruth Putnam … “she never waked this morning, but her eyes open and she walks, and hears naught, and cannot eat” . . .

“my Ruth, my only—I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin’ on her life too.


Witches and Communists: The Crucible and the Cold War From Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” 1953 The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said once when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a gentleman and that he brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the watermelon, she said, because a nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T. ! This story tickled John Wesley's funny bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn't think it was any good. She said she wouldn't marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man. From The Crucible, Act Four JOHN: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! Listen:


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