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Arthur Miller And His Distorted Historical Accurac

In 1953, Arthur Miller wrote his famous play The Crucible, in response to a fear of Communism that had developed in the United States during that decade. The “Red Scare”, as it was later called by historians was led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose paranoia of a communist takeover spread through the nation like a wildfire. Men and women alike fell victim to McCarthys pointed finger and as a result of this hysteria, were mostly deported from the country, their careers and lives ruined.

Some argue today that McCarthys plan had been to use the fear of the American people to throw his enemies out of office and gain power himself. Whatever McCarthys motives may have been, Arthur Miller realized the senators ludicracy when he attempted to accuse the President himself to be Communist. Miller and the rest of the American people drew the line and McCarthy was seen a fraud. By the time the rest of the public had came to this realization, Millers play was written.

The Crucible is a play in which Arthur Miller parallels events of the Salem witch trials of 1692 to the problems that were plaguing his own society. The statement that most readers today bring out of the play is that history has a way of repeating itself. Millers play was an extreme hit upon release and won a Tony award. The play is so popular today that many teachers in secondary schools use it to base their lesson around when teaching their students about 1692 Salem and there are multimedia activities based on Salem through The Crucibles view. Miller is often asked to speak at events where similar “witch hunts” occur, acting as a sort of expert on the subject of Puritan Salem and acts of hysteria.

The question is, why is Arthur Miller revered by so many as “the man to ask” regarding the Salem Witch trials when his play had many inaccuracies, some very obvious? Millers play is not a historical account of the events in 1692 Salem, but rather a work of fiction. It is important to realize that what Miller wrote is not fact by revealing where his play is historically flawed. Some of the more important discrepancies are discussed below:

By examining Millers main plot relationship between characters Abigail Williams and John Proctor, we uncover many discrepancies, mainly that there was no relationship at all. To begin, there was never any love interest between the two of them and according to Susan Cocalis, Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; the two hardly came in contact at all. In fact, John Proctor was old enough to be Abigails grandfather.

Where Arthur Miller represents Proctor as a 35-year old farmer and Abigail as a 17-year old, lust-crazed teenager, the reality is quite different. John Proctor was actually the owner of a tavern on the outskirts of town and aged 60. Even if you were to argue that Proctor and Williams made frequent contact (In Millers play, she worked for Elizabeth Proctor, Johns wife), Abigail was only eleven. The idea that she would be chasing after a man five times her age would be unlikely, not to mention that she probably wouldnt have any sexual interests for at least five years. The two engaging in a sexual affair would prove quite a comedy if we consider that Mr. Proctor would most-likely have had problems with impotence at his age, and Abigail would not be sexually active. The act would have been more of molestation by John Proctor than an affair.

As for Elizabeth Proctors encounters with Abigail Williams; Miller writes Abigail to hate Elizabeth for standing in the way of her desire. The historical truth is that Abigail and Elizabeth (Johns third wife, aged 41) hardly knew each other. There is no way that Elizabeth Proctor could have ever thrown Abigail from the Proctor house because the truth is that Abigail never worked for the Proctors; they lived in different sections of town.

Other than her age and affair with John Proctor, there are other differences between reality and Millers play regarding Abigail Williams. In The Crucible, Abigail is a scheming villain-like character with cruel intention. According to the story, when the hysteria is lifted from the community and Abigail is exposed as a fraud, she steals a total of 31 pounds from her Uncle Samuel Parris and runs away to Boston. Margo Burns, creator of a credulous web site entitled “17th c. Colonial New England: with special emphasis on The Salem Witch Trials of 1692”, argues that:

Abigail Williams probably couldn’t have laid her hands on 31 pounds in Samuel Parris’ house, to run away with John Proctor, when Parris’s annual salary was contracted at 66 pounds, only a third of which was paid in money. The rest was to be paid in foodstuffs and other supplies, but he even then, he had continual disputes with the parishioners about supplying him with much-needed firewood they owed him1.

More alterations of history are revealed when we examine Tituba, the slave of Samuel Parris. There are small differences such as a 20-year age variation between the play and reality2, but there are also major ones, including her race. In Salem Village, Tituba was a South American Indian of the Arawak tribe. There are primary sources in which Tituba is referred to as Indian, yet Arthur Miller portrays her as an African voodoo woman. There are many reasons that he could have done this. One is that perhaps he did not wish to deal with the complexities of describing a native slave and it was easier and more relatable to make her African. Also, voodoo is stereotypically seen as the workings of “black” magic and th…..erefore, could be easier linked to what the Puritans would view as witchcraft. Since voodoo is of African decent, Tituba was made African herself. Voodoo could be easily portrayed as a witch-like practice; whereas it might have been harder to create an Indian who performed spells and portray it without cliche3.

Despite what many people understand about Tituba because of The Crucible, Tituba had a family. She had a husband (“Indian John”) and together they had a daughter (Violet). If Tituba had relatives at Salem Village, why did Arthur Miller choose to leave them out of his play? The answer is in his portrayal of Tituba as a mother figure to the afflicted girls. In The Crucible, Tituba is an older woman that the girls go to in order to get fortunes read and to receive guidance that they cant find elsewhere. To the girls, she is fascinating and mysterious. Tituba is has no family in the play, and that is probably why she and the girls spend so much time together. In fact though, Tituba did have a family including a daughter. While she may have had contact with the girls, chances are, she did not need to use her motherly instincts with anyone other than her own daughter and she was probably not as close with them as the girls portray.

Margo Burns argues that there was never any dancing in the woods. This is easily agreeable for a few reasons: The first is that in the woods, the girls dance in a voodoo-like fashion. Since in reality, Tituba would have known nothing about voodoo, they could never have danced in the woods as Miller depicts. Also, the idea that Samuel Parris would have discovered them even if they had been dancing would have been suspicious in its own right. For what reason would Parris be in the woods at night to begin with unless he himself was doing something mischievous? Besides that, Puritans were afraid of “devils” in the woods and the thought that he would have been venturing by himself is unlikely, especially after sunset.

In The Crucible, Tituba readily confesses to being a “witch” and quickly offers the names of other women to prove her “sorriness”. This is almost an insult to the actual Tituba, who underwent severe torture before confessing “by the glory of God”. Arthur Miller portrays her as a weak woman who gives in easily and at the end of the play is actually turning mad, mumbling about the Devil. Miller could have done this because he needed someone in his show to begin the hysteria. The Crucible is a reflection of the theory that had Tituba not confessed or revealed the names of others, then the “witch hunt” never would have begun. Miller has Tituba single-handedly begin the craze, which could have only been accomplished only if she caved to prove the credibility of the girls accusations.

Yet another group of misrepresentations by Arthur Miller revolve around the character of Samuel Parris. Millers play depicts Parris as a widower, who is only filled with greed. He is thought of from the beginning as a fraud. Yet in the historical Salem Village, Parris actually had a wife and two children other than Betty; a son Thomas, and a daughter Susannah. There is also no record that he lost any money to Abigail. Parris could not have lost 31 pounds to her because he was not wealthy enough to have 31 pounds lying around that he wouldnt have needed for something. Thirty-one pounds was half of his yearly income. In fact, even in the play Parris is always complaining of his financial situation. For someone of his stature to be hoarding that kind of money would mean that they were not spending anything at all, which would be unlikely because he had others to support beyond himself. One of the more interesting points is that in the play, Parris is run out of Salem after the witch hysteria has ended; whereas historically, he wasnt forced to leave at all. Parris actually stayed in Salem for about five more years before he willingly left.

There are other minor details that have been altered by Miller, like having the three main “martyrs” of the play (Proctor, Martha Corey, and Rebecca Nurse) hanged on the same day. They three were actually hung on different days and Margo Burns also points out that the only person who recited the Lords prayer was the Rev. George Burroughs, which caused a commotion in the community because witches were thought to be unable to recite the prayer without faltering.

In addition, probably the largest of misconceptions about the Salem trials is that they simply ended and everyone “went home” when the Governors wife was accused. The trials did not end upon a realization of the hysteria involved in the hangings. The truth is rather, that the jails were overcrowded with accused waiting to be tried and many were confessing to outrageous accusations just to spare their lives. The “afflicted” girls continued to accuse, and their credibility was extremely hurt when people they had never met from other towns were confessing to witchcraft even though they had never seen the girls before.

There is more than enough evidence to prove why Arthur Miller should not be deemed the expert on Salem Village. Arthur Miller is a playwright, and that is exactly what The Crucible is  a play. It is not intended to be a historical document other than a fiction based on history. The problem with peoples understanding of the Salem witch trials is that they rely on a play as fact, and a playwright to teach them history. The Crucible should be viewed not as fact, but used as a means to spark an interest to pursue what really happened in Salem Village, 1692.

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