The Crucible by Arthur Miller was written during the early 1950s at the time of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on the infiltration of Communism in the United States and the loyalty to democracy of many prominent U.S. citizens. The McCarthy hearings pitted artists and performers against each other as they were called to testify about their own loyalty and what they knew about the loyalty of others.
Although some critics have suggested that The Crucible is an historical allegory for the McCarthy period, it can be examined more fruitfully as a play about the human condition. McCarthyism, as Miller himself said, is the backdrop for the play, but is not its theme. The approach of this teacher’s guide will be to view the play as one that has outlasted the political turmoil of the time during which it was written, becoming a classic work that continues to excite and enrage audiences and readers.
The Crucible is set in another politically charged period in U.S. history. The Salem witch trials of the late 17th century resulted in the accusation and hanging of many colonials. Citizens of the Massachusetts colony were arrested and forced to admit their own guilt and inform on others. Whether or not the play is historically accurate is not important to the approach used in this teacher’s guide. Although we will suggest ways to examine the historical backdrop of the Salem witch trials and will discuss how the play can be used in English and history, we will focus primarily on the artistic qualities of the play.
The Crucible is extremely appropriate for use in the high school or college classroom. It is not difficult to read; it has an exciting plot; the characters and their relationships are intriguing; its themes are timely; and it allows students the opportunity to respond in terms of their own experiences.
The teacher’s guide will be divided into the following sections: notes on Miller’s life; a synopsis of the play; an annotated list of characters and their relationships; prereading activities and questions; during reading questions, quotations, and activities; and after reading questions and activities. Each of the section suggests ways in which the excellent CD-ROM can be used to enhance the teaching of the play. CD-ROM activities are printed in bold face so that teachers can distinguish them from text activities. In this way, the guide can be utilized in classrooms using only the text or the text and the CD-ROM.
The guide will star (*) those activities which are most appropriate for advanced students. Finally, a bibliography will suggest how the play can be incorporated with other works in thematic units.