Miller, in his mind, began to link the activities of the Committee with the witchcraft trials, which had taken place in Salem, an American town, two centuries ago. For example, the Committee often had possession of lists of people seen at various meetings, yet they still wanted the witnesses to name names. Miller related these public confessions to those that confessed to witchcraft, and falsely accused others, in Salem. In his autobiography, Timebends, Arthur Miller tells us that he had known about the witchcraft experience from as far back as his college days but it had remained in his mind.
It was not until a copy of Marion Starkey’s book The Devil In Massachusetts fell into his hands that he got the idea for his play, The Crucible. In Salem, Massachusetts, 1692, a group of young girls experimented with the supernatural world and, as a result, the jails were filled with men and women, and twenty people were hanged. To understand why this happened, we have to remember that the people of Salem believed in witches and the devil and that the bible instructed them to hang witches. The girls’ antics were encouraged by a West Indian slave, Tituba, with her spells and beliefs.
A more serious threat was the intervention of Mrs Putnam, of whom seven children had died on the night of their birth. She had sent her surviving daughter, Ruth, to Tituba to discover the cause of her children’s deaths, as she did not want to admit to the possibility that she might be at fault. After having been caught by her father, Betty Parris, daughter of Salem’s minister, became ‘possessed’ and would fall in and out of trances, and on occasion, crawl around the floor alongside her cousin Abigail Williams.
In court, overcome with hysteria, the girls falsely accused people of witchcraft and then claimed that those same people were possessing them within the courtroom walls. However, people were not suspicious as it was believed that the only witnesses to the witchcraft were the girls and those accused. The people of Salem thought the girls too innocent to be capable of such corruption. If people did not confess to trafficking with the devil, they were hanged. In Salem, there was no choice of individuality. Anyone who did not wish to abide by the society’s rules was seen as being ‘against the society’, alias, a witch.