The themes and issues in Arthur Millers “The Crucible” reflect the historical and social context in which the play was written. The play was written in 1953, in the middle of the McCarthy political witch-hunt and is set against the backdrop of the mad witch-hunts of the Salem witch trials in the late 17th century (1692). It is about a town, after accusations from a few girls, which begins a mad hunt for witches that did not exist. Many townspeople were hanged on charges of witchcraft.
Miller brings about the absurdity of the incident with the theme of truth and righteousness. The theme is conveyed through the struggles of Millers main character, John Proctor. When Miller was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was placed in the same position as John Proctor. Miller was asked to give the names of people he had seen at a meeting of communist writers ten years before. Miller refused to answer this question (just like Proctor refused to sign the false confession) and was therefore fined for contempt of Congress.
Miller parallels these two conflicts from 1692 and 1953 into “The Crucible” making it clear that the themes and issues dealt with are ones which we deals with now, in modern times, not just in the old days. All these themes are valid for all times and places. Other themes, which make the play relevant to modern audiences, include the individual’s conscience, religion, injustice, political tyranny, situations where innocent people are unfairly accused, the honesty of a man in the face of guilt, authority being questioned, fear and love.
In every society you will find problems of conscience for people like John, who want to keep their name. He found himself in conflict with the court, which made him feel scared, especially because the court where sure they new the truth. Many of Millers audiences could relate to this affliction in one way or another, which is one reason why “The Crucible” is one of Millers most performed plays over the world. Proctor is honest, upright and blunt-spoken and this has to be shown through the actor deliverance of lines and posture.
He is a sharp, highly intelligent man who can easily detect foolishness in others and expose it. This can be shown through the actor delivering the lines quickly and to the point. At the same time though, Proctor questions his moral sense. After his affair with Abigail, he questions whether or not he is a moral man even though the affair was the only major flaw attributed to Proctor, who is in other respects honourable and ethical. It is a sign of his morality that he does not feel himself adequate to place himself as a martyr for the cause of justice when he is given the choice to save himself at the end of the play.