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The Crucible (Seniors Age 12+) - Context and Themes: Arthur Miller

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

Lesson 11: Arthur Miller

World famous with tons of successful plays - Arthur Miller is a pretty big deal in the drama world. The events he lived through had a big impact on The Crucible, so it's worth knowing a bit about him...

Arthur Miller was an American playwright

Arthur Miller was one of the most famous American playwrights of the 20th century. He also wrote many fiction books, essays and screenplays.

He was born in 1915 in New York, and died in 2005, aged 89.

His first successful play was All My Sons in 1947, and he became even more famous with Death of a Salesman two years later. His celebrity status in America grew when he married Marilyn Monroe in 1956. They divorced in 1961.

In April 2017, Mix Up Theatre senior students performed The American Dream at the Dundee Rep - with themes based on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Miller was interested in political and social issues. He lived through the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression and World War Two. He saw the impact that these events had on American life and culture, which influenced his views on society.

Miller thought that theatre should represent what life is really like, so his plays often examine the flaws in American society as well as its strengths.

He believed that theatre was an effective way to bring people together, and that it gave him an opportunity to communicate with the public.

He wrote plays about social and moral issues

Miller is known for writing plays that have social and political messages about life in America.

The issues he explores are often universal, so audiences can easily engage with them. For example, in the play, any characters who contradict Salem's rules are at risk of being accused of witchcraft. This is similar to the way that societies often struggle to accept individuals who are seen to be different.

The events and characters in Miller's plays are usually realistic to help the audience relate to his heroes and their struggles.

Miller often chose to make his protagonists common men like John Proctor in The Crucible. This allows him to use that man's dilemmas to comment on wider social issues.

Miller also uses his plays to explore moral problems, by creating situations where it isn't easy for characters to decide what the right thing to do is. His characters have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

His characters sometimes experience a moral journey. The title of The Crucible can be seen as a metaphor of the these moral journeys -


Miller was influenced by the McCarthyist era

After some major film industry strikes, many writers and entertainers were accused by the government of being communists during the 1940s and 1950s, when Miller was writing.

HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Commitee) targeted the Hollywood entertainment industry because the government was worried it might make communist propoganda films. Many writers and actors were blacklisted (meaning no-one would hire them) after they refused to confess to supporting communism.

As a famous figure in the entertainment industry, Miller would have witnessed first hand the anger and suspicion caused by HUAC's investigations.

Elia Kazan was a film director and a friend of Miller's who was questioned by HUAC in 1952 about suspected communist activity. Kazan admitted that he had been a communist in the past and gave them the names of several of his friends.

Miller was shocked and upset that his friend had been put on trial and that Kazan had given the court the names of their friends. The two men didn't speak for ten years afterwards - many people believe that The Crucible was partly inspired by this experience.

Miller became associated with communism in the 1950s

In 1956, three years after The Crucible was first performed, Miller was summoned by HUAC for questioning.

HUAC was interested in Miller because he had been linked to suspected communists in the past. The fact that The Crucible seemed to criticise the 1950s 'witch-hunts' also made some people suspect that he supported communism.

During the trial, Miller refused to name anyone else as a communist, so he was convicted.

As a result, his passport was confiscated, he was fined and he was blacklisted. In 1958, his conviction was overturned.

Miller was unwilling to name other people and get them into trouble in the way that Elia Kazan had - this is the same attitude held by Giles Corey and John Proctor in The Crucible.


Lesson 4 - Plot Summary: Act One

Lesson 6 - Plot Summary: Act Three


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