The Crucible: What exactly was Arthur Miller writing about?
I just came across this piece on Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’. The play appeared 60 years ago and is quite rightly seen as an iconic response to the Witchhunts of McCarthyite America. In working on Waiting for Brando I never set out to a. write about Arthur Miller, and b. to include within the play a new (for me at least) interpretation of The Crucible.
It is impossible to write about 1950’s America without reference to the McCarthy witchhunts and the terrible paranoia it induced across all sections of U.S society. It is little wonder, particularly when writers were at the forefront of Senator McCarthy’s attacks, that one of America’s greatest ever writers took up the cudgels against him. The result was The Crucible, and iconic play set in the Salem community of 1600’s America, and based upon a true testimonies of those who experienced their own moment of paranoia.
The play has since been performed countless times across the world. It still stands as a condemnation of the witch-hunts of 1950’s America, and yet holds a relevance today for many who, whether in wider society, under dictatorship, or in political parties of the left or right, or for beliefs based upon race, religion, sexuality, etc., face any sort of witch-hunt. In the face of the Tribunal we all believe we could be the ‘hero’ of the piece who refuses to speak out and condemn against those around him. We would all want to be John Proctor.
Or would we?
It came to me, after reading many articles and the biographies and autobiographies of Miller, Kazan and Brando, etc. That when writing about John Proctor, Good proctor, and Abigail, the servant girl John Proctor admits to having had an affair with, That Miller, like all the best writers, is writing a multi-layered text which places himself, or rather, aspects of himself, within the characters and the dilemmas they face. For who else could the troika be, but Miller, his wife Mary, and Marilyn Munroe?
Miller meets and falls in love with Marilyn many years before he marries her. At this stage his marriage is all but over, something alluded to in ‘The Crucible’ when Goody Proctor admits that she kept a ‘cold house’. But Miller is terrified of Hollywood and terrified too of his desire for Marilyn and how that would effect the way he would be seen as the conduit for the morals of the left of the day. And so he runs away, while admitting later that in everything but the deed he had been unfaithful to Mary.
It was surprise, in some ways, when Miller and Kazan became part of this play, and yet it was really an organic development, based on the point made earlier that it is impossible to write about 1950’s America without reference to the witch-hunts. After all, Miller and Kazan are two of the biggest players of the time, and a reading of their work alone will tell you all you need to know about the era.
And the relationship of Miller and Kazan, who were brothers in all but blood, and the subsequent break up of their friendship, is itself one of the defining moments of that time. In Waiting for Brando they hold each other to account for their political and personal failings through conversations they did have, and conversations they could have had.
You’ll have to wait and see exactly how this feeds into Waiting for Brando. The concept of having to Liverpool Merchant Seamen and two of America’s most iconic figures on the stage together may sound like an odd one. But, in its own way, I’m certain it works. But you’ll just have to decide for yourself.