The Crucible in Post 9-11 Politics


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From Witch-hunts and Communist-hunts to Terrorist-hunts From Witch-hunts and Communist-hunts to Terrorist-hunts: Placing Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in the Post-September 11 Power Politics Muhammad Safeer Awan He who believes in the Devil, already belongs to him (Thomas Mann in Doctor Faustus). Abstract Miller’s The Crucible (1953), written and performed at the height of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, contextualizes the tragic happenings in Salem Village and Salem Town, Massachusetts, from Ju
  From Witch-hunts and Communist-hunts to Terrorist-hunts Pakistan Journal of American Studies, Vol. 25, Nos. 1 & 2. Spring & Fall 2007 1 From Witch-hunts and Communist-hunts toTerrorist-hunts: Placing Arthur Miller’s TheCrucible in the Post-September 11 PowerPolitics  Muhammad Safeer Awan He who believes in the Devil, already belongs to him (ThomasMann in  Doctor Faustus ). AbstractMiller’s The Crucible (1953), written and performed at theheight of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, contextualizes thetragic happenings in Salem Village and Salem Town,Massachusetts, from June through September of 1692. Theunmistakable and frightening parallels between events atSalem and the 1950s House Un-American Activities Committee(HUAC) hearings present a powerful allegory for ourcontemporary world, especially the horrendous events of 9/11and their aftermath. The Crucible employs the historical eventsof the Salem Witch Trials to develop a powerful critique of moments in human history when reason and fact becameclouded by irrational fears and the desire to place the blamefor society’s failures and problems on certain individuals orgroups. While The Crucible achieved its greatest resonance inthe 1950s – when Senator Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terrorwas still fresh in the public mind – Miller’s work has elementsthat have continued to provoke public and intellectualresponses across the globe. A number of similarities can befound in terms of mob psyche, power politics and treatment of the accused in the case of the Salem witch-hunts, McCarthy’s   Muhammad Safeer Awan Pakistan Journal of American Studies, Vol. 25, Nos. 1 & 2. Spring & Fall 2007 2 Communist-hunts, and today’s terrorist-hunts. The presentstudy aims at analyzing the way power is politicallymanipulated in times of crisis. Hysteria, paranoia, and acarefully constructed fear are common threads in all threecases. The result is social stigmatization, stereotyping andpersecution of the worst kind. The play has a broad sweep of moral contexts in which the mob mentality overrides personalintegrity and places blame on scapegoats as it proves easier todo this than confront deep-rooted societal inadequacies,created especially by global capitalism.   Fanatical Othering Human history is replete with instances of “Fanatical Othering”due to moral and security panic, often created by those who standto gain from such paranoia. Monolithic super-structural“ideologies” are always deployed by power-holders; they shapesubjectivities, structure social relations and legitimate forms of power, and use state apparatuses to do violence against those whocontest such superstructures. 1 Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayerdefine moral regulation as “a project of normalizing, renderingnatural, taken for granted, in a word ‘obvious’, what are in factontological and epistemological premises of a particular andhistorical form of social order. Moral regulation is coextensivewith state formation and state forms are always animated andlegitimated by a particular moral ethos.” 2 One only has to look atpost-9/11 USA today to be reminded that moral/political/socialregulation imposed on the masses by the religious right is not the 1 See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (London: Vintage,1980); PhilipRichard D. Corrigan and Derek Sayer, The Great Arch: English State Formationas Cultural Revolution (New York: Blackwell, 1985); Antonio Gramsci,  An Antonio Gramsci Reader  , ed. David Forgacs (New York: Stocken Books, 1988). 2 Corrigan and Sayer, The Great Arch , 4.  From Witch-hunts and Communist-hunts to Terrorist-hunts Pakistan Journal of American Studies, Vol. 25, Nos. 1 & 2. Spring & Fall 2007 3 purview of “Third World” or Islamic societies alone. 3 Thisphenomenon has a much older history in the West. The Salemwitch trials are the most glaring example. What happened in Salem Miller has almost faithfully adapted the actual historical happen-ings, except that he has raised the age of the girl characters,perhaps to emphasise their sexuality. Two dogs were also executedas suspected accomplices of the witches; Miller does not mentionit.Scholars have noted potentially telling differences betweenaccused and accusers in Salem, Massachusetts. Most of theaccused lived to the south of the town, and were generally betteroff financially, than most of the accusers. In a number of cases,accusing families stood to gain property from the conviction of thealleged witches. Also, accused and accusers generally took opposite sides in a congregational schism that had split the Salemcommunity before the outbreak of hysteria. The conclusion thatmany scholars draw from these patterns is that property disputesand congregational feuds played a major role in determining wholived, and who died, in the Salem of 1692. 4   Causes of Madness at Salem An unfortunate mix of reasons are known to be responsible forsuch a moral/security panic: the circumstances of their transatlanticmigrations, the socio-political doctrines of the founding fathers of  3 See Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reason of Power inChristianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1993).   4 For details of the actual happenings at Salem village and town during 1692, seeChadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem (New York: Mentor Book, 1969) andMarion Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts (New York: AnchorBooks/Random House, 1969/1989).   Muhammad Safeer Awan Pakistan Journal of American Studies, Vol. 25, Nos. 1 & 2. Spring & Fall 2007 4 the USA in the 1600s, an ongoing frontier war with the Indians,economic conditions, congregational strife, teenage boredom, andpersonal jealousies can account for the spiraling accusations, trials,and executions. Against such odds, they grew over-protective, forthey had come to America to establish a New Israel. Therefore,any slight deviation from the norms, which were considered theiranchor sheet for survival, was enough to create panic and masshysteria. Life in Salem in the 1690s would offer little amusement.In Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible , the slave girl Tituba,becomes the novelty for the young girls of Salem because of herknowledge from her native Barbados. She speaks and sings in alanguage unknown to the others and mixes a cauldron of soupcontaining chicken blood. The girls dance around this in secret;dancing was also prohibited in Puritan Salem. 5   All these things started out as tiny guilty pleasures, but soon, fearand guilt overtook the girls and what had started out as sport due toboredom, grew into a monstrous situation as the accusationsbecame deadly. At such occasions, the power of suggestion, thatsomeone is casting a spell on us, spreads like wild fire. Thebeginning of group hysteria is easy to see at the end of Act I of  TheCrucible. Once Tituba confesses publicly to Reverend Parris, theother girls of Salem, Betty and Abigail, also start naming names.This natural occurrence in the play is the first of many parallels tothe naming of names during the McCarthy hearings.Voltaire said that if there were no God, it would be necessary toinvent Him. If this is true, man must surely also invent the Devil. 5 The psychological, economic, pathological, social, religious, and historicalreasons for the spread of these causes are very well documented in FrancesHill’s two excellent studies  A Delusion of Satan (Cambridege:Mass.: Da CapoPress 2002), and The Salem Witch Trials Reader  (Cambridege, Mass.: Da CapoPress, 2000).
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