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The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Arthur Miller | Biography


Arthur Asher Miller was born in New York City on October 17, 1915, to immigrant parents; his father owned a women's clothing company. He attended the University of Michigan, where he wrote for the student paper and studied playwriting, completing his first play, No Villain. After receiving his degree, he returned to New York to write. His first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), closed after four performances, and his next works, two novels, were not successful. His career changed with the opening of his play All My Sons in 1947; it won Miller's first Tony Award for Best Author along with the Drama Critics' Circle Award. He followed with Death of a Salesman, which opened in 1949 and won Miller another Tony Award for Best Play along with the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is his most frequently produced play.

His next play was The Crucible, which was both performed and published in 1953. Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory about the dangers and hysteria of the Red Scare in the early 1950s, when the United States government used loyalty oaths and investigations to identify citizens who were members of the Communist Party or were communist sympathizers.

This "witch hunt" caused movie executives to blacklist, or bar, many screenwriters and directors, including friends of Miller's, from working in the industry. McCarthyism touched him personally after a close friend, director Elia Kazan, caved to pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)and gave the committee the names of friends and acquaintances who followed a left-leaning philosophic agenda. Kazan had directed All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, but the friendship between the men dissolved. Seeing a strong correlation between the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials of 1692 and the influence of McCarthyism, Miller decided to go to Salem to research the witch trials as the basis for an allegorical play. He wrote The Crucible to show how baseless rumors and innuendos can erode the foundations of society at any time, resulting in serious consequences. In the play the characters Tituba, Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Thomas Putnam suggest or accuse townspeople of practicing witchcraft for their own personal gains.

The Crucible was immediately recognized as an allegorical treatment of the devastating effects of McCarthyism. For instance, the New York Times review said, "Neither Mr. Miller nor his audiences are unaware of certain similarities between the perversions of justice then and today." The play brought Miller to the attention of Senator McCarthy and HUAC. The government had considered Miller a communist sympathizer since 1940. Now the fear of being subpoenaed by HUAC led many critics to speak out against the play, and many of Miller's friends shunned him.

In 1954 the playwright felt the heat of the Red Scare investigation when he was denied a passport. Two years later he was charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to "name names" and implicate friends and acquaintances suspected of associating with the Communist Party or any subversive—politically left—organizations. This charge was revoked in 1958 by the United States Court of Appeals.

Miller continued to write. His later works included A View From the Bridge (1955), After the Fall and Incident at Vichy (both 1964), and The Price (1968), among others. He wrote the screenplay for a 1980 television movie, Playing for Time, and the 1996 film version of The Crucible, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. His tempestuous personal life included his divorce from his first wife in 1956 and subsequent marriage to Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe, which lasted four years. He married again in 1962 and, following the death of his third wife in 2002, was engaged to another woman when he died on February 10, 2005. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize he had amassed seven Tony Awards, two Drama Critics' Circle Awards, and the John F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, among other honors.

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