Religion and Morality in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"

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Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is a compelling critique of the dark and tangled web of society, politics, and morality. Set in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, this play serves as a vivid reflection of the oppressive nature of McCarthyism in the 1950s in America. Although rooted in a different period, Miller’s play uses the rigid and pervasive religious environment of Puritan Salem as a vehicle for broader societal critique. This religion in the Crucible essay argues that in "The Crucible," Miller employs the strict, unforgiving religious culture of Puritan Salem as a metaphor to critique the oppressive nature of McCarthyism and to explore the complex relationship between religion, morality, and society.

The Puritan Setting and its Significance

In the late 17th century, New England was a society deeply imbued with the Puritan faith. This faith wasn't just a list of beliefs; it dictated all aspects of life, both public and private. In this theocratic society, the church and the state were intertwined, and the fear of the Devil was real and palpable. The Puritans' strict religious beliefs, coupled with a literal belief in the Bible, established a culture where the concept of predestination reigned and moral and social non-conformity was not tolerated. Witchcraft, to the Puritans, was a stark reality. In "The Crucible," this religious fervor creates a hothouse where fear and suspicion flourish and reason and compassion wither — a community ready to believe that witches live among them, leading to the tragic unfolding of the Salem Witch Trials.

Religion as a Force of Authority and Control

In the Salem of Miller’s play, religion is the framework within which social and moral order is maintained, and it is a system that various characters manipulate to justify their actions and maintain their authority. Reverend Parris and Judge Danforth, key authorities in the play, use their positions to instill fear in the people and squash opposition to their campaign against supposed witchcraft. Parris's obsession with sin and damnation and Danforth's cold, unyielding judgment portray a religious leadership that is both fearful and fearsome. The court, acting as the arm of God, creates an environment where opposing the court is equated with opposing God—a blasphemous act.

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Religion and Individual Characters

For John Proctor, religion is a source of torment, a constant reminder of his sin of adultery. For Reverend Hale, it is a force for good that becomes perverted by the town’s hysteria. Abigail Williams represents the dark side of the town's religion. She is its false prophet, using the town’s fear of witches and its trust in her as a witness to manipulate outcomes and people in her favor. Each of these characters, in their way, reflects the multiple and complex ways that religion and religious beliefs shape, and are shaped by, the human and social dramas unfolding in Salem.

The Corruption and Perversion of Religious Principles

Throughout "The Crucible," the witch trials reveal the hypocrisy and corruption among Salem’s religious leaders. Justice and truth, principles central to Christian teaching, are distorted and abandoned during the trials. This is most evident in the court scenes, where evidence is twisted or invented to fit preconceived notions of guilt and where dissenting voices are summarily dismissed or punished. Miller uses these distortions to highlight the danger of an unaccountable system, even (or especially) when it operates under the banner of divine authority.

Critical Parallels: Salem and McCarthyism

Arthur Miller’s portrayal of religion and authority in Puritan Salem is not just a historical examination but serves as a pointed critique of McCarthy-era America. The play, while set in 1692, was written in a time when the U.S. was gripped by anti-communist hysteria, mirroring the witch-hunt of Salem. Here, the religious fervor of Salem becomes an allegory for the ideological fervor of McCarthyism.


In "The Crucible," Arthur Miller uses the intense religious environment of Puritan Salem as a prism through which to view and critique his own society. This religion in the Crucible essay has argued that Miller presents religion as a double-edged sword in the play – it is a source of moral guidance for some characters but a tool of manipulation and control for others. The play warns of the dangers inherent in allowing religion to become entangled with politics and insists on the need for moral integrity in the face of societal pressure, a theme that remains ever relevant.

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. "The Crucible." Penguin Books, 1976.

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