The Chicago Public Library picked The Crucible as the Fall 2007 selection for One Book, One Chicago. Writing The Crucible in 1952, Arthur Miller presents the Salem witch trials as a mirror by which to reflect the anti-communist hysteria embodied by Senator Joseph McCarthy. But more than that, the play—like so many Arthur Miller plays—revolves around the concepts of power and betrayal. In the introduction to my edition of the play, Christopher Bigsby writes:
What replaces the sense of natural community in The Crucible, […] and, on a different scale, 1950s America is a sense of participating in a ritual, of conformity to a ruling orthodoxy and hence a hostility to those who threaten it. The purity of one’s religious principles is confirmed by collaborating, at least by proxy, in the punishment of those who reject them. Racial identity is reinforced by eliminating those who might “contaminate” it, as one’s Americanness is underscored by identifying those who could be said to be un-American.
I have tried to read each season’s selection since the program was inaugurated in 2001. Some selections have been familiar, many unfamiliar. The Crucible belongs to the former category. I read it in high school twenty years ago. I am reading it again; now, with what I hope is a keener eye and a clearer understanding of its place in the social discourse: what art can bring to culture, tradition, politics and religion.