The Crucible: Our national play

Most people are aware that “polls” show a truly bizarre number of Americans question whether or not the President of the United States is a citizen of the country he leads.  I don’t want to get into the specifics of this current climate of suspicion, i.e. from the partisan angle, but I do have another interest.  After reading this Timothy Egan column yesterday, I was left with a question he doesn’t address. 

Just a little bit of history repeating....

 Why do we do this all the time? 

Let’s start with the fact that our county is not very old.  By global standards we are still in utero.  So we don’t really have the track record as a society and as a people from a national perspective that some countries do; but what we have suggests to me that we are pretty freaky-deaky, haunted-house-lovin’, “what was that sound” kind of scaredy cats on a cyclical basis. 

Allow me to elaborate. 

Arthur Miller’s seminal play, The Crucible, is still studied in American high schools but apparently is not being particularly well taught.  If it were, one has to wonder if we seriously would be seeing columns like Egan’s.  Consider: 

The Crucible is a dramatization of the Salem witchcraft trials that took place during 1692 and 1693. Miller wrote the play as an allegory to McCarthyism, when the US government blacklisted accused communists.  Today it is studied in high schools and universities, because of its status as a revolutionary work of theater and for its allegorical relationship to testimony given before the House committee on Un-American Activities.  (EDG note: McCarthy’s activities are often confused with this House Commitee.  The McCarthy era and this House Commitee are two distinct historical references with related themes.  See links below.) 

I remember the way the hair on my body stood up when I learned about the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  About who Joe McCarthy was and what happened in the United States only the decade before I was born.  I could hardly believe it was real, but today as I live my adult life in 2010 I realize the next generation is going to have the same experience with what is happening right now

Perhaps the generations just after the Salem witch trials got cold chills, too.  It appears, however, that our goose bumps don’t last long.  We are very good at refusing to see ourselves doing the same thing over and over again, and of turning away from the obvious.  

When we get threatened, we freak out.  Full-on, outta your mind, freak out. 

As a people, it seems we are perfectly willing to take the very slim chance that we are right in our suspicions, and to risk a phenomenal amount of character “capital” in the process. 

In Salem, it was a similar gig.  Throw a suspected witch in the lake.  If she drowns, she wasn’t a witch.  If she floats, she’s a witch.  Burn her. 

In the play, the character John Proctor is pressed to death.   This was the process of placing giant slabs of rock on top of a human being to try to force confession and/or to kill the person.  When asked if the allegations against him are true, Proctor says only two words:  “More weight.” 

This is not a partisan issue.  It can’t be.  This is an American issue.  We must turn the page on this crazy behavior and call it out wherever it crops up.  We know we’re prone to it.  We have some nasty tendencies, that is obvious.  But we are also young, and we have time to grow up into a nation better than this. 

No more weight.

7 thoughts on “The Crucible: Our national play

  1. Salem Witch hunt reminds me of some pages from India’s history.

    I was born in Kerala, India where the “doubting Thomas” of the Bible is supposed to have landed. The local King welcomed the Saint, gave him enough land to build a Church and then supplied him with money and people to get the job done. This is when Christians found another type of welcome all over the world.

    That was nearly 2,000 years ago ! Were the people of Kerala way far ahead of USA which was about happen 1,800 years later? I also wonder if the early settlers had proper birth certificates and visas or work permits ?


  2. Interesting history! Your comment also reminds me that I might provoke a little more questioning via this post. Certainly there are well known examples of other countries doing some very bad things out of fear. The USA just seems to be uniquely “good” at doing it repeatedly while maintaining we aren’t doing it. Frustrating.

  3. I am afraid that racism more than anything else drives Obama hate. The last few weeks one of the the supermarket scandal rags have had screaming headlines about his ‘true’ origins. While I am not sure we are working up to another Un-American era on that level, I do know that during the Bush the son’s time in office we were told any dissent was clearly unpatriotic and unamerican.

    • You might check tomorrow’s post….it’s on Hurricane Katrina, and the Sago mine disaster, racism, poverty, and the whole lot. *SIGH* On an up note, thank you for your thoughtful comment. 🙂

  4. I’m not sure a nation’s age makes it more or less prone to “press” the Others when it hits the fan. It does seem to make cultures more able to roll with the tides, but conflict seems to be inherent in any society, as does the desire to avoid personal responsibility. OTOH, even the oldest countries in the world really aren’t very old, so maybe there simply is no well-aged nation to measure ourselves against. Is 500 years old? 1000? Maybe compared to the USA, but I tend to think outside of that context there are no mature nations. Basically, I think the nature of humans is very flawed; maybe in the next life we’ll all get along. Or maybe in another few millenia.

  5. Hello all !

    I have had much time to observe and think about the Obama issue. What I see is some raw emotions at play

    We are in a very sad place of speech and actions that does not match our true greatness

    He is half black and half white… reflecting the psychological divisions. Religion aside, going back to the slavery days, a white male with a black woman was somewhat acceptable. A white woman marrying an African man left many questions to be answered. We have names for the offspring that linger at the tip of our tongues and yet we can’t quite articulate it like we did a mere forty years back.

    That conflict is natural. It must then manifest in a million other ways.. While it is a great matter of pride, such a person becoming President is also a source of great anxiety.

    Spiritual values, ethics and even respect for a President is set aside so that old suppressed
    feelings can be let out. We see this shift come alive in those who run against the President.
    They seem to drag themselves down in public view. Anger can’t focus on a much larger global state of affairs. Using the current President as a target seems natural

    I truly admire a human soul that can accommodate all that … day after day, still smile and do the nation’s business. I feel the same about others from our past who a thousand times larger and truly unbearable burdens. After much hurt came certain moments of relief.

    On an optimistic note, redemption must come after the sin is committed and hence there is hope.


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