The Crucible - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The context of a text refers to the environment in which it was written, including the author’s political and social environment in addition to the time and geographical location in which he or she was writing. If anything sounds familiar about this collection of influences, it might be because these are the same specific elements which we discuss when we talk about setting, too. You will remember that setting refers to these aspects of a text’s created, fictional world. Context, by contrast, refers to these aspects of the author’s own world. Political or social issues and events from the author’s past can have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. An author’s personal beliefs also have an effect on the text and thus contribute to the context.

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How to write about context

By learning about the context of a fictional work, you will develop some insight into the important influences shaping the text. The relationship between context and meaning is never simple and straightforward, of course, and it would be a mistake to suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, your knowledge of context can provide useful information to bear in mind as you read and consider a text.

Thinking about context in the case of The Crucible is interesting because it introduces a further element known as “historical context”. Miller wrote the play centuries after the events it depicts occurred. The book itself is not history, but rather represents Miller’s own interpretation of actual events. Despite his research into historical documents, his presentation of events is inevitably coloured by his own context and his own beliefs. While he aims to represent the dialogue, culture and beliefs of the historical figures with some accuracy, his own knowledge can only ever be gained at second-hand from the terrible events which took place in Salem.

Research the context of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, then try these questions to see how much you know about the context of the play.

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  1. In his notes to the play, Miller writes, "In the countries of the Communist ideology all resistance of any import is linked to the totally malign capitalist succubi, and in America any man who is not reactionary in his views is open to the charge of alliance with the Red hell." What does this mean?
    Miller's play serves as a warning to all ideologues and those under their sway. Both sides say, in effect, "If you are not with us, you are against us"
  2. Which one of the following is the term associated with the optimism prevalent in the United States in the mid-twentieth century?
    Miller believed that all American writing was powerfully affected, rather consciously or not, by the American Dream, the belief that opportunities were available to all Americans and that hard work and determination would always be rewarded with prosperity. For Miller, this optimism was at odds with what appeared to him to be a more realistic approach to life in the rest of the world
  3. Which of the following is true, according to Miller's notes in the text?
    Miller writes: "If the whole truth could be known in this case, as it is in others, we should discover a regular and conventionalized propitiation of the dark spirit. One certain evidence of this is the confession of Tituba, the slave of Reverend Parris, and another is the behaviour of the children who were known to have indulged in sorceries with her"
  4. Why was Miller held in contempt of the U.S. Congress?
    In 1957, Miller was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to give the names. His actions resemble those of his own earlier character, John Proctor, who will not implicate Rebecca Nurse in his own false confession
  5. What information does Miller add to the end of the play, in the section entitled, "Echoes Down the Corridor"?
    Miller highlights the intransigence of the Salem community, which had to be ordered to pardon those who had been excommunicated and the ongoing injustices which saw accusers being paid compensation
  6. Which of the following caused Miller's father to lose his business?
    Miller was still in school at the time of the Wall Street Crash
  7. The actions of which of the following bodies is represented in the play by Reverend Hale's investigations as well as the trials conducted by Danforth, Hathorne and the other judges?
    The House Un-American Activities Committee intimidated witnesses and demanded that those they investigated hand over the names of known Communists and sympathisers. The pressure placed on accused characters in The Crucible to implicate others by name parallels the practices of the House Un-American Activities Committee
  8. The form of government in seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay Colony is known as which of the following?
    Theocracy is rule by religious leaders in which law is derived directly from religious teachings. The law in Massachusetts Bay Colony was based on a literal view of the Bible and only Puritans were accounted as citizens
  9. The Crucible was first performed in which year?
    The Crucible is historical drama; it was written in the middle of the 20th century and concerns events from the late 17th century
  10. What is meant by the term 'McCarthyism'?
    During the early 1950s, Senator John McCarthy conducted a campaign to root out Communists and Communist sympathisers from the United States government. 'McCarthyism' is now a byword for paranoia and witch hunts

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