The centennial of the great American playwright Arthur Miller, born in New York on October 17, 1915, has been noted in articles and recognized with commemorative events and editions of his works. For all the tributes, Miller (who died 10 years ago) seems more a relic than a living voice on today’s cultural scene; his earnest old-style liberal leftism alienates both conservatives and modern-day progressives obsessed with racial and sexual identities.
Yet one of his most famous works, ‘The Crucible’ — a mostly fact-based dramatic account of the 17th century Salem witch trials — is startlingly relevant to today’s culture wars, in ways that Miller himself might have recognized.
Everyone knows that Miller’s 1952 play was his response to McCarthyism, with the witchcraft hysteria an allegory for the anti-Communist panic. (The latter, unlike the former, was grounded in a real danger; but, contrary to some recent claims on the right, the McCarthyite paranoia that swept up many innocent people in its wide net was quite real as well.) In 1996, when Miller wrote a screenplay adaptation for the film version of The Crucible, many saw a metaphor for the day-care sexual abuse panic that had swept the country a few years earlier, with men and women arrested on suspicion of lurid acts and Satanic rituals.