Sunday, August 22, 2010

Give briefly the historical and cultural background of the play The Crucible.

The time period from 1946 to 1955, during which Senator Joseph McCarthy led a movement to find and prosecute suspected communists, is often compared to the Salem witch trials. Ask your students to find out why. Have them research McCarthyism and compare and contrast what happened during the two time periods. Students should attempt to answer the following questions:
Why was there a fear of communism and communist subversion after World War II? Were these fears justified? Who did McCarthy accuse of having communist sympathies? How were the accused investigated? What happened to them? What restrictions on freedom of speech did McCarthyism lead to? How did McCarthyism end? Why were the Army-McCarthy hearings important? How is McCarthyism viewed today, and why? When students’ research is complete, ask them to write a fictionalized courtroom scene from the McCarthy era in which a Salem witch is put on trial.
Witchcraft Around the World
Throughout history, accusations of witchcraft have been used as an excuse for the persecution of people whose traditions, cultures, and ideas were not easily understood or accepted by society—even when those accusations were untrue. Ask each student to investigate the role of witchcraft in a time and culture of his or her choosing. What can students find out about who was accused and why? What function did witchcraft and accusations of witchcraft play in the culture? How were those thought to be witches viewed, and why? When their research is complete, students should make brief presentations to the class about what they uncovered. You can then lead the class in a discussion of the similarities among the stories that students shared.
The Crucible
Nothing brings home the emotional power of the Salem witch trials like a dramatic reading of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Assign your students to various roles and then conduct a dramatic reading in class. When the reading is complete, ask your students to discuss which scenes affected them most strongly and why. Then have each student choose a scene and rewrite it from a modern perspective. How would the characters be different in modern-day America? What events would change? What about the dialogue? Might witchcraft be replaced by some other issue? Which issue, and why? Students can then share their alternate versions and discuss each other’s work.

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