Witches and Communists: The Crucible and
the Cold War

Tuesday, April 5, 2011 | 7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m. (EST)

FPO for Crucible image


Florence Dore

Professor of English
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is a staple in high school American literature curricula throughout the United States. Originally produced to a lukewarm reception in 1953, it was re-staged to more enthusiastic reviews in 1957 and made into a major motion picture in 1996.

We have long understood this play, ostensibly about the Salem Witch Trials, to “actually” be about McCarthyism, but what more can The Crucible tell us about politics and American identity in the early years of the Cold War? To what extent is the fear of communism the occasion for Miller’s portrayal of American paranoia, and to what extent should we understand McCarthyism as itself the effect of the disorienting global economy? With the twentieth century now at an end, what new perspectives on this play are available? Do the postwar notions of the individual, community, gender, race, and sexuality as represented in The Crucible inform how we understand American identity today?

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Assigned Readings

To incorporate seminar texts into your teaching, we offer the National Humanities Center’s Primary Document Application Form.
  1. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
    The recommended edition is: Penguin (Non-Classics); 49th edition (October 28, 1976). ISBN-10: 0140481389; ISBN-13: 978-0140481389. But please use whatever edition is available to you.
  2. The Problem That Has No Name”, from The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, 1963 (PDF)
  3. Some Types of Character and Society”, from The Lonely Crowd, David Riesman, 1950 (PDF)
  4. Classlessness in Suburbia”, from The Organization Man, William H. Whyte, Jr., 1956 (PDF)
  5. A Good Man is Hard To Find”, Flannery O’Connor, 1955 (full story as PDF)
  6. Initial 3:02 of Mother Takes a Holiday, 1952 (streaming video)


PowerPoint: 1.1 MB

Online Evaluation

Seminar Recording

Streaming Recording

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