The Crucible

by: Arthur Miller

Setting

The Crucible is based on historical events, and thus, reflects the real setting where the Salem witch trials took place: Salem, Massachusetts, a little town on a bay on the north coast of Massachusetts that still exists today. The real witch trials began in February of 1692 and lasted until May of 1693. Visitors to Salem today can explore a number of trial-related sites, from a museum about the trials to a memorial to those executed. In 1692, what we today call New England was still an English colony, founded by the Puritans around 1630. They had arrived seeking religious liberty, having been persecuted in England. But Arthur Miller writes that the “people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower.” They were living in a confused time of political unrest, which would lead to the American Revolution in a little under 100 years. Their sense of mission was less strong than it had been for their ancestors. Most didn’t remember the life their people had left behind in a more civilized country and thus couldn’t imagine anything but the grim existence of their daily lives.

In the play, Salem is called a “town” but really was what we’d think of as a village today, with a meeting house, a tavern, perhaps a store, and a few houses. Salem had been established fewer than forty years before, and existed mostly to produce and ship products to England. The townspeople had few amenities: they produced almost everything they had, from cloth to food to medicine. Houses were basic and very rustic, barely keeping out the New England cold. To the north and east was the bay, and to the west and south, farmland. Beyond the farmland was wilderness, inhabited by Native Americans who could be friendly or antagonistic, and who made the residents of Salem very uneasy. The town offered nothing in the way of amusements, in keeping with the Puritan religion. Men, women, slaves and even children worked very hard. It was not unusual for boys to be working the fields by the age of eight, and girls to be in charge of some of the cooking at that age. People in Salem worked hard almost all the time, went to church on Sundays, and tried to survive.