The Crucible, Now at a Campus Near You

Play about literal witch hunts should resonate today.


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. For all the tributes, Miller (who died ten 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, 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. 

When I recently watched a webcast of the compelling 2014 production of The Crucible at London's Old Vic theater, I was struck by the parallels to another panic we are witnessing now: the one over "rape culture" and, in particular, the "campus rape epidemic."

"Believe the victim"—the mantra of today's feminist anti-rape movement—is a remarkably prominent theme in Miller's play. At one point, Deputy Governor Danforth, who presides over the trials, notes that unlike "an ordinary crime," witchcraft is by its nature invisible: "Therefore, who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims—and they do testify." Today, advocates for "survivors" of sexual violence argue that since such crimes virtually always take place in private, especially when victim and offender know each other,  it is imperative to believe those who come forward with accusations. 

Of course, "believe the children" was also the mantra of the child abuse trials of the 1980s and early 1990s. But in those cases, the children themselves were a somewhat passive presence, more victims of adult manipulation than active accusers. Not so the girls of The Crucible, whom Miller made older than their 10- and 11-year-old historical counterparts—more young women than children. (Danforth and other adult authority figures in the play often refer to them as "children"; but today's anti-rape advocates, too, often use language that infantilizes young people and young women in particular, sometimes explicitly insisting that college "kids" are not really adults.) 

When the Salem girls' veracity is questioned and Danforth asks their ringleader, Abigail Williams, if her visions could be false, Abby responds with self-righteous outrage: "Why, this—this—is a base question, sir. I have been hurt, Mr. Danforth; I have seen my blood runnin' out! I have been near to murdered every day because I done my duty pointing out the Devil's people—and this is my reward? To be mistrusted, denied, questioned…" As Danforth backs down, assuring Abigail that he doesn't mistrust her, she warns, "Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits?"

The McCarthy era has no direct parallels to this fetishizing of victimhood or this demand for absolute trust in accusations. But there are uncanny echoes here of today's crusading "survivors" who cry "victim-blaming" when questioned and lament that mistrust retraumatizes and silences victims of sexual assault. "If we use proof in rape cases, we fall into the patterns of rape deniers," Emma Sulkowicz, Columbia University's "mattress girl" and a leader in this crusade, said at Brown University last April.

In Miller's Salem, to question reports of witchcraft was to be suspected of doubting the Bible or even serving the devil. In American universities in 2015, accusations of "rape denialism" are almost as intimidating, even to high-level officials. ("Almost" because on today's campus, no one risks hanging—except maybe in effigy.) A modern-day Abigail would pointedly remind a modern-day Danforth of his "privilege" and warn him of the peril of perpetuating "rape culture." 

The girls of The Crucible are a terrifying group, as Yael Farber's Old Vic production starkly conveys. They burn with icy conviction, whipping themselves into fits of agony supposedly inflicted by witches and spirits. (More parallels to the histrionics of the campus activists, so "triggered" by dissent that they have crippling flashbacks, flee to "therapy rooms," and become physically ill.) They easily overwhelm one girl who tries to break away.

There is the obvious caveat that witchcraft does not exist, while rape is all too real. None of the Salem girls were actual victims of witches—though, as the play suggests, many probably came to believe they were. Many anti-rape activists are undoubtedly actual victims of sexual assault. But a "rape culture" in 21st century America is no more real than the devil in the 17th century colonies. And some of today's most visible "survivors"—Sulkowicz, Lena Sclove, Laura Dunn, Lena Dunham—have stories that don't hold up well under scrutiny, or use absurd definitions of rape that equate repeated advances or drunken trysts with forced sex. Some, like the Salem girls, are probably fake victims so caught up in collective zealotry that they believe in their own stories.

To see The Crucible as a parable for the campus anti-rape crusade raises the touchy issue of false accusations as vengeance for sexual rejection. The play's Abby Williams is motivated largely by her past affair (entirely Miller's invention) with her ex-employer John Proctor, vengeance toward his wife Elizabeth, and then anger at Proctor himself for rejecting her. This has caused some feminist scholars to accuse Miller of covert misogyny.

The vindictive scorned woman is indeed a misogynist stereotype. But that doesn't negate the fact that some women, like some men, seek revenge when rejected—and that accusations of abhorrent crimes can be a form of revenge. (The wrong of stereotypes is in generalizing to an entire group.) It could have been true in Salem; it can also be true on today's campus, especially in a climate where women are often encouraged to reinterpret past sexual encounters as nonconsensual. In one recent case at Washington and Lee University, a student was expelled on a charge of sexual assault stemming from an encounter that his accuser admitted she initially saw as consensual and enjoyable. It was only after learning that the young man was seeing someone else—and after spending a summer working at a women's clinic which dealt with sexual violence—that she concluded she had been too drunk to consent.

In his 1996 essay on The Crucible and its themes, Miller wrote that, whatever the setting, "the play evokes a lethal brew of illicit sexuality, fear of the supernatural, and political manipulation." Replace "fear of the supernatural" with "fear of the hidden demons of patriarchal oppression," and you have today's American campus. Perhaps the Miller centennial, and The Crucible's return to Broadway next February, will hasten the much-needed rethinking of the modern witch-hunts.

NEXT: Right-to-Farm Debate Heats Up

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  1. I went to a lefty university in the 90’s and shudder to think what the sexual marketplace would be like today. It was already trending that way then.

    1. “I went to a lefty university in the 90’s and shudder to think what the sexual marketplace would be like today.”

      I think universities are probably among the freest institutions in our society today. Compare the sexual market of your university to that of a prison or any penal institution. Compare your ability to express yourself freely in a university to that of a prison.

      1. Are you dodgy on the definition of prison?

        1. “Are you dodgy on the definition of prison?”

          Isn’t prison defined by a lack of freedom? The university that Suellington attended, by his or her own choice mind you, is about as free an institution society has to offer.

    2. If the only way you can make today’s universities look good is to compare them to penitentiaries, you are proving the point of the article and them some.

      1. “If the only way you can make today’s universities look good is to compare them to penitentiaries,”

        If penitentiaries scare you off, then compare universities to other institutions in our society: the corporate world, the military and so on. You’ll find that universities are about as free as they get.

  2. Or you could compare the ability to express yourself freely with universities in the States to, say, Tuol Seng in the 1970’s. Those torture sessions and summary executions really put a damper on the afternoon delight.

    1. “Or you could compare the ability to express yourself freely with universities in the States to, say, Tuol Seng in the 1970’s”

      S21 is closed, operated overseas, and was never funded by tax payers. You want to find atrocious prisons in Cambodia, you can find them today, no need for any time travelling. American prisons are open, continue to expand, and provide an inadequate sexual market place. And you pay for it all. Whether you find it shudder-worthy or not.

  3. Eat dirt and die you fucking apologist for forced starvation.

  4. Eat dirt and die you fucking apologist for forced starvation.

    1. I think universities are probably among the freest institutions in our society today. Compare to your local penal institution if you find that today’s universities make you shudder. There is really no need to travel back in time to Cambodia to find atrocious prison conditions.

      1. Re Lying sack of shit

        “I think universities are probably among the freest institutions in our society today.”

        I think it is safe to say that you never attended, or worked for a University since the late 90’s

        1. “I think it is safe to say that you never attended, or worked for a University since the late 90’s”

          I have. But I’m not talking about my personal experience here, though you are welcome to speculate. Are there institutions in society more free than universities? What’s your answer to the question?

  5. Ms. Young had an article not too long ago essentially arguing that criticism of Israel or Zionism is so often just anti-Semitism, that maybe it shouldn’t have a place on campuses.

    Typical Zio thought policing.

    I’ve seen comments re racist statements by a Chief Rabbi claiming it was “anti-Semitic” to note the man’s words.

    Let that sink in – the idea many Zionists have is that discussing open and obvious racism by leading Israeli political and/or religious figures is “hate” – never mind *their* hate, they are Jews, and so above criticism.

    I suspect Ms. Young feels this way, and that makes he someone for whom the limits of free speech are supposed to be where Jews and/or Zionist qua group determine them for the rest of us.


    No thanks, because Zionism is not only racism – it is naked hypocrisy and racial supremacism.

    Which is proved over and over by its Potemkin Libertarian defenders.

  6. Trolls out in force today. Fuckers probably believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Stupido NAZI fuckwits.

    1. wow that didnt take long


      hasbara thought police out in force today.

      long on ad hominem

      short on specifics.

    2. Why is the US Honoring a Racist Rabbi?

      ‘MacDaddy81’ may cry and shit his pants, but the idea that it is “hate” to point out hate…if the hate emanates from an Israeli, Zionist, or Jews, is not only logivally incoherent, it actually indicates a form of racialism that is fairly described as “exceptionalism” and perhaps Supremacism.

      Over and over one sees many of the people who cry “anti-Semite” at the drop of a hat using racial epithets and repeateding absolute lies re Iran, or Arabs or Muslims – absolutely secure in the feeling that they can say whatever they want about ‘those people’.

      Meanwhile, supporting a boycott of Israel for its ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing by selective demolitions/building is inanely derided as ‘anti-semitic’ by absolutely shamelessly hypocritical Zio brigade though police.


      1. Why is the US Honoring a Racist Rabbi

        We have a racist President, had a racist Atty General, racist Senators galore, and several other actively racist Presidents (Wilson, who segregated government service and FDR who locked up 70,000 Japanese, to be specific). Why not honor one more racist?

    3. You’re evidently speaking about yourself.

  7. Australian PM Caves in to Jewish Lobby on Free Speech Laws

    Paul-?ric Blanrue and the Jews: From Celebration to Censorship

    Zionist like Ms. Young are aggressively attacking free speech in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France – indeed wherever there is a disproportionately wealthy and powerful Jewish minority.

    Few argue that race or religion based group hate is ‘good’ but who gets to decide whether criticizing a government for, say, using white phosphorus on fleeing crowds or bombing hospitals is as fair for Government A as it would have been for B – people living in C who are primarily loyal to A, and for whom A can do little or no wrong?

    1. Free speech is precisely about dangerous speech, speech you don’t like.

      In the case of “anti-Semitism” the term is used most often to stifle speech in 2 primary cases:

      1] where disproportionate Jewish power is discussed – “Jews run Hollywood” “Judeo-Bolshevism is a ‘canard'”

      2] Where Israeli colonialism, apartheid, racism or war crimes are discussed. Hence BDS, which in a sense mimics the Jewish boycott of Germany in the early 1930s is attacked as “anti-Semitism” while it has a long list of Israeli state practices that would be condemned were any other “western” state to do it.

      Only rarely have I seen ‘anti-semitism’ used in reply to naked Judeo-phobia.

      It’s usually about obfuscating and preserving disproportionate power [Hollywood has been *kept* largely Jewish run for *decades* and Jews are over-represented 5-8x on Ivy League campuses despite “diversity” which seems to have worked to exclude more qualified non-Jewish whites and Asians, while benefitting Jews]

      But the point is assaults on free speech can come from people like Ms. Young, who simply can’t stand the idea of free speech when it comes to Israel, Zionism, or Jewish Privilege.

      As such, she is a reminder of why free speech is so important.

      1. So you hate the jews, got it.

        1. how clever of you – in other words, you will shout anti-semite at any discussion of Israel that isn’t favorable, or if anyone *dares* discuss the power of the Israel Firster lobby.

          Got it.

          Now, go f**k yourself, stupid. And get some new tricks.


        2. ‘But the point is assaults on free speech can come from people like Ms. Young, who simply can’t stand the idea of free speech when it comes to Israel, Zionism, or Jewish Privilege.

          As such, she is a reminder of why free speech is so important.’

          QED – Zio trolls hate free speech because the truth is so different from their lies.


          Was here anything more predictable than one of them appearing to cry “anti-semite” while DISCUSSING NOTHING ON THE MERITS.

          Guess who isn’t intimidated by this hackneyed tactic?


  8. free speech is great. So is criticizing the US government, or Iran, or Islam, or Roman Catholicism.

    Obviously, as the boards plucky thought police remind us, criticism of Israel or Zionism is “hate” and therefore deserves zero protection.


    “Truth is not a defense.”

  9. Think how many black men were hung because a white female “victim” said the black man looked at her wrongly. These people who want to always believe the woman accuser does not understand that these women accusers also possess the seven deadly sins, and, some of them really, really, need attention. Power corrupts, so imagine how corruptible a woman will be if she can utter a few words and have someone’s life ruined.

  10. The New McCarthyism

    Neocon Cathy Young gives us a blast from the past

    “Cold War II is upon us. Once again, to write the phrase “the Kremlin” is to evoke images of an Oriental despotism both ominous and inscrutable, only slightly less sinister than the Dark Tower. Russia, once thought to have been liberated from its Soviet chains, is now the new Mordor. And, of course, Vladimir Putin is the new Sauron: cunning, amoral, inhumanly ruthless, he is routinely likened to Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator who murdered millions and imprisoned many more in the gulags.

    …”Putinism,” if such an ideological creature can be said to exist ? a problematic proposition ? is not a global movement, let alone an international conspiracy: there are no “Putinist” parties outside of Russia, assiduously subverting the moral and political foundations of the West and harboring the 21st century version of the Rosenbergs. No Whittaker Chambers will emerge to reveal the dark secrets of these saboteurs of democracy and shine a bright light on their moral espionage ? but never fear, because we have Cathy Young.”


    1. Raimondo, of course, is too polite to note that Jung is anti-Putin and anti-free speech re Israel because she is a Jew and a Zionist.

      So I will say it – the war on Russia and Putin is led by neocons and the neoconservative movement was and is led by Zionist Jews. That’s not an opinion or a canard – that’s what it was.

      Neocons are Zionists-by-Proxy. They seek to use American {or British or French, etc.} BLOOD AND TREASURE expended for Ersetz ‘Israel’.

      And that’s all they are:


      That most neocons are Jewish Zionists does not mean most Jews are neocons.

      But this distinction doesn’t matter for thought police for whom certain truths are to be kept buried.

      Bill Kristol, richard Perle, Douglas Feith… these men were and are PRIMARILY LOYAL TO ISRAEL. No “canard” there, although Ms. Young would likely engage in all kinds of rhetorical legerdemain to explain why it is “hate” to explicate the loyalty to a foreign power which the chickenhawk, Zionist neocon movement has displayed.


      Facts are stubborn things.

    2. Re: Putinism. I have been seeing mentions of “Putler” more frequently in ‘net comments about the current leader of the FUSSR.

  11. http://www.foreignpolicyjourna…..-conflict/

    Since Zio/hasbara trolls can’t ever win an actual argument…


    They will simply shout “anti-semite” – vaguely – to try to prevent speech they don’t like.

    Generally – evidence of disgusting Israeli war crimes and racism.

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  13. Wait, how did Israel get into this discussion?

    “The vindictive scorned woman is indeed a misogynist stereotype. But that doesn’t negate the fact that some women, like some men, seek revenge when rejected”

    The vindictive scorned woman is a misogynist stereotype if it’s invoked to smear women in general.

    It’s *not* misogynist if it its simply cited to say *some* women do it.

    Some men are rapists, and it’s not misandrist to say so, unless you’re trying to smear men in general.

  14. I hate to beat my own drum too much, but I can say first hand that there is a hair trigger to be pulled if you are a man these days. I have related previously on Reason’s comments how I was accused of entering a female dorm, which then escalated over time to being accused of committing drunken rape. I had asked for a lawyer and was denied one. The initial accusation date and time placed me in an entirely different country than where the supposed crimetook place. I informed my accuser/employer of this. It was almost like they were let down, but I figured I was free. Next time I was called in, mysteriously the date/time of the alleged crime matched my date/time at that location. Funny that. The accusation came from an employer, who I am still employed by, so I will leave the details more vague than I did last time. Let’s just say they have a lot of firepower in the literal and figurative sense. I feel my story is worth repeating as a symptom or sign of the times. The constitution shouldn’t let crap like this see the light of day. And yet we get this; http://www.bloombergview.com/a…..aws-worse.

  15. So, how about the police? Talk about a witch hunt.

  16. And modern-day Abigail would pointedly remind a modern-day Danforth of his “privilege” and warn him of the peril of perpetuating “rape culture.”

    Don’t forget the Dept. Of Education OCR (the modern Judge Hathorne?) cutting off funding for any college that doesn’t tow the RAPE KULTURE lion.

    1. The response to all this and some other things (divorce rape) is that men are not going to college as much and are avoiding marriage.

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