The role of human behavior and motivations within the human experience has been a fundamental part of many texts which explore the depths of humans and their personal experiences. Arthur Miller’s dramatic allegory ‘The Crucible’ represents cold-war McCarthyistic America through the eyes of the village of Salem Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials of 1692. The play strongly represents the author’s own personal experience dealing with McCarthyism and issues such as fear, accusation without proof, jealousy, revenge, and power acquisition by fear-mongering and how this serves as an analogous social criticism of the way ‘Red Scare’ paranoia resulted in a miscarriage of democratic rights. This experience ultimately proved to be a cathartic experience for Miller. Similarly, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess unveils a dystopic futuristic England in 1961 representing an immerging youth culture fixated on pop music, milk bars, drugs, and teddy boy violence. Delinquent activities comprising of home invasions, rape, murder, and violence performed by Alex and his ‘droogs’ expose their experience as a human without authority. Burgess explores the human experience by questioning authority.
In this The Crucible essay, I want to consider how through the use of similar themes, the authors of both ‘The Crucible’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ can teach their 1950s and 1970s audiences the importance of the human experience.
Miller wrote ‘The Crucible’ with the aim of projecting his own personal experience of the corruption of authority for personal gain out into the world in the hope that other people would relate. In doing this, Miller effectively shows how hysteria, fear, power, and reliance on lies are inherently dangerous to the effective operation of a community.
During Miller’s time, ‘McCarthyism’ was violently spreading in the United States, as fear about Communism grew into hysteria resulting in personal accusations that had the potential to corrupt a person’s public image. ‘The Crucible’ reflects on Miller’s own personal life experience as he warns of the dangers of such a system, and how these accusations are often brought about through the power of lies.
Miller’s antagonist character Abigail Williams uses the power of lies to achieve her malicious intentions of killing goody Proctor so that she may ultimately marry John Proctor herself. “Let either of you breathe a word or the edge of a word about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring some point reckoning that will shudder you”. Miller has used Abigail to destroy Proctor’s life by lying about seeing the various women of the town “with the devil”, essentially using her own power and deception to achieve her desires an allegory for his own human experience with Joe McCarthy, who destroyed Miller’s life. The ensuing chaos caused by Abigail’s actions plunges the town into chaos, leading to the deaths of 18 people, with John Proctor being one of them. Miller uses Abigail to mirror the destructive force that lies can cause within both society and the individual. Such shared traumatic experiences help Miller to connect to his audience.
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In the dark comedic Novella, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ Anthony Burgess’ feels that he has a didactic responsibility to reveal the confronting nature of how human motivations and behavior can impact society and also highlight the natural and learned traits of human behavior through the character of Alex as he struggles through feelings of alienation from the world in he lives in. Such feelings, combined with the long-lasting impact of his wife’s brutal bashing and robbing at the hands of four American deserters, have resulted in Alex’s personality being very brutal and overbearing. Burgess has vividly depicted these personality traits and a world without authority in a scene where Alex and his ‘droogs’ ruthlessly and remorselessly rape a woman and brutally bash her husband, in essence symbolizing Burgess’ wife being attacked by Alex and the writer is himself writing ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
As society would not impose its civilizing process on Alex this ultimately led to his sick thoughts and behaviors: “Soon it was trees and dark, my brothers, with real country dark… We filled around for a while with other travelers of the night, playing “Hogs of the Road.” Then we headed west, what we were after now was the old surprise visit, that was a real kick and good laughs and lashing of the ultra-violent.”
Burgess chooses to depict a non-stereotypical view of the teenage world, subverting the audience’s thoughts on the capability of a 17-year-old and his friends. In doing this, he is forced to show us the confronting realities of teenage society in the 1970s, both in England and Russia. This includes aspects that his audience wouldn’t have previously experienced in other Novellas of the era.
Burgess’ personal experiences in the Soviet Union offer a glimpse of the oppressive government and the seeming lack of individual freedom among the citizens of the nation. He experienced totalitarian control limiting human behavior and freedom.