10 Powerful Facts About The Crucible

In 1692, around 150 people were arrested in Salem and imprisoned on suspicion of being a witch. Twenty people were killed, while many more died in prison. In his 1953 play The CrucibleArthur Miller brings this shameful period of American history to life on stage, in an allegory for the witch hunt of his era: McCarthyism. 

1. THE FBI WANTED ARTHUR MILLER TO CHANGE ONE OF HIS SCREENPLAYS. 

Hollywood was a willing participant in Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to crack down on alleged Soviet sympathizers, blacklisting artists who weren't cleared by the government. In 1950, Miller was in L.A., shopping around a script for The Hook, about union corruption on the Brooklyn waterfront. The head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, showed the script to the FBI—who, along with union head Roy Brewer—came back with ideas to make it more “American," namely by making the gangsters Communists. Miller refused on the grounds that there were no Communist gangsters on the Brooklyn waterfront and withdrew the script. The next morning, he received an ominous telegram: "IT’S INTERESTING HOW THE MINUTE WE TRY TO MAKE THE SCRIPT PRO-AMERICAN YOU PULL OUT. HARRY COHN.”

2. MILLER'S PALS WERE TARGETED, TOO.

As McCarthyism progressed, a number of Miller’s friends and colleagues were scrutinized by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller knew of two actors who committed suicide because of the investigation. Other people, like Charlie Chaplin, fled to Europe. Elia Kazan—who directed Miller’s play Death of a Salesman—was called before the committee and asked to name people he knew to be Communists. He did, and Miller stopped talking to him. In response, Miller was inspired to explore Salem’s literal witch as a means of describing the metaphorical one that was happening around him.

3. MILLER (MOSTLY) STUCK TO THE FACTS …

The Crucible is taken from history,” Miller wrote in The New York Times. “No character is in the play who did not take a similar role in Salem, 1692.” Miller did take some liberties, however. For example, the writer changed Abigail’s age to 17 years old instead of 11 years old, and imagined a doomed romance between her and John Proctor.

4. … AND DID HIS BEST TO MIMIC THE ERA'S SPEECH PATTERNS.

To pick up the nuances of 17th-century speech, Miller went to Salem and read the trials' original testimony in the Essex County courthouse. After days of poring over the documents, the language started to click for him. “I felt a bit encouraged that I might be able to handle it, and in more time I came to love its feel, like hard burnished wood,” he said.

5. THE FIRST BROADWAY PRODUCTION WASN'T WELL-RECEIVED.

The Crucible opened on Broadway in January 1953. The unusual staging—in which the actors faced forward without interacting with each other—was viewed as too stylized and lacking emotional depth. "Arthur Miller is a problem playwright in both senses of the word," wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune, adding that the play was "a step backward into mechanical parable." (The New York Times' critic, for his part, disagreed, calling the play "powerful.") Despite mixed reviews, The Crucible won the 1953 Tony for best play. A year later, a new production fared better with both critics and audiences, and the show became a hit.

6. WHEN HE TRIED TO GO TO EUROPE, MILLER'S PASSPORT WAS DENIED. 

In 1953, Arthur Miller was invited to attend the first European production of The Crucible in Brussels. But when he attempted to get his passport renewed, he was denied. His lawyer contacted the Passport Division of the State Department and learned that the government felt it was “not in the national interest” for Miller to leave the country. Miller missed the debut. However, at the end of the performance, the audience, believing he was there, began to applaud and call for the author to stand up. Finally, someone did: the American ambassador, who even took a bow. A bitter Miller later wrote, “Here was the ambassador, an officer of the State Department, acknowledging applause for someone deemed by that department too dangerous to be present.”

7. ARTHUR MILLER WAS EVENTUALLY QUESTIONED BY THE HUAC.

That was just the beginning of Miller’s trouble with the government. In 1956—just before his wedding to Marilyn Monroe—HUAC questioned Miller about his supposed Communist ties. (One committee member offered to waive the hearing if Monroe would pose with him in a photograph. Miller refused the offer.) While Miller answered all questions about himself, he wouldn’t name other people, saying, "I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him." He was sentenced to a $500 fine and a 30 day suspended jail sentence. The sentence was overturned after a court of appeals hearing in 1958.

8. JEAN-PAUL SARTRE WROTE THE FIRST SCREENPLAY OF THE CRUCIBLE

In the 1950s, Hollywood wouldn’t touch the text, so the first film adaptation was a joint Franco-East German production. Directed by Raymond Rouleau, a Belgian actor and filmmaker, Jean-Paul Sartre was enlisted to adapt the play for the big screen.

Miller himself wrote the screenplay for the 1996 remake, which starred Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade.

9. THE PLAY TURNED SALEM INTO A TOURIST DESTINATION.

The Salem of today, boasting wax museums and gift shops full of witch tchotchkes, didn’t exist when Miller penned his drama. He writes in Timebends: “Salem in those days was in fact not eager to talk about the witchcraft, not too proud of it, and only after The Crucible did the town began exploiting it with a tourist attraction, the Witch Trial.” Today, the tourism industry in Salem makes more than $100 million a year.

10. THE CRUCIBLE MADE HISTORY. 

In 2000, Miller wrote that The Crucible was “one of the most heavily demanded trade-fiction paperbacks” in the U.S. “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, especially in Latin America, The Crucible starts getting produced wherever a political coup appears imminent, or a dictatorial regime has just been over-thrown," he added. At the time of Miller's writing, the play had sold more than 6 million copies and had been staged steadily since it came out, in productions all over the world. It's just as popular today: the play is even coming back to Broadway in 2016.

8 Tips For Overcoming 'Reader's Block'

iStock.com/deyangeorgiev
iStock.com/deyangeorgiev

We’ve all been there. Your eyes glaze over, and you can’t get past the first paragraph on the page. Or perhaps you can’t will yourself to pick up a book in the first place. “Reader’s block” is a well-documented problem, and even avid readers occasionally suffer from it. The good news is that it’s not incurable, but it might require a little creativity and effort on your part. Read on to hear tips from longtime readers who have been through it—and managed to come out on the other side of a good book.

1. START EASY.

If your reading skills are a little rusty, it’s probably best not to start with War and Peace—or any of the classics, for that matter. Sometimes people fall into the trap of being overly ambitious and choosing one of the literary “greats” without stopping to question whether they actually want to read it. “This is the problem with readers: we aim too high,” Stuart Jeffries wrote in The Guardian. “Ultimately, reader's block is caused by the great is-ought dilemma. You know you should, but you probably won't.” Instead of setting yourself up for failure, start off with something short and easy to digest. Once you get back into the swing of things, you can graduate to more challenging books.

2. TRY A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES ...

Compared to a 300-page novel, short stories won’t seem like such an insurmountable task. Ginni Chen, Barnes and Noble’s “Literary Lady,” suggests trying a collection of stories written by different authors. That way, you’ll have the chance to figure out which styles and subjects you enjoy most. In an advice column addressed to someone with reader’s block, Chen recommended the Best American Short Stories and the Best American Nonrequired Reading collection. And if you want to start really small, there’s an app called Serial Box that will send you 150-character stories as push notifications.

3. … OR A DIFFERENT GENRE.

Sometimes, it helps to change up your routine and read something outside of your comfort zone or usual go-to. It worked for Bustle writer Charlotte Ahlin, who wrote, “I once read about four Vonneguts in a row and then spent a week feeling crushing despair over the human condition. Your mind needs a varied diet of books to stay sharp.” In a blog for the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville, North Carolina, book lover Michele Coleman offered similar testimony. “For me during my last slump or block, I found browsing the non-fiction eased my mind,” she wrote. Do you enjoy mystery? She suggests switching it up and reading a humorous book. Is romance your thing? Give historical fiction a shot instead.

4. READ PAGE 69 BEFORE COMMITTING TO A BOOK.

This unusual tip comes from John Sutherland, an English professor and the author of How to Read a Novel. As Jeffries of The Guardian puts it, “Once you have read page 69, you will have an idea of whether the book is up your street. (Why he didn't say page 56 is anybody's guess.)” If that snippet doesn’t appeal to you, put it back on the shelf. Otherwise you might get stuck reading something that isn’t suited to your tastes, which can make your reader’s block even worse.

5. DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED TO FINISH A BOOK IF YOU’RE NOT ENJOYING IT.

Reading is supposed to be enjoyable—not a chore. If you find yourself filled with dread any time you pick up the book you’re currently reading, you may want to rethink your choice of material. If you feel guilty about abandoning a book, just use this quote from philosopher Francis Bacon as an excuse: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Interestingly, Goodreads compiles a list of the most popular abandoned books based on its user data, so you’ll be in good company if Infinite Jest goes infinitely unfinished.

6. LISTEN TO AN AUDIOBOOK.

Many traditionalists are of the opinion that audiobooks don’t really count as “reading,” but some researchers would disagree. One 2016 study found no difference in reading comprehension between those who had listened to an audiobook and those who had used an e-reader. It may seem counterintuitive, but audiobooks can also help beat reader's block, according to Jonathan Douglas, director of the UK's National Literacy Trust. This is because they can help reignite your passion for learning and consuming stories at a time when you’re having difficulty reading. Try listening to the audiobook while you drive to work, clean your house, or work out. You’ll feel extra accomplished for having done two productive things at once, and it may provide the momentum you need to get back into reading.

7. DISCONNECT FROM TECHNOLOGY.

In an article for Arré, writer Karan Mujoo said he’s been an avid reader since childhood. Yet he still occasionally struggles with reader’s block, and finds himself abandoning book after book when they fail to capture his interest. In his case, the availability of quick entertainment via streaming platforms like Netflix is simply too difficult to resist. “Unlike books, which require imagination and effort on the part of the reader, these shows serve you everything on a platter,” he writes. “Why then, should we expend our energies in reading, imagining, and creating a world when it has already been done for us?” Faced with a similar predicament, writer Hugh McGuire explained that his inability to focus on books was due to a “digital dopamine addiction” that stemmed from his consumption of television and online articles. With a few adjustments, though, he was able to get back into a regular reading habit. He suggests removing smartphones and computers from your bedroom, refraining from watching TV after dinner, and reading a book each night before bed. “I am reading books now more than I have in years,” he writes.

8. REREAD AN OLD FAVORITE.

When all else fails, “Literary Lady” Chen recommends paying a visit to an old friend. Your favorite books are memorable for a reason, and sometimes rereading a beloved book for the third time is all it takes to lift the reader’s block curse. You may also want to investigate options that are similar to your favorite authors and books. Book Browse is a good resource for finding “read-alikes” that might suit your tastes, and Literature Map will give you a visual overview of authors you may enjoy.

Dutton's New Young Adult Books Are the Size of a Smartphone—and They're Horizontal

Sometimes, the desire to read takes a backseat to how cumbersome it can be to carry a hardback book around all day, but a new line of pocket-sized volumes will ensure that’s never a problem. Dutton Books for Young Readers, a Penguin Random House imprint, has released a new line of books that are only a fraction of the size of the traditional hardback, as The New York Times reports.

The new design takes inspiration from the popular Dutch books known as dwarsliggers. In contrast to nearly every other book on the market, the text of these minute volumes is oriented horizontally, creating a flipbook effect. (The term comes from the Dutch words dwars—meaning crossways—and liggen—to lie.) The Dutton books are about the size of a smartphone, with extra-thin pages that make each volume only as thick as your finger. In other words, you'll only need one hand to read them.

A copy of the Penguin Mini version of 'Paper Towns' resting on two open copies of the book
Penguin Random House

The Penguin Minis are made by a Dutch printer, Royal Jongbloed, which is currently the only company in the world that makes books in this specific format. It uses ultra-thin paper sourced from just one Finnish mill.

The first books released in the new format are young adult novels by none other than Mental Floss friend John Green, host of our YouTube series Scatterbrained. You can buy the tiny versions of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska at major retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, as well as at independent bookstores for $12 each. (There's also a boxed set of all four books on Amazon for $27.)

A boxed set of John Green novels released as Penguin Minis
Penguin Random House

Dutton is printing 500,000 copies for the first run, and if the compact novels prove popular over the holidays, there will be more volumes on their way in the future.

[h/t The New York Times]

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