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Jacobsen, K. (2018). The Manichean Ploy: Psychoanalysis, Political Repression, and The Crucible. Free Associations, 19(3):93-100.

(2018). Free Associations, 19(3):93-100

The Manichean Ploy: Psychoanalysis, Political Repression, and The Crucible

Kurt Jacobsen

“I always assumed that underlying any story is the question of who should wield power,” Arthur Miller told Paris Review in 1966. “I still believe that when a play questions, even threatens, our social arrangement, that is when it really shakes us profoundly and dangerously, and that is when you've got to be great; good isn't enough.” So Miller in The Crucible, set in Seventeenth century New England and first staged in 1953 at the emetic apex of McCarthyism, journeyed both inward and backward in time in order to grapple with the civil obscenities perpetrated in the post-war wave of persecutions of suspected communists, fellow travelers and any seditious ‘bleeding heart’ who dared to disturb the reactionaries’ universe. Miller thereby squarely confronted Manichean tendencies both in (1) an American culture, whenever under crisis, that is bloodily keen to eradicate shades of grey, and (2) an intellectual fashion, far from extinguished, to split explanations of human action irreconcilably into those privileging inner turmoil over outer forces, and vice versa. Neither tendency sat well with this untamable yet soul-searching playwright.

So deeply inured were those contemporary theater critics to pervasive McCarthyism, and compliant with its crude coercive will, that few, if any, spotted or, if they did, acknowledged the conspicuous link between this costume stage drama and the aspiring Yankee Doodle Dandy jackbooters combing a cowed nation for easy prey.

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