Historical fiction is a genre where the story is set in a different time period from when it is written. It draws upon a lot of contextual detail and real-world historical events to try and accurately represent a specified culture and place in history. Below, we’re going to take a look at how is historical fiction used in ‘The Crucible’.
- The Crucible was written in 1953, but it is set during the time of the Witch Trials which occurred in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692-93.
- It is closely based on real-life events and real people. Miller learned about them from the public record of the Trials, where people gave statements and testimonies of the court cases.
- At the time of the Witch Trials, inhabitants of Salem had only recently colonised the area, with their families migrating from Britain only 70 years before – therefore, Miller tries to capture their manner of speaking via the use of archaic language which was accurate for the context of the play. The title ‘Goody’ is an example of such language.
- Miller emphasised the play’s historical basis, stating when the play first opened that “The Crucible is taken from history. No character is in the play who did not take a similar role in Salem, 1692.”.
- However, this is inaccurate – the play is not entirely historical, so Miller was deliberately playing up the historical elements of the piece. Abigail was 11 or 12 years old in real life, whereas Miller changed her age to 17 in order to make the central tragedy more compelling and complex, as Proctor’s downfall is precipitated by his affair with Abigail.
TASK: Read Miller’s note that prefaces the text below. Highlight important details about how accurate or fictional the play is intended to be.
A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ACCURACY OF THIS PLAY
This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian. Dramatic purposes have sometimes required many characters to be fused into one; the number of girls involved in the “crying-out” has been reduced; Abigail’s age has been raised; while there were several judges of almost equal authority, I have symbolized them all in Hathorne and Danforth. However, I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history. The fate of each character is exactly that of his historical model, and there is no one in the drama who did not play a similar – and in some cases exactly the same – role in history. As for the characters of the persons, little is known about most of them excepting what may be surmised from a few letters, the trial record, certain broadsides written at the time, and references to their conduct in sources of varying reliability. They may therefore be taken as creations of my own, drawn to the best of my ability in conformity with their known behavior, except as indicated in the commentary I have written for this text.
Answer the following questions: