The Crucible deals with the idea of living under a single over-riding system of belief which excludes everything else. Because the play is set in Puritan colonial America, we see how this oppressive system of belief can exclude any thought of meaningful justice, of mercy, or even of rational argument. The only thing that matters is the law of Puritan religious belief. As facts are brought to the court, for example, all mitigating factors such as a character’s intentions or the likely cause of the problem are ignored because the religious law that is in force judges according to strict definitions of right and wrong. This leads to injustice and cruelty.
The play completely turns on unsubstantiated allegations which play on either fear of personal motives. Once these fears and prejudices are set in motion, a general hysteria captures everyone involved. Thus we see how a crowd hysteria can cloud out things like rational judgment. It is hysteria which leads characters to wrongly accuse one another. Hysteria also over-shadows the judgments of court officials.
“The Witch Hunt”
It is important to remember that Miller wrote this play against the backdrop of the hunt for Communists in American society. The so called “Red Scare” that fueled injustice in American society is played out in this play. The dual themes of intolerance and hysteria were largely what drive the McCarthy Hearings in the United States in early 1950s which led to the ruin of many people. Miller’s play does not shy away from the political climate in which it was written and performed.