The price of of progress: homosexuality, homophobia, and melancholy in The Price of Salt (1952)

It is only when the stakes are laid bare that the couple’s affections become clearer.

The Price of Salt

Before Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985), Brokeback Mountain (1997), and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (2003), there was The Price Of Salt (1952).

Patricia Highsmith’s novel follows budding set designer Therese as she works in the doll department at Frankenberg’s during the Christmas rush. Highsmith’s New York is unforgiving, and very unlike the stereotypical literary New York. Frankenberg’s is an embodiment of everything Therese hates: the anxious parents vying over a doll with real hair (or, worse, ‘do you have the dolls that wet?’), the heaving, spluttering crowds, and her co-workers. Especially her co-workers.

Therese sees her future reflected in their lined foreheads, their creaky joints, their half-dazed look and, consequently, she is frightened and disgusted by them. Poor Mrs. Robichek.

Therese reminds me of Houlden Caulfield. I ache with melancholy for her: the orphaned girl living in New York, the tag-along boyfriend she feels colder and colder towards, the department store job she resents.

Who wouldn’t, in Therese’s situation, fall for a beguiling stranger? Carol arrives at Frankenberg’s to buy a doll for her daughter Rindy, and her eyes meet Therese’s across the room. Using Carol’s delivery address to her advantage, Therese sends her a Christmas postcard.

‘Special salutations from Frankenberg’s.’

carol frankenbergs

The story line creeps up on you. Before reading The Price of Salt, I knew nothing about the plot. As Therese’s visits to Carol’s country home become more and more frequent, I wondered why one or the other had not made a move, or if I was misreading the situation completely. A quick Google search told me why: Highsmith’s novel is set in the 1950’s.

It is only when the stakes are laid bare that the couple’s affections become clearer.

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Deep Water (1957) is the first Highsmith novel I have read. Mel and Vic’s troubled relationship had such an impact on me that I expected a burst of violence, a psychopath, or at least a sociopath in The Price Of Salt. A crack in the facade seems imminent when, on their road trip across America, Carol’s words have an edge to them. The prospect of Therese’s romanticism crashing to the ground made me turn the pages quicker.

Highsmith railed against this kind of literary stereotyping: she even went as far as to publish The Price of Salt under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. The prospect having her own name across the cover made her wonder, ‘would I then be labelled a lesbian-book writer?’

Cracks do appear, in the form of a hole chiselled into the lovebird’s hotel room wall. Similar to Deep Water, Highsmith throws a spanner into the works in the form of a detective, hired by Carol’s ex-husband in an effort to prove her an unfit mother.

carol detective


‘The characters started off so flat that a steamrolled pancake might have more depth, and the book moved at the pace of a snail.’     –Bean Delphiki, Goodreads


Bean Delphiki’s review made me laugh because it is true in a sense. The characters do seem to be 2D, pale imitations of real people. They are whisps of personalities, stuck together though the idealised view of the narrator. Carol is seen through Therese’s love struck gaze, so she is faultless, beautiful, otherworldly.

Therese’s boyfriend Richard licks at the crumbs of her affection, trailing behind her burgeoning relationship with Carol. He is therefore boring and pathetic, and the reader is confused about why he is so devoted to the increasingly cold Therese.

These characters appear to be as flat as a pancake because Therese sees them as an embodiment of their most egregious quality or flaw until the end of the novel, where 1950’s American society’s homophobia trumps her idealism. Carol returns to New York and does, in fact, have her reputation sullied by her time with Therese. Richard sends Therese a letter saying, ‘ […] now the upper-most emotion I feel toward you is one that was present from the first– disgust.’ Her money dwindles.

Therese’s story is one of the quintessential coming of age trope: realising everything is not the way it seems. Relationships crumble, road trips are cut short, life happens.

It is only towards the end of the novel that Therese discovers the true price of salt.

Carol Cate Blanchett

My overwhelming emotion while reading The Price of Salt was melancholy. On melancholy, Brady and Haappala argue that, ‘The quality of the feeling resembles and overlaps with sadness, but is more refined, involving some degree of pleasure, although not as much as bittersweet pleasure.’ I think this best sums up how I feel: there is pleasure in knowing Therese and Carol have found their soul mate in each other, and there is an overlap into sadness when the reader realises they will have to hide their affections.

Highsmith handles this melancholy well. She rejects the shame that society imposed on homosexual relationships through her depiction of Carol and Therese.

“What still strikes me now,” Nagy says of the novel, “is how radical it was in terms of its overall conception-two central figures not giving a rat’s ass about sexual identity. No one frets about being gay; others fret on their behalf.”  Phyllis Nagy

Even when she loses the battle to see her daughter, Carol does not shame herself or Therese, instead carving out a nook for them to live together in New York.

In the afterword to her novel, which she would only acknowledge as hers in 1990, Highsmith wrote that, ‘The appeal of The Price of Salt was that it had a happy ending for its two main characters […] Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality […].’

The Price of Salt must have been received as a beacon of hope to those in the gay community, to those who wrote to Highsmith saying, ‘We don’t all commit suicide and lots of us are doing fine.’

One modern reviewer wrote: ‘I am doomed to die an ugly death or at least to be separated from my partner, probably violently.’ She goes on to write, ‘We are all doomed, it seems, because this is the only story American media tells about queer women.’

The Price of Salt tells the true story of homosexual relationships, namely, that they are fraught with the same difficulties as heterosexual ones: jealousy abounds, love is just as intense, and there is compromise, always compromise, and a price to pay for those that cut across class, country, and family ties.

 

 

‘Eye Of The Storm’ Season Brings Out The Slimiest In Society: Big Brother 2018

Far from the light-hearted Candid Camera, today’s reality TV programmes shows are littered with the sewer scum of society.

Since the advent of British reality TV with Candid Camera in 1948, the genre has exploded on to the small screen with a pace that increased with programmes like Big Brother and The Apprentice. Far from the light-hearted caught-on-camera moments that viewers enjoyed with Allen Funt’s hidden camera show, audiences now tune in to see cat-fights, bickering, and surprise evictions.

As the definition of reality TV show is stretched beyond recognition by producers and programme creators alike, we have to wonder whether the mantle of reality show fits the biggest names in the business, and whether they are accountable for who they drop into their pressure cooker environments.


  • Reality TV definition:

uncountable noun

Reality TV is a type of television programming which aims to show how ordinary people behave in everyday life, or in situations, often created by the programme makers, which are intended to represent everyday life.

…the Americans’ current infatuation with reality TV.


Reality television programmes like Love Island have come under fire for their choice of contestants with a specific body type: the slice of society on the programme is a thin one. Love Island is ranked as the most watched programme for 16-34 year olds, and has 1.6 million 16-34 viewers, which is 52% of the audience.

Love Island Contestants

Reality TV programme Big Brother has always included housemates who are less than stable, even once having Nikki Graham and Pete Bennett on the programme. Some think they should have been barred from entering on the grounds of emotional vulnerability. The Big Brother producers would probably argue they make for better entertainment, and bigger view counts.

Big Brother 2018 has hit a new low in allowing Daniel Osborne on the show. Daniel has a history of threatening physical violence towards his ex-girlfriend, but at least he starred on The Only Way Is Essex from 2013-2015. A claim to fame, as small as it may be, seems to be the only requirement for prospective Big Brother contestants, regardless of their history.

Daniel was allegedly motivated to threatened Megan because he feared being unable to see their son, Teddy, if Megan began a relationship with someone else.


  • ‘As long as you’ve got my son, you’re part of my property.’
  • ‘You’re making Teddy cry because you’re a fucking slut.’
  • ‘Shut your fucking mouth you fucking slut.’ To which Megan replied, ‘Don’t start hitting me or I’ll start going mad.’
  • ‘If you go near another man I promise you I will stab you in the fucking throat. I swear on this boys’ life I will end your fucking life if you shag another man.’ Megan replied, ‘You can’t threaten me, Dan, so just stop.’ Dan then said, ‘It’s not a threat, it’s a promise.’
Megan released the tapes in an effort to show friends and family members the extent of Daniel’s abusive behaviour. She also describes the tapes as ‘not a one-off’ and said, ‘they were typical of Daniel’s behaviour towards me.’

In the light of these tapes, which were released as recently as 2015, why have the producers of Celebrity Big Brother allowed Daniel Osborne on the show?
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Dan Osborne

Their decision was obviously motivated by the desire for higher ratings: this season, after all, is called ‘eye of the storm.’ Daniel’s involvement in the show becomes less shocking when we see the whole line-up: this year’s programme is littered with the likes of Jermaine Pennant, a footballer who has served time in prison for drunk and disorderly driving, and Hardeep Singh Kohli, a presenter who was agreed to take six months of leave from the One Show in 2009 for behaving inappropriately towards a female colleague.

Hardeep Singh
Hardeep Singh Kohli

In a recent episode Hardeep’s co-stars questioned him about his disappearance from main stream television. He labelled his 2009 dismissal as ‘boring and nothing.’ He went onto imply that he was targeted for his race, saying, ‘if you’re a man of colour in this business, you get one chance.’

Does the series title ‘eye of the storm’ justify allowing these men having air time? Time that could be better spent advocating against domestic violence, drink driving, and sexual misconduct? Does it matter that both Dan and Hardeep apologised for their actions?
Is Big Brother turning into Doctor Who’s Bad Wolf version of the show? A relentless cash cow that is solely focused on a contestants pulling power?
I could fall for the argument that the contestants are chosen because of their dis-likability, and that Big Brother’s view count (which often reaches over a million) is a vindication of how slimy and unlikable these people are, rather than an avocation of how they can be redeemed. If only these people did not walk out of Big Brother and into another reality TV contract, and another, and another, glossing over their abusive behaviour as a result of being in a ‘bad place,’ as Daniel Osborne did after threatening to stab his ex-girlfriend.

A Psychological Thriller To Sink Your Teeth Into: Panic Room (2002)

Panic Room (2002) is a psychological thriller you can really sink your teeth into.

Jodie Foster is my go-to for psychological horror. Since finding fame as Iris in Taxi Driver (1971), Jodie Foster has been pegged as the gritty female lead for a number of psychological movies like The Accused (1988), The Silence of The Lambs (1991) and Flight Plan (2005).

Directed by David Fincher, Panic Room (2002) had the benefit of Se7en (1995), The Game (1997), and Fight Club (1999). Hot on the tail of Fight Club, Fincher uses a lot of the same camera angles- the rapid zooming in and across the brownstone house to give an idea of its enormity- which show the playground these robbers have to run around in. Fede Alvarez might have been influenced by Fincher in his creation of Don’t Breathe (2016), another psychological thriller which relies on unusual shots to move the audience around the house.

Fincher was quick to distance Panic Room from his other, more critically acclaimed movies by hailing it ‘popcorn movie-making […] good B-movie stuff.’

Newly divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) view a house on Manhattan’s upper West side to start their life afresh, away from Meg’s cheating ex. The estate agent sweeps into the master bedroom on the uppermost floor of the house and Meg’s forehead wrinkles.

‘That’s strange. Is this room smaller than it should be?’ she says.

The panic room nestled behind a secret door in the master bedroom doesn’t seem to be much of a selling point, really.

With the purchase made, the mother and daughter sit down over a glass of wine and cola respectively. Watching her mother pick at a sad salad, Sarah says, ‘Fuck him. Fuck her too.’

They toast to that.

The pair are asleep by the early hours of the morning, Sarah comforted by her night light, and her mother by the glass of wine which follows her from shot to shot. As night falls Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), and Junior (Jared Leto) enter the house just loud enough, of course, to wake Meg.

panic room leto and whitaker
Junior (Jared Leto) and Burnham (Forest Whitaker)

When Burnham has no luck with the front door key (rookie mistake) he enters the house through a hatch in the roof. The audience no doubt wonders why a house with a security system worth what must be thousands of dollars has such a weak point.

Whitaker fans will be happy to know that Burnham is the thief with a heart, the thug with a conscience. His eyes widens as he sees the night light, and when he lets the other two thugs in downstairs he says the job’s off. That’s it- he’s done. He wasn’t counting on a woman and child being there.

But of course he isn’t. Despite his reservations about Raoul- who increases the stakes by carrying a gun- Burnham grudgingly agrees to continue with the job, just as long as he gets his hands on the millions supposedly hid in the panic room.

Meg spots the thieves on her security cameras.

Panic Room sets everything you need to know up in the first fifteen minutes. A lot like Don’t Breathe in this respect, it dedicates most of the film to the psychological nightmare Meg and Sarah have to overcome, with little preamble about the specifics of their situation. Panic Room has been criticised as having a bare-bones sort of script, but what would be added to the film by seeing Meg’s husband cheat? What can be gained form seeing the messy divorce, custody battle and all? Would the movie have the same effect if, half way through, the plot was still plodding through Meg crying in the bath?

Panic Room is a psychological thriller you can really sink your teeth into. And I love the gender imbalance. Burnham is worried about continuing with the job because his conscience rails against hurting a woman and a child. He does not consider that he will be chased, fought against, defeated. He assumed that the woman and child will defer to his plan, screaming hysterically, arms in the air.

Panic Room is a B-movie which defies all over B-movies: the carefully crafted cat and mouse game makes for an intense watch. It’s more nail biting than popcorn biting.

panic room 2

 

 

 

Pioneers in the Pit: A Review of Queens Of The Coal Age

Queens Of The Coal age is Maxine Peake’s exploration of the real life female force behind the anti-pit closure fight in Britain.

1993. 12 pits are closed following years of pit closures, years of unfed mouths, years of women seething by the kitchen sink, years of the fight against Thatcher. Four women band together and occupy the Parkside colliery as a call to arms. One clear message: take a stand.

I went into Queens Of The Coal Age knowing that Maxine Peake wrote the play, and vaguely knowing it had something to do with coal pits. The programme told me the rest: Peake spoke to the women against pit closures in a 2016 interview she conducted for her 45 minute radio play: Queens of The Coal Age.

After failed attempts from Dot (Jane Hazelgrove), Elaine (Eve Robertson), Lesley (Danielle Henry), and Anne (Kate Anthony) to protest the pit closures (which began in 1984) the woman banded together and occupied the Parkside colliery.

queens of the coal age
Left to Right: Lesley, Elaine, Dot, Anne

The women, disguised as teachers, are taken on a tour of the pit by the manager Des (played by John Elkington).

Elaine: ‘We actually did an official tour. To be honest, once we got down, we had no idea what to do next. And oh we were tired. I’d not slept all the night before.”

Des instructs the woman to get into the lift. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered how the director (Bryony Shanahan) would pull it off. Wracked with nerves, and Dot with claustrophobia, the women step onto the lift platform.

Gravitas should be given to Elliot Griggs (lighting designer), Pete Malkin (sound designer), and Jennifer Jackson (movement director) who managed to transport the women from centre stage at The Royal exchange to the bottom of a coal pit within seconds. If I had just stepped into the theatre and watched the scene unfold, I would have known what was happening.

Finally down in the pit, the women rejoice.

Annie: ‘I put my pit gear on and then we got to the cage, and as soon as it set off down I got hold of your hand and I said, “Elaine, we’ve cracked it.”‘

As it becomes clear the women will not be moved, Des disappears evaporating around the women’s laughter.

Arthur Skargills wife
Anne played by Kate Anthony

Justifiably, Anne is the leader. Wife to Arthur Scargill (President of the National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002) she has the most to lose by rebelling publicly. For their first act of rebellion, the women tidy up the office they have taken as their home. After the paper flower is put into the vase there is not much else to do, except pick at each other.

What follows is four days of sleeping on the ground, fighting with the pit boss Ramsey (also played by John Elkington), and general exhaustion. Dot, Elaine, Anne, and Lesley go hours without food and water. The onlooker might wonder, why did they do it? Hidden in the depths of the mine, they do not know whether their rebellion has peaked public interest.

Peake’s interview gives us some answers.

The women’s motivation was as feminist as it was political.

Betty: ‘My ex had always told me that I was thick, and I was stupid, and it were no use explaining things to me because I wouldn’t understand. All of a sudden because of the strike- and we’d gone speaking all over – I suddenly realised I know as much as some of these people at university; in fact, I know a bit more I’m sure.’

Dot: ‘ […] if there’s something wrong, you try to fix it. It changed a lot of women – there were writers come out of it, poems, songs, there were all sorts come out of that strike – so we achieved something, even if we didn’t stop them closing the pits. Something was evolving, women were changing.’

Peake’s humour sparks like fire crackers in the darkness, illuminating the women and their stories. Elaine is often the butt of the joke, the other women finding fun in her knicker contraband and her lust for the coal darkened pit men…

Butt of the joke
Elaine played by Eve Robertson

She is the only childless rebel in the pit. She is apart from the others, and knows it. Peake frames the coal pit closure strikes as an assertion of women’s power, a renouncement of the ties that bind the ladies to their homes, and an assertion of it. Family and duty to the cause is linked so closely that they have to be separated, one has to come first. Dot found her family on the rally lines, and so she left her kids at home to rebel against the system. She is the first to want to leave. A bout of guilt overwhelms her, and she admits that she sometimes wishes she never had kids. The divide is too much.

Anne: ‘Dot said to me, “I’m tired, Anne, I’ve had enough.” And she says, “I’ll go out on my own,” and I says, “No you’re not. We’ve come down as four, we’re all going out as four.”‘

Peake’s writing for Queens of The Coal Age reminds me of a passage from The Ruins in which the main character lowers a lantern down a pit and watches as it illuminates the walls it passes, and then gets smaller and smaller until it hits the bottom and everything around it is flooded with light.

 

 

 

 

July Book Haul

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I have been a slow reader this month because I have just started a 9-5. When I have bought books this month, I have gone for books with short snappy sections because of my short attention span.

The result is the prettiest book haul I have seen in a while.

Forgotten Women: The Scientists

Forgotten Women The Scientists

I picked this book up at the gift shop on the way out of The Museum of Science and Industry. Zing Tsjeng has compiled ’48 unsung scientific heroes whose hugely important, yet broadly unacknowledged, discoveries have transformed our understanding of the scientific world around us.’

The book lives up to the blurb.

It caught my attention because of the art work and the quippy writing. Tsjeng’s book is far from a fact file that you have to plod through, in fact the streamlined style of dedicating a few pages and a beautiful illustration to each woman makes the book an easy read.

It is the sort of book where you can just open it up and start from any page.

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Nettie Stevens

‘”How could you think your questions would bother me?” she once told a nervous student. “They never will, so long as I keep my enthusiasm for biology; and that, I hope will be as long as I live.”‘

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Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

‘ […] she believed that anyone could become an inventor as long as they put their mind to it: “Every person is born with a creative mind,” she said. “Every person has that ability.”‘

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Helen Rodriguez-Trias

‘As a medical resident, she founded Puerto Rico’s first health centre for the care of newborns, which led to a 50 per cent decrease in the infant mortality rate of children at University Hospital.’

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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

‘In her memoirs, Payne-Gaposchkin said that she was often asked by young women for careers advice, which she was happy to give: ‘Here it is, valeat quantum. Do not undertake a scientific career for fame or money… Undertake it only if nothing else will satisfy you; for nothing else is probably what you will receive. Your reward will be the widening of the horizon as you climb. And if you achieve that reward you will ask for no other.”

The Little Book of Shakespeare

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The Little Book of Shakespeare is a handy guide to every play the Bard has ever had published, and some that were forgotten in time. It reads as the paper back version of Shakespeare’s Wikipedia page: no stone has gone un-turned in the creation of this book. It is the perfect gift for someone studying Shakespeare at GCSE, A Level, or degree level. The contents page is split into three sections: The Freelance Writer (1589-1594), The Lord Chamberlain’s Man (1954-1603), and The King’s Man (1603-1613), which makes for a comprehensive guide.

Love has gone into every page. The five contributors (Stanley Wells, Anjna Chouhan, Gillian Day, John Farndon, Jake Kingsley-Smith, and Nick Walton) have included feminist readings, on screen and on stage adaptations, sources, themes and relevant quotes for each play. On top of that, the book is a beautiful read.

Of course, I made a b-line for King Lear (written 1605-1606).

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Talking Heads

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Bennett’s Talking Heads is a collection of his first six published monologues, as well as the six he wrote years later. I first heard about Talking Heads years ago when I watched the BBC produced The Outside Dog in a high school Literature lesson. Julie Walters plays Marjory, the wife of the man suspected of several grisly murders. I was surprised to find that a lot of Bennett’s monologues explore the difficulties that middle and old age women face, which I do in my writing.

The monologue style makes for an interesting read. In these down to Earth narratives Bennett interweaves intrigue into the most boring subjects. He gets pages and pages out of Muriel’s venture into the work canteen during her lunch hour in Soldiering On. Despite the object of the speaker’s fascination often being common place, these monologues are never boring, just relentlessly real and gripping.

In A Cream Cracker Under The Settee most of the monologue is filled with just that: after a fall in the living room Doris fixates on a cream cracker she has just discovered under the settee. Unable to get up and unable to call for help, Doris vows to tell her council appointed cleaner about it the next time she comes over.

You would be forgiven for thinking Bennett’s monologues do not focus on the big issues of today. But they do: his characters deal with death, loss, and suffering all within the short compact package of a monologue. Doris cannot accept the limits of old age, Muriel’s inflated sense of self worth is shrunk to the size of a pea next to her life threatening illness, and Marjory battles with the burden of knowledge.

LINKS

Forgotten Women: The Scientists

The Little Book of Shakespeare

Talking Heads

 

 

Banana Bread

Easy to make moist banana bread

This moist banana bread recipe is a classic that keeps everyone happy. The more bananery the better. Here are the ingredients:

  • 140 grams butter
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50 grams icing sugar
  • 140 grams caster sugar
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 140 self-raising flour
  • Optional: banana chips for decoration

This recipe is so bananery I would not recommend using more than two bananas.

Method:

  1. The original recipe recommended heating the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Because the banana bread can take a while, I always set my oven a little higher and keep an eye on it.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is fluffy. I use a stand mixer for this, but a hand held mixer or a wooden spoon will work just as well.
  3. Add in the beaten eggs slowly with some flour.
  4. When the eggs are mixed with the butter and sugar, fold in the remaining flour, baking powder, and mashed bananas. Make sure the bananas are mashed well, as you do not want clumps of gloopy banana in the baked cake.
  5. Butter a loaf tin and line it with baking parchment. (When I got to this stage I found that I did not have parchment paper. Tin foil works just as well providing you butter it.)
  6. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 30 minutes. To see whether the cake is done, stick a skewer into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
  7. When the cake has cooked allow it to cool in the tin for ten minutes before taking it out. If you try to take the cake out of the tin immediately after it has been in the oven the cake will crumble.
  8. While you are waiting for the cake to cool, mix the icing sugar with 2 or 3 teaspoons of water. Drizzle the icing across the banana bread.

Usually I do not make the icing, but in the interest of being more photogenic I decided to this time.

IMG_0123IMG_0131This rates as the best banana bread I have ever made. It was perfect after 35 minutes at 200C.

Why not try the same recipe for cupcakes or mini loafs? For both of these I recommend 15 minutes at 200C.

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Nom Nom

 

The Crucible: The Insanity of Crowd Mentality

Centered around the search for Witch’s in Salem, Miller’s play is an allegory for the Red Scare that gripped America

When testifying in front of the House of Un-American Activities in 1956, Miller said: ‘Anybody in this room might have thoughts of various kinds that could be prosecuted if they were carried into action, but that is an entirely different story.’

The Crucible (1953) is Arthur Miller’s version of the Salem witch trials in 1692, which ended with 19 women being executed for witch craft. The ICAT (Independent Centre for Actor Training) Manchester group performed the play in The Lowry at only £6 a ticket.

ICAT the crucible
The program

Miller’s vision is an allegory for the Red Scare that gripped America in the 1950’s. Fueled by senator Joseph McCarthy, who was so ardent an anti-communist that the growing feeling of dislike towards the Soviets was labelled ‘McCarthyism,’ the Red Scare originated in the belief that American spies gave Soviet’s the information they needed to produce successful nuclear tests in 1949.

ICAT uses a bare stage which emphasises the stark landscape of late 17th century Salem, Massachusetts. Throughout the whole play there are maybe five settings, each adorned with wooden boxes that function as walls, tables, and as the trial begins, seats for judge, jury, and executioner.

Every character is touched by religion in some way. Talk of the devil hangs heavy in the air. In each conversation his fearful name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. In Salem, the belief in mortal sin shapes the social fabric of the town, and influences the hysteria that pulses throughout the community.

crucible eyes

The play begins with Reverend Parris’ (Max Anderson’s) daughter Betty lying unconscious across the wooden boxes. One night ago the Reverend saw the village girls dancing in the woods and, upon jumping out of the bushes he had been hiding in, shocked his daughter so much that she passed out.

Conspiracy theories abound.

Parris is convinced that his niece Abigail Williams (Phoebe Fischer) has something to do with his daughter’s illness. Under the Reverend’s suspicious gaze, something as innocent as dancing turns into summoning the devil, much to Abigail’s denial. Anderson plays the pious clergyman perfectly: his stern expression and unwavering stature form the basis for the man who survives the play, firmly on the side of the uncompromising courts. Sanity appears in the form of farmer John Proctor (Vince Gray) and Reverend Hale (James Ainsworth), but this is short lived.

Hale warns Parris that he should not prescribe any supernatural reasoning to Betty’s unconscious state. Giles Corey (Guy Thompson) enters the scene, and the sanity ends there.

Satire runs throughout the play.

Corey is quick to claim he saw one of the girls flying over a barn the night they were dancing. As talk of witch craft abounds, Corey mentions that his wife reads books, something he will later regret as she is put on trial for witch craft.

The play centers around the one time affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams. Gray plays a haunted man who wants to right his wrongs, and a man now wholly dedicated to his wife Elizabeth (Julie Hannan). In one tender scene he tells her: ‘I mean to please you, Elizabeth’. He spurns Abigail’s desire to continue their relationship, and in a fit of jealous rage Abigail accuses Elizabeth of doing the Devil’s work. The strands of plot weave together to form the image of a broken community, so fearful and intent on purifying their town that they accuse their neighbours without reason.

Mary Warren (Carly O’Hare) embodies the stress caused by this toxic society, and the desperate search for the truth. Caught between her master John Proctor who urges her to tell the truth and the lying, spiteful Abigail, Mary crumbles under the intense gaze of her suspicious peers. O’Hare fits the bill for a woman in distress: as Mary is pulled this way and that by John and Abigail, her agonised expression shows her torment.

Ethel and Julius

Mary brings to mind the Rosenbergs. Miller published his play in the year that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed. Thought to have passed atomic secrets to Russia, Julius was arrested on July 17th, 1950. Ethel followed soon after. Shockingly, Ethel’s brother and sister-in-law (David and Ruth Greenglass) testified against the Rosenbergs to lessen their own sentence for the same crime.

Hours before their execution, Julius and Ethel penned a letter to their two young children. One section reads: ‘good cannot really flourish in the midst of evil; (that) freedom and all the things that go to make up a truly satisfying and worthwhile life, must sometimes be purchased very dearly.’

Nothing is won in Miller’s play. The struggling embers of truth die out along with John and Elizabeth. Friends are lost, lovers turn, and the corrupting force of isolated religious superstition ruins all in its path.