Many people debate which play would be considered to be the greatest play written by an American and to be honest this play comes pretty close. However, I am not a really big fan of American Literature (in the same way that I am not a really big fan of Australian Literature). I think it would be stretching it a bit to refer to American and Australian Literature as being colonial because I have a feeling that that form of literature is limited to British colonies that had not sufficiently created an identity for themselves, as opposed to Australia and America which in the mid to late 19th century certainly had their own identity (even though at that time Australia was still referred to as 'The Colony').
This play is set during the Salem witch trials that occurred during the early colonial period of the United States (or its precursor) and is a play about what happens when fear takes hold of us to a point that we begin to suspect innocent people of being guilty of committing hideous crimes. This is the main theme that Miller was exploring because at the time of its writing the United States was going through a period known as Macarthyism, a time where pretty much anybody and everybody could be accused of being a communist spy and found guilty on the flimsiest of evidence. In a way Joseph McCarthy's actions were very similar to the actions of the people that were behind the Salem witch trials.
Some people seemed to be surprised that the events that occurred in this play were real events (and have even produced links to the Wikipedia article). Personally, I am not surprised that such events occurred (and since I have been a student of American history, I had heard of that particular period). The thing is that the setting and the culture of the colony would no doubt eventually give rise to such hysteria. Witch trials had been occurring in Europe for well over three hundred years (I cannot be accurate on the dates since I am currently sitting in a plane at 30,000 feet, and while this plane does have internet access, my computer is not set up to access it, and even if it was, I suspect that it would be hideously expensive, so I am happy to go without).
What we had in Salem was a Puritan colony that pretty much existed at the edge of Western Civilisation. To the colonists at the time the original inhabitants of the land were little more than pagan devil worshippers and as such there was no doubt a fear that their haven of puritanical Christianity was in danger of being influenced by the practices of these inhabitants. As such, they did their best to keep themselves pure (as they had originally fled Europe due to being persecuted for practising their own form of religion). In a way, the Puritans were an early form of fundamentalist, though I do not actually believe that there is such as thing as an early fundamentalist because fundamentalists tend to be closed minded in their thinking and that easily crosses the boundaries of sects, denominations, and religions.
Further, it is not necessary that it is a primitive reaction and ignorant understanding of the world because, as Miller subtly points out in writing this play when he did, the exact same thing was occurring in the United States at that time. Further, I have even been to churches where there is an intense fear of the outside world, and that we should only go out and interact with the outside world to bring people into the church, and that any prolonged contact with the outside world has the potential to undermine a person's faith. There is also the question of belief: any belief that moves away from a rigid doctrine is considered heresy and certain actions are banned (such as dancing) because such behaviour has the potential to damn the soul. As such, we come upon the sects who are referred to as 'fun-nazi's' because any form of fun opens us up to sin, and by opening ourselves up to sin opens ourselves up to damnation.
It is not just the Islamic world that is being threatened with the scourge of fundamentalism. Yes, it is true, that there are sects within Islam that consider any deviation from their strict domga to be heretical and members of these sects will kill anybody who steps outside of that doctrine. Further, there are countries were it is illegal to hold any other religion than the religion that is sanctioned by the state. However, while in the Western World we have embraced freedom of religion (which includes the freedom to have no religion whatsoever – if that is actually possible) there are those who rile against it and seek to undermine the freedom that many of us have fought for. There are those who argue that America (and Australia) were originally established as Christian nations and that the reason that we are facing the problems that we are now is because we have wondered from that heritage.
As if we did not face problems when a majority of the people still went to church. If that were the case there would never have been economic depressions, wars, diseases, and all other manner of disasters. I personally am opposed to any form of theocratic state because these states will no doubt end up looking like the community that we see with The Crucible. In a way The Crucible serves as a warning to us, as well as to the people at the time that it was written, and that is that any form of fundamentalism is a bad thing, whether it be religious fundamentalism as in the world of the Crucible, or economic fundamentalism, as we see assaulting us today, and that fundamentalism tends to create the idea of a devil, or a great evil, in an opposing force to make it seem much worse than it really is. To the people of Salem it was the original inhabitants of the land, to the people of the 1950s it was the communists, and today, in modern Australia, the Labor Party takes that role.