This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The context of a text refers to the environment in which it was written, including the author’s political and social environment in addition to the time and geographical location in which he or she was writing. If anything sounds familiar about this collection of influences, it might be because these are the same specific elements which we discuss when we talk about setting, too. You will remember that setting refers to these aspects of a text’s created, fictional world. Context, by contrast, refers to these aspects of the author’s own world. Political or social issues and events from the author’s past can have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. An author’s personal beliefs also have an effect on the text and thus contribute to the context.
By learning about the context of a fictional work, you will develop some insight into the important influences shaping the text. The relationship between context and meaning is never simple and straightforward, of course, and it would be a mistake to suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, your knowledge of context can provide useful information to bear in mind as you read and consider a text.
Thinking about context in the case of The Crucible is interesting because it introduces a further element known as “historical context”. Miller wrote the play centuries after the events it depicts occurred. The book itself is not history, but rather represents Miller’s own interpretation of actual events. Despite his research into historical documents, his presentation of events is inevitably coloured by his own context and his own beliefs. While he aims to represent the dialogue, culture and beliefs of the historical figures with some accuracy, his own knowledge can only ever be gained at second-hand from the terrible events which took place in Salem.
Research the context of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, then try these questions to see how much you know about the context of the play.