The word ‘allegory’ came up while teaching the subtle art of compelling written communication. My grandson needed help with an essay on The Crucible by Arthur Miller. After we determined our theme, ‘nothing new under the sun’ we plowed through the syllabus, careful to include the required number of paragraphs and quotes. And then, just as we struggled for a riveting conclusion, an interesting fact popped up in our online search for inspiration.
Turns out The Crucible, a play about the Salem Witch Hunts of 1692, was written as an allegory. We paused to explore the definition of allegory - something that looks like something but has a hidden meaning. Arthur Miller had been caught up in the hysteria of the four years between 1950 to 1954 as Senator McCarthy led the charge in the modern day ‘witch hunt’ resulting in life-altering accusations of Americans, mostly performers and artists, being declared to be Communists. Resulting in charges and grilling before Congress. Declarations of guilt with no due process or proof, resulting in lives disrupted and destroyed. Miller used the play to expose how absurd and irrational easily aroused, collective hysteria is - how much damage it does.
We realized our theme was about human nature and how it never grows up. How history repeats and circumstances change, but people act and react in the same way. Over and over again - with the same results - nothing good. Tearing down instead of building up.
My grandson concluded thoughtfully, “I don’t think humans can ever get better. There will always be people with their own ideas fighting other people and always saying they are right. There will always be wars.”
We summed it up by determining that human nature is the problem because it can never grow up.
So, I mentored my grandson through the process of getting a required essay done, but it turns out I am the one who learned the lesson. I doubt his teacher will ever know just how much education was added on to my grandson or me because of this shared exercise. He said, with satisfaction, he thought it was probably not going to be like anyone else’s essay.
I told him that’s because it is an allegory. The reader will see the message about human nature but the hidden meaning is about how we really learn.