Fear, Propaganda, and Hysteria

The CrucibleOne of the most famous of plays written in the 1950s in the midst of McCarthyism and the “witch hunts” accusing artists, actors, musicians, and people in many walks of life of being Communists was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It uses the allegory of the Salem witch hunts to spotlight the effect fear, propaganda, and hysteria can have on a community. The Loud Silence of Francine Green is set in southern California, where the accusations and suspicions cut deeply into the community of the movie studios and the thousands of people who worked for them.

On PBS, American Masters aired Arthur Miller, Eliza Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin (2003). There are resources on their site that would work well to accompany reading Francine Green and discussing the fear that arises when oppressive tactics are fomented by people in power.

The McCarthy Era

Moderator: How did the McCarthy Era affect you? When you were living through it, did you think of it as “an era”? Is that something we only create in hindsight?

Cushman: I am enough younger than Francine so that the only McCarthy I knew was Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist dummy. Joseph McCarthy and his era really were not a topic of conversation in my high school and even most of my college years. I would say that eras are pretty much identified and described long after they have passed. Otherwise we go day to day, step by step, the best we can.

McCarthy Era

About Karen Cushman’s The Loud Silence of Francine GreenSchool Library Journal wrote, “This novel follows Francine’s eighth-grade year, from August 1949 to June 1950, at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles, a year of changes largely inspired by a new transfer student, Sophie Bowman. While Francine is quiet and committed to staying out of trouble, happy to daydream of Hollywood movie stars and to follow her father’s advice not to get involved in controversy, Sophie questions authority and wants to make a difference. Her questioning of the nuns’ disparaging comments about the Godless communists frequently leads to her being punished and eventually to her expulsion from school. Francine begins to examine her own values, particularly when an actor friend of Sophie’s father is blacklisted and Mr. Bowman loses his scriptwriting job. At the novel’s end, Francine is poised to stand up to Sister Basil, the bullying principal, and exercise her freedom of speech.”