A Goodness In Humankind Essay, Research Paper
In 1692, the Salem Village of Massachusetts fell victim to an outbreak of mass hysteria caused by a fear of witchcraft. This fear of witchcraft was caused by a small group of girls who accused innocent people of the village of being under the influence of the devil and harming them with spells of witchcraft. How would a town so concerned with religion react to such crazy accusations? Arthur Miller describes such reactions to these in The Crucible. In this story Miller describes how different people having different perspectives on the events handle this type of hysteria. Some people join the afflicted girls and participate in the hysteria out of fear for their lives. Others grow suspicious and try to find an explanation on how honest these girls, or “victims”, are in accusing them otherwise innocent people of witchcraft, if witchcraft is even the cause of the girls’ hysteria. Arthur Miller writes the play to demonstrate that human nature is actually good regardless of how easily humans can be influenced by the spread of evil. Miller illustrates how pressure created by fear, intolerance, and frustration can cause people to accept their personal responsibilities.
Although fear often drives people away from their responsibilities in the story, it is shown that a person’s fear can push him to realize and accept his purposes and responsibilities. John Proctor, a main protagonist in the story, realizes how dangerous the
witchcraft accusations are when the court officials arrest his wife, Elizabeth, for witchcraft and attempted murder: “‘…The little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!…I’ll not give my wife to vengeance!’’’ (Miller 77). John Proctor is fearful for his wife. Before his wife was arrested, John was really unaware of the extent of danger behind the accusations of witchcraft in the village. At first, he feels suspicious about the hysterical girls’ behavior, but the fact that the trials did not directly affect his family makes him handle the events less seriously. Elizabeth’s arrest was a wake up call for John because now he is alert and aware that the witchcraft accusations must be stopped because innocent people are being put to death. As he reacts to his wife’s arrest, he makes a very important decision. It is up to him to protest against the ongoing trials because no one else will. He then discovers that Mary Warren, the family’s servant knows much about the trials because of her role as a officer of the court. “‘You’re coming with me, Mary, you will tell it in the court…We will slide together into our pit; you will tell the court what you know.’’’ (80). John discovers that Mary knows that he witchcraft accusations are false. He thin comes to this decision that it is his responsibility, as well as Mary Warren’s, to tell the court that the hysteria in Salem is based on lies and false accusations. It is because of a fear for Elizabeth’s life that John realizes his individual responsibility to save his wife, as well as to protect other innocent people from being accused and sentenced to death.
The story shows that frustration can not only cause a person to deny responsibility for an action, but also that it can cause a person to realize his errors and take responsibility to redeem himself as a good person, as Reverend John Hale demonstrates
in the play. Reverend Hale first enters the play as a person who is called upon the village of Salem to find a cure for the illnesses caused by the witchcraft. He looks at his calling as a “beloved errand for him; on being called here to ascertain witchcraft he felt the pride of the specialist whose unique knowledge has at least seen publicly called for” (33). He takes his calling as a compliment, thinking that the people of Salem look up to him as a savior bearing good gifts of knowledge. Hale’s reputation and his need for respect thrives on the knowledge based on his reading. Therefore, he comes to believe that the answers to all problems come from reading books. Later on in the play, he questions the honesty behind the girls’ accusations because of their peculiar behavior and the unfairness of the court officials toward the accused. Hale could not find a cure in his books to prevent witchcraft and soon came to realize that the witchcraft involved in the trials are fake. After struggling with the court officials to understand his views on his trials, he becomes very frustrated and quits the court. He later comes to realize his errors in finding his personal responsibilities and tries to prevent everyone else from doing the same thing: “‘Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own…beware…cleave to no faith when faith bring blood”’ (132). He finds that his books and his knowledge based on them have misled him, thinking that they held solutions to the problems in Salem. He now looks into his own heart for the solutions to the cause of the trials, and he does what he can to save the accused from falling victim to the injustices of the court. His frustration in trying to reason with court officials about the trials opens Hale’s eyes and make him realizes that it his duty to stop the courts from killing innocent people.
Further in the play, more personal responsibilities are revealed, as shown by Proctor when he is angered at the intolerance of Danforth, a man of high authority in Salem. Deputy Governor Danforth is a very serious court official who does not let anything “interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and cause” (85). It is because of his relation with the law that he comes to believe it is his duty to enforce the law of Salem. A person of his stature would not want to believe John Proctor’s explanation of the dishonesty behind the accusations of witchcraft because it would be an insult to the judicial system of Salem. This story would go against the law that Danforth stood for and supported. John senses that Danforth is a very intelligent man who knows much about the lies behind the witchcraft accusations, but his loyalty to the court prevents him from believing them. His duty as a court official prevents Danforth from realizing his responsibility to aid John in protesting against the witchcraft accusation. He tells him of his misguidance and shows him what his real purpose in the village must be: “‘For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all you black hearts that his fraud—God damns our kind especially…and we will burn together!”’ (120). John Proctor realizes that it is their responsibility to bring the people out of ignorance and realize that the hysteria that the girls started is based on lies. It seems that john Proctor told Danforth that his loyalty to the court is misleading him to support the young girls in Salem.
The development of John Proctor and Reverend Hale’s insight into the witchcraft trials shows how their duties and responsibilities was revealed to them through fear, intolerance, and frustration brought by the outbreak of hysteria in Salem of 1692. In a
way, Arthur Miller displays how humans can find their mistakes and learn from them, thus revealing the overall goodness of humankind. Miller wrote this play as a way of warning people how mass hysteria can come about. The play is not only written as a plea against the Red Scare of the McCarthy Era, but as a warning to the public that people must realize and accept their responsibilities so that another outbreak of hysteria will not transpire. Ignorance as well as prejudice, is the cause of outbreaks of hysteria in Salem and in McCarthy Era. It is apparent that another outbreak of hysteria involves segregation of gay, lesbians, and ethnic minorities. People falsely accuse innocent people of being evil out of ignorance and fear, thinking that their beliefs are somewhat strange and even wrong. Arthur Miller wants us to realize our responsibilities, as Proctor and Hale have done, and do what is morally right. Miller’s play, The Crucible, asks one important question to the reader: Can the people of this present day generation see past the ignorance and prejudice found in today’s society and accept their own responsibilities so no more acts of injustice develop again?