Mass Hysteria In The Crucible Essay Research

Mass Hysteria In The Crucible Essay, Research Paper

The Psychology of Mass Hysteria

In 1692, the people of a small, religious village, Salem, 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 outlandish accusations? Arthur Miller explores such questions in The Crucible. In this play Miller describes how different people with 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, while others grow suspicious and try to find an explanation for how these honest girls, or “victims”, are accusing those otherwise innocent people, of witchcraft. 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. He illustrates how pressure created by fear, intolerance, and frustration can cause people to accept their personal responsibilities.

Not only does the author show how can fear drive people away from their responsibilities in the play, but also that a person s fear can push one to realize and accept their purposes and responsibilities. John Proctor, 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! (77). 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 is suspicious about the hysterical girls behavior, but the fact that the trials did not directly affect his family makes him take 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. He makes a very important decision, realizing 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 about the trials because of her role as an officer of the court. John discovers that Mary knows that the witchcraft accusations are false. ” 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). He then comes to the 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.

As the play progresses, Proctor comes to a realization that it is his personal responsibility to tell Danforth, a man of high authority in Salem, that his strict adherence to the law is effecting the town in a negative way. 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. Danforth s duty as a court official prevents him from realizing his responsibility to aid John in protesting against the witchcraft accusation. Proctor 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 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 play also demonstrates how frustration can not only cause a person to deny responsibility for an action, but also cause a person to realize his or her errors and take responsibility to redeem themselves as a good person. Miller exemplifies this through his character Reverend John Hale, who first enters the play as a person called upon by 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, feeling that the people of Salem look up to him as a savior. Later on in the play, Hale questions the honesty behind the girls accusations because of their 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 the 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 conforming to societies hysteria: ” 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 makes him realize that it his duty to stop the courts from killing innocent people.

In 1692, an outbreak of mass hysteria, which struck the village of Salem, Massachusetts, brought the people of the town to realize and accept their personal responsibilities. Through the development of fear, intolerance, and frustration within John Proctor and Reverend Hale, Miller portrays the central theme that human nature is actually good, although it can easily be influenced by the spread of evil. This time of hiatus lead Proctor to protest against the trials in an effort to save his wife, and Reverend Hale to look inside himself to save the victims from the chaos that spread through the town. This hysteria illustrates how a person s insight into the witchcraft trials can reveal one s own duties and responsibilities to themselves. And although a small, religious town can fall victim to an outbreak of mass hysteria, Arthur Miller displays how humans can find their mistakes and learn from them, thus revealing the overall goodness of humankind.



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