Whenever hysteria occurs, it appears to tolerate the misinterpretation of reality, unspeakable actions and baseless allegations causing societies to break. In the novel The Crucible, Arthur Miller the author of the book, depicts this throughout the story. The Crucible takes place in the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts, in the year 1692.
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There are several key settings throughout the story. The entire book is about how an insignificant group of girls create mass hysteria in a small town, and how it impacts hundreds of people. The story begins when a group of girls dance in the woods with a black slave named Tituba. While they dance, they are discovered by Reverend Parris, the local minister of Salem. Betty, Parris daughter, fall unconscious on the ground when she sees him. Soon people gather up in Parris home while rumors about witchcraft go around the town.
Everything and everyone in Salem simply belongs to God or to the devil; argument is not merely illegal, it is linked with satanic activity. This contrast functions as the underlying logic of why the witch trials take place. Hysteria plays an important role in the town of Salem through power of manipulation and fear which is evident in the decisions of those who accuse, those who are accused and those who judge them.
Back in history, women usually stayed at home, cleaned the house and cooked and sewed. They didnt go out to work as often and many girls didnt even get to go to school. Men were considered to be much more important than women, white people were considered of high status than any other race and the wealthy had more position and power than the poor. The Crucible portrays these divisions, and privileges that certain characters have over the other and how they accuse and manipulate people to their own advantage.
Firstly, when Parris say, Such a Christian that will not come to church but once in a month!(Miller 84) or Her’s come to overthrow this court, Your Honour(Miller 85). He is unhesitant to blame people that didn’t like him, and tries to win favour in the town by being a kiss-up to the judges. Also, in his desperate attempt to protect his reputation, he conveniently hid the fact that Abigail Williams had been caught casting spells in the forest. As Miller says,the paranoid, real or pretended, always secretes its pearl around a grain of fact. Blinded by keeping their public reputation, the people of Salem fear that the sins of their friends, family and their close ones will taint their names. Furthermore, Mrs. Putnams believes, If Jacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property…killing neighbors for their land(Miller 89). She was too obsessed on blaming other people for the death of her children. She had already turned to witchcraft to find out who murdered her children and without a thought she jumped on the accusation bandwagon. As Miller says, Not everybody was accused, after all, so there must be some reason why you were. Thomas caused his daughter to cry out against people whose land he wanted to acquire when they were imprisoned. This shows that hysteria only thrives because people benefit from it.
Likewise, there is Abigail Williams who accuses Mary Warren,But God made my face; you cannot want to tear my face. Envy is a deadly sin, Mary(Miller 106). When people are inclined to die for a justification, unfortunately they’re often willing to kill for that same justification. In The Crucible, the belief that witchcraft was a manifestation of Satan’s presence in their town caused them, in their religious vehemence, to eradicate or kill any indications of witchcraft that was thought to be against god. As Weales says, A mood of mass hysteria in which guilt and confession become public virtues. Abby realizes the power of hysteria and uses the situation to accuse Mary Warren of witchcraft and have her sent to jail. This was significant because if someone was accused and denied the accusations, they were immediately hung, but if one confessed, all they did was muddy their names and not stay true to their faith.
Consequently, the people of Salem accept and become active in the hysterical climate not only out of sincere religious holiness or devotion but also because it gives them an opportunity to express repressed sentiments and resentments.
Hysteria also plays out in destroying several innocent peopler’s lives, mainly because the people of Salem committed ridiculously irrational acts guided by their suppressed emotions, for instance rage and greed or out of utter oafishness. This shows how easy it is for people to accuse one another without any hard evidence due to the fickle nature of the court in town.
This is best illustrated through Giles Corey when he said, It discomfits me! Last night – mark this – I tried and tried and could not say my prayers. And then she close her book and walks out of the house, and suddenly – mark this – I could pray again!(Miller 38). Later in the story his wife is being accused of cursing the pigs and reading fortunes and when asked the name of the accuser, they say it was Giles who accused her own wife. When she is arrested, he regrets talking about the books and tells the court that he only said she read them, not that she was into witchcraft. But it was already too late. In the same way, Elizabeth, John Proctorr’s wife was accused by Abigail Williams who wanted to get rid of his wife so they can be together. But John realizes his sins and confesses to the court of Adultery and the only reason why Abigail is accusing his wife is that she wants to replace her, as John announces, But it is a whorer’s vengeance(102).
As Ditsky observes, The case of Abigail involves moral choice in spite of enlightenment of sorts of the side of wrong by this partner in John Proctorr’s love affair. When Elizabeth finds out that Abigail is the one who accused her, she immediately tells John that Abigail is taking a big chance in accusing her, since Elizabeth is a farmerr’s wife with some status. But little did she know that Abigail is gambling it all to go after John. Consequently, John tries to convince Mary Warren to testify against her, but Abigail, through her manipulative ability shifts the accusation back onto Mary. In a foolish attempt to save herself, Mary charges John that he forced her to do by saying,He come at me by night and every day to sign, to sign, to-(Miller 121).
In brief, the unrelenting desire to want more and own more generated an environment that vitalized falsehood, deception and manipulation among neighbours. This draws the extreme lengths the characters are willing to go to and the innocent lives they are ready to destroy just to have the thing they desire leads to the witch trials.
Many characters struggle with judgement before and after the events in the story, trying to figure out if the outcomes of their actions are just or not. Making a judgement on somebody may seem harmless and inconspicuous, but it can be catastrophic. The Crucible outlines this through peopler’s poor judgement that led to mass hysteria and calamity in the town of Salem.
Take for example Danforth who said, Do you know Mr. Proctor, that the entire contention of the state in these trials is that the voice of Haven is speaking through the children?(82). Danforth has already decided that the girls are innocent and are speaking truthfully, that God is speaking through them, and so anyone they accuse must automatically be guilty. This is clearly the kind of bias that prevents people from getting fair trials and assigns an absurd amount of power to the undeserving. As Miller says, the plot justified the crushing of all nuance, all the shading that a realistic judgement of reality requires. Danforthr’s Judgement, which he is always very single-minded and strict about, is obviously wrong: Elizabeth, Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse are not witches at all. Danforth cant change his mind, even after all the evidence, reasoning and rationale points him towards being wrong. Danforth mindlessly believes that a reliable judge must never reconsider his stance.
In contrast, there is Hale who confronts, Excellency, I have signed seventy-two death warrants; I am a minister of the Lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it(Miller 92). As the story goes on, his motive starts to change. When faced with the truth, he is unsure about accepting his mistake, probably because he never imagined the idea of the accusers being wrong. If this was the case, then all the death warrants he has signed where a mistake, resulting in the innocent deaths being placed on his shoulders. Also, confessing his sins would automatically destroy his reputation as well as publicr’s trust. Lastly, Hathorne with a mystical tone, says: God be praised! It is a providence!” He rushes out the door, and his voice is heard calling down the corridor, ”He will confess! Proctor will confess!”(127). As time, the executions go by, Danforth and Hathorne stay convicted of the authority and truth of the court. Hathorne becomes extremely joyful when John Proctor is ready to falsely confess to witchcraft. Hathorne regrets nothing.
As a result, hysteria overrides logic and allows people to believe that their neighbours, whom they have always considered honest and upright people, are committing ridiculous and far-fetched crimes namely interacting with the devil, killing babies, and so on.
In conclusion, hysteria plays a major role in bringing unreasonable acts to the people of Salem. There is no room for deviation from social norms, as anyone whose private life is not in accordance with established moral laws poses a threat not only to the public good but also to God and his religion. This creates an environment in which people act on their grievance and resentments, which is illustrated by many characters throughout the story, as they eventually destroy each other in the process. Hysteria is displayed by societies all over the world. It is a crucial aspect in establishing and, in particular, breaking relationships.
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