Fear and Mass Hysteria in The Crucible and Arthur Miller’s Views on the Play

Image result for Images of The Crucible

Students studying Year 12 Mainstream English in AOS1: Unit 4: Reading and Comparing Texts will look carefully at many themes in both texts The Crucible a play by Arthur Miller and Year of Wonders a novel by Geraldine Brooks.

An important theme is that of fear and mass hysteria which leads to extreme acts in the play as the human inclination to ascribe blame for pain and suffering to others and then destroy the supposedly guilty party surfaces. In Salem the witch trials are a clear example of mass hysteria, with residents engulfed in a frenzy of accusations.

Briefly What is Causing Fear in The Crucible?

  • In The Crucible Abigail and the group of girls spark fear in the town after being accused of engaging in sacrilegious activities while playing in the forest
  • The people in Salem are convinced that the Devil has arrived and must be driven from his conspirators
  • What begins with a handful of girls dancing in the forest manifests within eight days into a society whose feverish desire to rid itself of an unseen evil allows the suspending of human decency
  • Unfortunately fear leads to a rapidly growing series of accusations against various members of the community
  • Innocent people are labelled witches and forced to confess or suffer death

What does Miller Believe about the Spread of Fear?

  • Miller presents the witch hunt then as a consequence of the hysterical fear that grips citizens when faced with social and religious upheaval
  • Miller seeks not only to explore the evolution of mass hysteria but additionally to delve into what causes individuals to abandon personal loyalties in such times
  • Even justice and reason are sacrificed and religion, which should provide a moral and ethical blueprint, is used to fuel the emerging fear and hysteria
  • The theocratic society in Salem and the power of the state is under threat as individuals begin to question entrenched conservative, Puritan religious values
  • Miller explains this as a paradox as individuals seek greater freedom they become a threat to the religious and political status quo

Arthur Miller was interviewed about why he wrote The Crucible and his thoughts about fear, hysteria and the threat of the Devil in Salem.  See Arthur Miller’s views:

Fear Motivates People to Behave Unscrupulously in The Crucible

As Miller comments (on page 17 of The Crucible in his notes before Act One), that “Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord”.

  • Personal fears instigate some characters to cry witch
  • Reverend Parris fears losing his job provokes him to cry witch and if Abigail is exposed as the fraud she is he will be punished for supporting an illegitimate court procedure
  • Parris also fears that the rebellion in Andover about the hangings will occur similarly in Salem
  • Abigail uses fear of consorting with the Devil in her motives of vengeance against Elizabeth Proctor to accuse her of witchcraft
  • The group of girls do what Abigail says for fear of getting caught so deflecting blame away from themselves is their only option
  • The Putnams use fear and the hysteria of the accusations for self interest in acquiring land from those about to hang
  • Deputy Governor Danforth uses the fear as a reason for his agenda to protect his reputation, the court and the theocracy it serves

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