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The Crucible

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The Crucible

The role that hysteria plays can tear apart a community. Hysteria supplants logic and enables people to believe that their neighbors, whom they have considered understanding people, are committing absurd and unbelievable crimes such as communing with the devil, killing babies, belonging to radical groups, and so on. Arthur Miller exemplifies the idea if hysteria in his play, The Crucible.

In The Crucible, they accept and become active in the hysteria climate not only out of religious piety but also because it gives them a chance to express repressed sentiments and to act on long-held grudges. The most obvious case is Abigail, who uses the situation to accuse Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft and have her sent to jail. Others thrive on this hysteria as well. Reverend Parris strengthens his position within the village by making scapegoats of people like John Proctor who questions his authority. The wealthy, ambitious Thomas Putman gains revenge on Francis Nurse by accusing his wife Rebecca of the supernatural murders of Ann Putman's babies. Throughout Salem, neighbors accuse neighbors and enemies accuse enemies of witchcraft and devilish acts, which eventually leads to a very large group of innocent people being imprisoned and eventually hung.

Arthur Miller used this idea of hysteria to oversimplify the idea of McCarthyism or the paranoia about communism that pervaded America in the 1950's. However, as far as we know, no witches actually existed in Salem, there were certainly Communist in 1950s America. The hysterical parallel exist between the House Un-American Activities Committee's rooting out of suspected communist during the 1950s and the seventeenth-century witch hunt that Miller depicts in The Crucible. As with the alleged witches of Salem, suspected Communist were encouraged to confess their crimes and to "name names," identifying others sympathetic to their radical cause.

Miller's concern in The Crucible is not with whether the accused actually are witches, but rather the unwillingness of the court officials to believe that they are not. In the end, hysteria can thrive only because people benefit from it. It suspends the rules of daily life and allows the acting out of every dark desire and hateful urge under the cover of righteousness.

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