Arthur Miller’s the Crucible explores a town’s hysterical response to reported witchcraft. While the text ostensibly considers the hysteria surrounding this dilemma in early America New England, its underlining themes articulate elements of humanity that are highly relevant to contemporary contexts. Throughout the text writer Arthur Miller’s explores the insanity of Salem through a variety of literary tropes. These tropes are examined in the context of the text through the specific consideration of how greed and revenge, mass hysteria, and superstition, contributed to the insanity of Salem.
One of the primary contributions to the insanity of Salem emerges from the town’s superstition. From the play’s opening scene superstitious elements are witnessed. In reference to a sickness that has struck Betty Parris, Abigail states, “Uncle, the rumor of witchcraft is all about; I think you’d best go down and deny it yourself. The parlor’s packed with people, sir.–I’ll sit with her” (I, 1). Here one witnesses that the town is immediately ready to resort to superstitious explanations for unknown aspects of existence. Other elements of superstition emerge in-terms of the stringent reliance on religious practices. Later in the play Cheever states, “He ploughs on Sunday, sir” (III, 98). This overt reliance on arcane religious principles contributes to shaping the trial and ultimate town hysteria. Ultimately, it’s clear that superstition largely causes the dilemma in Salem.
More of the major elements that contribute to the insanity of Salem are aspects of greed and revenge. One of the major incarnations of greed in the text emerges in Parris’ desire to retain his position in the town. Early in the text he states, “There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit. Do you understand that?” (I, 1). These concerns to preserve his position functions to set in motion many of the factors that will allow the incendiary incidents to occur. Another plot concern in these regards, involves Proctor relationship with Elizabeth and Abigail. In an effort to regain her relationship with Proctor, Abigail acts out of greed and revenge in accusing Elizabeth to be a witch. Elizabeth states, “She wants me dead; I knew all week it would come to this!” (II, 47). This indicates that greed and revenge in terms of political power and relationships prominently factor into the incident that occurred in Salem.
In addition to these earlier concerns, the nature of mass hysteria also greatly contributes to the insanity of Salem. Perhaps the first instance of mass hysteria occurs after the arrival of Reverend Hale. Hale begins to question Abigail and Betty about witchcraft and then respond by accusing many members of the town to be involved. Abigail states, “I saw Sarah Good (Betty’s hands appear above headboard raised toward the heaven.) with the Devil! I saw Good Osburn with the devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil” (I, 33). These accusations will ignite the fire of hysteria. Another instance of mass hysteria in the text occurs in the types of accusations individuals levy towards each other. For instance, Danforth states, “Mister Proctor—did you bind yourself to the Devil’s service?” (II ,42). This resort to sensational and fantastical accusations contributes to the town’s hysteric tone. Ultimately, accusing people through sensational charges of God and the Devil functions to create mass hysteria.
Arthur Miller’s the Crucible presents the cause of insanity in Salem as a result of greed and revenge, mass hysteria, and superstition. In these regards, these elements emerge in religious aspects of superstition that ignite and grow into full-scale hysteria. Complicating these concerns are elements of greed and revenge that shape this mass hysteria. Ultimately, the text is a powerful example of the universal dangers of jumping to conclusions without an objective and rational approach to incident.
Miller Arthur. The Crucible. 1976. New York: Penguin.
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