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The Hysteria in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

Updated August 28, 2022

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The Hysteria in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible essay

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Throughout Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” the idea of hysteria creating moral decay is very strongly presented and links back to the hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism. This idea can be clearly seen through Miller’s interpretation and take on the 1962 Salem witch trials. The hysteria in Salem is very relevant even in today’s modern world. It still exists today and there is still a long way to go before it is completely erased from the world. Which is why the lessons present in Miller’s play are a warning to society for the futures to come and how one little problem can cause a chain reaction that can lead to the disastrous destruction of society.

Three major characters that ultimately cause the resulted downfall in Salem are John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams. John and Elizabeth break into pieces in the face of hysteria. Meanwhile Abigail feeds of the hysteria and uses it remain in power. She makes people turn against one another, destroying the morals that held the society of Salem together. My chosen critics both help back up my hypothesis. My first critics Amal Gouda and Huda Sulieman both cover the idea of social hysteria vs individual dilemma.

My second critic Dr Itishri Sarangi looks at the idea of unexplained hysteria in the crucible. Through these two main ideas covered by my critics, I am able to thoroughly cover and prove my hypothesis. Abigail is ultimately how the hysteria in Salem all begins. She tells Parris about rumors that witchcraft caused Betty to faint. And soon afterward a crowd has already begun gathering downstairs in Parris’s house. Which shows just how unusual it is for something out of the ordinary to happen in Salem and that’s why they’re all curious and they want to know what’s happening.

John Proctor also hears about the witchcraft rumours and he decides to come check it out. When he is left alone with Abigail, he questions her about the town’s rumors of witchcraft. Abigail dismisses them and steps closer to Proctor, and says “it’s all nothing more than mischief”. She tells him that they were dancing and Betty just fainted. John Proctor smiles, and says, “ah, you’re wicked yet, aren’t y’!” Abigail then steps even closer and asks for a “soft word.” She insists he still loves her. Proctor admits he has some feelings for her, but says the affair is over.

Which really hurts her feelings and she starts throwing insults at Elizabeth which then infuriates him. (Act 1 page 17) This shows that Proctor’s outward morality hides his immoral thoughts and actions. However his self-hatred regarding his affair with Abigail actually proves his morality. He hates himself for being immoral but he can’t help it, what’s done is done. My first critic’s idea of ‘social hysteria vs individual dilemma’ specifically evaluates the relationship between Elizabeth Proctor and John Proctor.

The first point my critics have is about how “their relationship, though personal, yet it has been influential in setting in motion the disastrous events which upset the whole community of the 1697 Salem, Massachusetts”. This is very true as John and Elizabeth have a very rocky relationship and they don’t seem to have ever had a strong connection. With their relationship already in shambles it wasn’t very hard for them to get stuck in the middle of the mass hysteria developing in Salem. The main reason behind why they are the ones caught in the middle of all the new hysterical developments in Salem is because of Abigail Williams. Despite Proctor telling her that things are over between them and that he has no feelings for her, she still insists on doing everything in her power to ensure that she will be able to be with him. Abigail uses the hysteria for power and she decides that she won’t just get rid of Elizabeth but she will also blame many other innocent women who she actually doesn’t mind too much.

She more or less just wants power and will do basically do anything to keep it. All this damage caused in the community of Salem causes fear amongst people and they don’t really know what to believe anymore. The newly embedded fear of the individuals turns into hysteria that consumes their whole community. The Salem community is already very fragile and a small thing like rumored witchcraft can do a lot of harm. They even turn against one another because they are so afraid for what is happening to their community and they end up blaming each other for what is happening. Which destroys and crushes the morals to pieces that held the community of Salem together.

The second point my critics make is the idea of moral dilemma for John Proctor. Which is very accurate and is one of the main reasons for the hysteria caused in the community. The strife between the puritanical authority and the individuals is very important to keep in mind throughout the play and has a big part in creating the depth of social hysteria in the community. This is because

The Hysteria in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible essay

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