‘The crucible’, a play written by Arthur Miller is based upon the events surrounding the 1692 witch trials in Salem. The Salem, the witch-hunt was viewed as one of the strangest and most horrendous chapters in human history. People that were prosecuted were all innocent and their deaths were all due to false accusations of people’s ridiculous belief in superstition and paranoia. Throughout The Crucible social status and reputation is shown as the most important thing to the community of Salem. Salem is a small town and by having a higher status can pull you out of trouble. Miller encourages the audience to think critically on the effects that fear can have on human beings and how one person can cause such catastrophe.
The fabricated witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts, ruined the balanced and emotional stability of its citizens. The breakdown in Salem’s social order led to the tragedy which saw twenty innocent people hung on the accusation of witchcraft. Once Tituba starts pointing her finger at individuals the community starts pointing fingers at each other. Through this Miller shows that by being isolated from any group of people with different beliefs created a church led Puritan society that was not able to accept a lot of change. The church was against the devil, at the same time it was against such things as dancing and other premature acts. The reputation of the family was very important to the members of the community. So, when the girls were caught dancing in the woods, they lied not just to protect themselves but reputation of their families. Parris’ fear and paranoia is further shown when he interrogates his niece, Abigail and demands that if she ‘trafficked with spirits, (he) must know it now’ as his position as reverend will be threatened.
Through the character of Parris, Miller suggests that when those in power are consumed by their reputation, cracks can form within society. The girls also claimed that the devil took over them and influenced them to dance so through the girls’ ‘sinning’ in the forest, Miller demonstrates that when reputation and lies infiltrate a group, mass hysteria can be created leading to the uprising of those who once had little power and influence. Miller also shows mass hysteria through the courtroom scene when the girls are accusing people of the town that have been involved in witch craft. Mass hysteria can be seen when the girls are repeating what Mary Warren says and do and therefore this creates an impression to the community in the courtroom that what Mary Warren was depicting is true.
The laws and the systems are designed to protect people and during the trails the accused witch was forced to choose death or imprisonment. A community in a Puritan society like Salem could easily go into a chaotic state and have a difficult time understanding what’s right or wrong. In this case, the people of Salem are likely to lose hope in the law and take matters into their own hands. In The Crucible, Abigail Williams targets John Proctor and his family after he leaves her and ends an affair between the two of them. By taking the law into her own hands, Abigail violates the social system of the community, and at the end it all falls down on her. Miler illustrates this by Proctor’s statement when he attempts to clear his wife of the accusation of witchcraft. ‘She [Abigail] thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! . . . God help me, I lusted, and there is such a promise in sweat. But it is a whore s vengeance, and you must see it’. The crucible was set in a time where men were higher than women however, Miller shows this when Mrs Rebecca is being respected by men in the town and this is shown when Putnam and Proctor are having an argument and Mrs Rebecca joins in and the stage directions say “he defers to her” which shows he respects her. Through this, Miller shows that even within a patriarchal society one’s social status can overcome the system.
The town of Salem falls into mass hysteria when individuals put their self-interest above the wellbeing of others. Miller demonstrates that fear feeds fear. Some citizens of Salem use the charge of witchcraft wilfully and for personal gain. The Crucible shows how religious passion fuels hysteria and leads to conditions that sacrifice justice and reason. 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 struggle between personal freedom and social order has been fought in every society, and in every human heart throughout the ages. The crucible not only highlights the issues faced in a small church loving community but also demonstrates the effects of mass hysteria and fear. This struggle continues today because social order is disregarded in today’s society for one’s reputation. The social breakdown in Salem was the major tragedy in The Crucible. The first was the murdering of many innocent people, and the second was that a community that was once every close had broken apart. It appeared that the people of Salem were likely a family but mass hysteria and a fragile social order made them unable to adapt to troublesome situations.