Fear That Leads to Mass Hysteria

An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Fear is one of the strongest emotions in the world that has driven many civilizations to drastic measures. In May of 1693, we see fear spread rampantly through the citizens of Salem, leading to many hangings and false accusations to save themselves. Later in the 1930s, many Europeans are forced to call out their neighbors to save themselves from Nazi wrath. Even as recent as the 1950s, came the era of McCarthyism, where supposed communists were called out and blacklisted, and many called out their coworkers or friends to save themselves from accusations.

Fear has caused entire societies to briefly look past their morals and act hysterically. In the novel The Crucible, Arthur Miller used Abigail Williams character to show how fear can drive people to many irrational actions that may be against their will, leading to mass hysteria within a society.

The power of fear is a tenacious tool that can be used for many negative things. The one-word definition for this is blackmail. Blackmail is present in The Crucible and plays a major role in the spread of mass hysteria. Once the antagonist Abigail realizes that the town of Salem has suspicions of witchcraft, she goes to her fellow girls and begins to threaten them, saying “We danced…and that is all” leaving out the full truth of what really happened, continued by her menacing threats of “ [Abigail] will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning…” (Miller 20).

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This blackmail is used to force these girls to comply and to save Abigail from the imminent accusations of witchcraft herself. Throughout the whole story, the fear of harsh punishment has led many characters to irrational or immoral actions. Another case of this was present when Mary Waren was about to testify against Abigail for her lies.

After Abigail begins to blame a paranormal activity on Mary Waren, she begins to fear for her own safety and instantly turns on John Proctor, screaming through tears “You’re the devil’s man!”, instantly deflecting the blame and lying to save herself. This shows that when scared for her own fate, Mary instantly cracks under her own pressure and attempts to deflect the blame. This, in turn, sends the whole town into a blame game where mass hysteria erupts from the nature of the situation. People are increasingly more susceptible to manipulation once fear is brought into the equation. When people fear for their own safety or well being, they may do many irrational actions to save themselves from any impending pain, leading to mass hysteria. Paris, the reverend and town “conman” in The Crucible lives his entire life in fear. Because of his many suspiciously questionable actions, he fears someone in the town will be looking for vengeance, and eventually either his job or his head. When he stumbles across his daughter and his niece, along with many other girls, dancing and doing many others odd actions for the time, He begins to interrogate his niece, Abigail, asking “What shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest!” (Miller 10).

Paris is scared for his job and his reputation. Once the accusations come flying, and the girls look like angles in a town of sinners, Paris instantly changes his views and becomes a big proponent of the court. This was clearly because he realized its the safest course of action to follow, even if that isn’t what he truly knows is right. Paris has switched up his opinions many times throughout the story, such as initially thinking witchcraft was some fabled fairytale that he strongly denounced, and then practically forcing many innocent people to be summoned upon the court to profess their dark actions. Another case of people acting out of character, and even lying when put under the pressure of fear was Abigail and the girls’ false confessions when interrogated by Reverend Hale. At the breaking point, Abigail shouts out “I want to open myself…I saw goody good with the devil” (Miller 48) then proceeding into a chorus of girls screaming that they saw almost every woman in the town with the devil.

This shows that once Abigail and her faithful minions realize they are about to be exposed, they begin to blame everyone else and take the attention away from themselves. This is the fear nipping at the back of their minds, slowly taking over their whole brain and driving all rational thoughts out. Fear has this effect on people, it brings out the worst parts of the brain, causing many irrational actions and behaviors, such as this case of instant false confession. Fear is the world’s strongest drug, it can make one act completely characteristically and can drastically change people perception of the world. Arthur Miller uses the character of Abigail Williams to show how the presence of fear within a society can completely change the whole landscape of it. Fear makes foes out of friends, spies out of spouses and traitors out of teammates. Fear causes people to do many illogical and immoral actions to protect themselves from this perceived danger, and can be used as a major tool for manipulation. Fear today is still a strong tactic to bend society to one’s control, as evident by the modern media and its new “passion” for shocking headlines such as every decision made by any world leader is going to lead to eminent world destruction.

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Fear That Leads to Mass Hysteria. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/fear-that-leads-to-mass-hysteria/

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