What Is The Hysteria In The Crucible

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In a 1999 lecture, Arthur Miller described the height of McCarthyism as “being trapped inside a perverse work of art, one of those Escher constructs in which it is impossible to know whether a stairway is going up or down” (Clapp 366).” Miller spoke of his play, The Crucible, in that lecture, and the confusion he felt at the hysteria of the time. The history and the play parallel each other so much that it makes them inseparable in analysis. The Crucible, in respect to the McCarthy era, becomes a fun house mirror that distorts yet reveals a truer nature of the source. This kind of reflection appears in the corresponding attitudes, beliefs, and conditions that allow for and breed the hysteria living in late 17th Century Salem, and 1950's America.…show more content…
This hysteria becomes fueled by the opportunism in people like Abigail, and the willingness to remove any person who might pose a threat to the state in the form of swift prosecution and even execution. Miller highlights this edge of the hysteria, revealing in the second act that “the Deputy Governor promise hangin’ if they’ll not confess… and if they howl and scream and fall to the floor- the person’s clapped in the jail (Miller 56).” He also speaks of the fear in the state of a perceived enemy in the people, particularly through Judge Danforth. In the final moments of the play, Danforth refuses to appeal his decisions under overwhelming evidence, remarking that “postponements now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt.” The hysteria of the people fuels a state which senses a waning power, and the state acquiesces to the hysteria. In the McCarthy era, the Cold War ignited a fear of destruction in the people pointed at communist rivals. In Salem, a puritanical fear of the devil caused panic pointed at those not necessarily pious enough for the theocracy. In both cases, there stands the idea of fear projecting onto a convenient
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