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In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, hysteria is an outlet for animosity people hold against their neighbors. This emotional instability allows for unrestricted deep human jealousy and sentiments embodied in the form of accusations. For instance, hysteria causes Abigail to accuse Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft, the Putnams to accuse Rebecca Nurse of killing Mrs. Putnam’s babies, and Mary Warren to accuse John Proctor of consorting with the devil.
Abigail’s hysteria is exemplified when she attacks others out of primal emotions such as in her response to Reverend Parris, “‘[Elizabeth Proctor] hates me, uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. It’s a bitter woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman!'” (Miller 12). Abigail uses loaded language as she says “slave” and “sniveling” when speaking of Elizabeth, which demonstrates her intense hostility. Abigail’s jealousy of Elizabeth instigates the entire witch hysteria, which later leads her to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft. Abigail’s scheme for accusing Elizabeth of witchcraft is mentioned by Hale as he says, “Abigail were stabbed tonight; a needle were found stuck into her bellyâ€¦and she charges [Elizabeth]” (76). Abigail is so hysterical that she stabs herself with a needle in her abdomen so that she can charge Elizabeth with attempted murder. With the power gained by hysteria, Abigail and the other girls can now annihilate the lives of others with a simple accusation, and even the rich and powerful of the town are not safe.
Mr. and Mrs. Putnam are probably influenced by hysteria the most, since their greed and jealousy significantly tie in with the effects of hysteria. As Elizabeth protests, “‘You will never believe, I hope, that Rebecca trafficked with the Devil'” (64), Rebecca Nurse is held in remarkable respect by most of the townspeople, but still suffers the ill effects of hysteria when she is accused of witchcraft by the Putnams. Only Ruth survived of all the eight children that Mrs. Putnam gave birth to, so Mrs. Putnam is convinced that her seven other babies were murdered in supernatural ways for which she accused Rebecca. Next, Mr. Putnam is affected by hysteria as he holds a grudge against Francis Nurse, since “Nurse’s clan had been in the faction that prevented Bayley’s taking office” (26). From that, Mr. Putnam accepts and becomes active in the hysterical environment not only out of authentic religious piety, but also because it gives him an opportunity to act on long-held resentment. This resentment of the Nurse’s clan originates in the role they played in preventing Bayley, his brother in law, from being elected to the office of minister. Due to hysteria, Mr. Putnam makes use of the witch trials to increase his own prosperity by accusing people of witchcraft and acquiring their land. The Putnams both possess resentment toward the Nurse family, causing them to accuse Rebecca Nurse of murdering their babies.
Mary Warren is affected by hysteria as she is unable to persevere under the pressure she is facing in the courtroom. Mary Warren cannot persist after Abigail yells, “‘The wings! Her wings are spreading! Mary, please, please, don’t, don’tâ€¦She’s going to come down! She’s walking the beam'” (117). Abigail and the girls act hysterically as though hypnotized, and imitate the exact tone of Mary Warren’s voice. Abigail keeps watching the “bird” above and pretends that the “bird” is attacking her and the other girls. Mary Warren seems to become infected with the hysteria of the other girls and starts screaming with them. The hysteria of the town not only empowers the girls, making them invulnerable to attack, but allows them, as a group, to successfully turn the blame on anyone they want. When Proctor tries to touch Mary Warren, she dashes away from him and yells, “[John Proctor is] the Devil’s manâ€¦My name, he want my name. ‘I’ll murder you.’ he says, ‘if my wife hangs! We must go and overthrow the court.’ he says!” (119). Rather than continuing to side with Proctor and the truth, Mary realizes the unstoppable force of hysteria and gives in. Ultimately, hysteria acts as a catalyst for Mary Warren to accuse Proctor of consorting with the devil and pressuring her to join him in his evil ways.
Hysteria allows the characters’ inner suppressed jealousy and animosity for others to appear in the form of accusations. Abigail accuses Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft, Mr. and Mrs. Putnam accuse Rebecca Nurse of murdering their babies, and Mary Warren accuses John Proctor of consorting with the devil, all of which are manipulated by hysteria. As hysteria was a significant motivation for action in the characters in The Crucible, hysteria still appears today in our media, overshadowing facts and eradicating hopes for an honest debate or investigation. As it was in the past, hysteria continues to be a primary motivation for irresponsible action everywhere in society.
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