Is Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible related to hysteria? And how it compares to the story of Lindy Chamberlain? Jordyn Belton explores the deeper understanding of human nature and how we are susceptible to fits of hysteria which supplant logic in return generates an atmosphere of fear.
Hysteria is a term very frequently used to explain a human reaction to a traumatic experience of extreme fear. The settlement of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 witchcraft swept through in return lead to mass hysteria and numerous executions. This was a time the Devil, witches and God were all thought to be true. The Crucible, a well-known play produced by Arthur Miller and the Lindy Chamberlain’s case where Mrs Chamberlain found herself in jail as the media and the public alleged Chamberlain of infanticide. These accusations caused hysteria and controversy between communities of Salem and across Australia. At times extreme cases of hysteria can spiral out of control. This means that hysteria has the power to influence vulnerable communities like Salem. Making seemingly normal and average people think irrationally. Turning neighbour against neighbour. A recent case of mass hysteria is the 9/11 attacks as well as the continuing terrorist attacks since. Sri Lanka in its entirety is another form of hysteria.
The 1692 Salem witch trials came under pressure almost overnight. The cause? Accusations of witchcraft were thrown between citizens of the quiet puritan settlement, known as Salem. An example of hysteria from the past would be the Salem witch trials other forms would be the Nazis. The Salem witch trials was the first mass hysteria of witchcraft and Bridget Bishop (1632 – 10 June 1692) was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in 1692. Although Lindy Chamberlain’s case is from 30 years ago it is still classified as a recent form of hysteria. Humans are prone to fits of hysteria because hysteria is almost contagious. As hysteria is regularly seen when people have very little knowledge of a given issue.
The Crucible is a play, based on a variety of horrific events that led to 19 innocent deaths. The play demonstrates the vulnerability of the town, Salem, and how hysteria brought conflict and division between the people. It is for certain that both jealousy and hysteria are play a huge role and are key themes within Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Salem folk were susceptible to hysteria because of their lack of knowledge, understanding and religious beliefs about the devil and God. And all began with a group of young girls whom were dancing in the forest chanting love spells. They were seen by Reverend Parris and questioned about what they were doing. Fearing they would be punished, they blamed it on the devil, but firstly the blame befell among Tituba a black slave who was said to be working for the devil. In order to save themselves from being whipped they went along with the lie and accused their neighbours out of spite, jealousy or purely for fun. In order to stop the madness from occurring John Procter relieves himself from a heavy burden and told the truth about his affair with Abigail Williams. However, it backfired as John Proctors wife knew and was set to tell the truth and she lied, making his truth about the affair to be dismissed. In response from his ange John Proctor says that ‘they (Danforth and the community) are pulling down heaven and raising up a whore’, as Danforth has allowed Abigail Williams to seize control of the trials. Meaning that the higher authorities are believing a jealous young child who John Proctor had an affair with, now is lying about witchcraft. Miller represents society as an easily broken and delicate, pretty much something that can be destroyed by mass hysteria through authoritarianism and witlessness. As you can see, misconstruing hysteria and the power it has effects civilisation both past and present.“You are pulling down heaven and raising up a whore” ― John Procter by Arthur Miller, the Crucible, Page 96
Jealousy plays a major factor in the very beginning of The Crucible. Abigail Williams, the antagonist of the play, causes the start of the widespread moral panic. Jealousy was the start of hysteria and the accusations, as Abigail Williams was accusing all the respected women in the town beginning with her unrequited lover’s (John Proctor) wife, Elizabeth Proctor. This gave Abigail Williams a sense of empowerment in a community based in status and a community that views her as a low classed citizen. The theocratic society driven by religion is destroyed because characters like Abigail William’s benefits from the empowerment of her actions has given. She feels a sense of power when accusing the women in her town. As a result, Abigail Williams’s actions and accusations cause great disharmony and mistrust within the small town engulfed in hysteria.
In the Lindy Chamberlain’s case hysteria originates from the public as media depicts Lindy Chamberlain as a villain. The media immediately accuses Mrs Chamberlain for the murder of her 9-week-old baby Azaria, as the public were intolerant to believe a dingo could have possibly killed the young infant. Trial by media can be a very conflictive situation especially in Lindy Chamberlains case. As the media instantly depicted the Chamberlains family as cold-hearted because they didn’t show much emotion the whole time. This positions the reader to believe that Lindy Chamberlains behaviour to the situation didn’t help her case whatsoever. As the audience was led to believe a typical stereotype of a mother in this condition to be overwhelmed and almost hysterical. It was suspected that the reason for Azaria’s death was that Lindy Chamberlain was jealous of her baby; as she had post-natal depression.