Hysteria in Salem Witch Trials Essay

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Hysteria is an overwhelming fear causing distress, that overrides logic and is often heightened and augmented by the presence of others who are acting out on that fear as well, it may be perceived by one person in society and spread amongst all, therefore tearing apart a community, making everyone question the truth. In Arthur Miller’s notable play, the Crucible, individuals undergo a dramatic transformation when the widespread fear of witchcraft overwhelms logic and individual thought. Anyone having a different perspective than the government or church officials is suspected of siding with the Devil. This paranoia is a main factor that fuels the Salem witch trials, where not all the accused members are guilty, but convicted wrongfully. Many townsfolk benefit from the outbreak of the hysteria as it gives them a chance to express their repressed sentiments and to act on their long-held grudges. However, not all become prey to irrational fear as they remain true to their own beliefs. In the beginning of the Salem witch trials, Hale fails to distinguish between the truth and the deception created by the citizens of Salem about the existence of witchcraft. He exhibits determination and a sense of righteousness by taking the initiative to meet the accused, he realizes that innocent people have been victimized, therefore to amend his mistakes he defies authority risking his position in court. In contrast, John Proctor is not deceived by anyone throughout the trials, even when he is declared guilty of witchcraft with his wife, as well, he is asked to accuse others to save his life, but Proctor can identify the hypocrisy of the townspeople when his wife is summoned to the court based on false charges made by young girls. The mass hysteria spread during the Salem witch trials exposes the lies and deceit tied with it, while Proctor remains true to his beliefs, Hale changes using his moral judgment, as the beliefs of the court are challenged the hysteria comes to an end, changing the outlook of life in Salem.

John Proctor and Reverend Hale are exploited by Abigail Williams and Mary Warren, as they aim to change their perception of others and make them vulnerable through deceptive tactics. Throughout the play various people are accused of witchcraft by community members they have known all their lives, depicting that the people of Salem are divided on the issues of what is fact and what is fiction, but most are confused when it comes to who is telling the truth. During the chaos, Reverend Hale arrives in town, being a young minister reputed to be an expert on witchcraft, and is summoned to examine Parris’s daughter Betty. His good intentions and sincere desire to help the afflicted motivate him. Unfortunately, Hale becomes vulnerable, due to his enthusiasm for discovering witchcraft, which allows others, particularly Abigail, to manipulate him. Consequently, Hale sincerely begins believing in the existence of witchcraft as he declares; '…No man longer doubts the powers of the dark are gathered in a monstrous attack on this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it…” (Miller 61). Since the amount of evidence for witchcraft present when Hale arrives in Salem overwhelms him, therefore he makes inaccurate judgments with the illusioned truth, because when he begins questioning Abigail about conjuring evil spirits, she blames Tituba. Then, continues to accuse other citizens to avoid suspicion of being a witch, in the meantime realizing that her accusations are being taken seriously. So, she cleverly admits her guilt in a public setting, to receive absolution and then completes her self-cleansing by passing her guilt on to others easily committing Hale to believe in the existence of bewitchment in Salem. Overall, unconsciously Hale sets the hysteria in motion, as he devotes himself to his faith and work, to cleanse Salem of witchcraft. On the other hand, Proctor is also manipulated, by Mary Warren, his unfaithful servant. Mary promises John Proctor to testify against Abigail and prove his wife’s innocence, as she is falsely accused of witchcraft by Abigail Williams. She is fully aware of Abigail’s schemes and plotting, but still chooses to side with her. Proctor is used to having her obey him quickly and without question, therefore his disbelief in Mary’s false story is evident when he reminds her; “Mary, God damns all liars!” (Miller 108). Mary does not assert herself until she is empowered by her position in the court, it is when she completely denies Proctor’s claim about Abigail. Mary has a chance to save an innocent Elizabeth Proctor, who has been taken away by the town’s justice system but refuses to comply, due to her selfishness. Procter is deceived by Mary Warren, who only conforms to Abigail. She protects her own life and maintains her relationship with the other girls, rather than revealing the truth. Mary does not want to be accused of being a witch; she fears it and avoids it at all costs. Proctor realizes that his trust has been exploited. Although is the only person from the beginning to contradict the false accusations of witchcraft on the other citizens, Proctor becomes helpless when he is accused of influencing Mary to practice witchcraft. Overall, the struggle of both characters is evident as they are manipulated, Proctor tries to free himself of Mary’s trap but fails to, similarly, Hale is tricked into the web of lies crafted by Abigail, as it clouds his judgment.

In the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts during the hunt for witches, Proctor and Hale face difficulty in maintaining a sense of righteousness when their principle conflicts with the strict Christian doctrine. Afterward, the court accuses people of conjuring evil spirits, Hale begins to doubt the validity of his decisions. To gain a better perspective of the people who were accused of siding with the devil, he visits John Proctor’s home. Hale then admits that he is a stranger to Salem and is ignorant of those citizens accused of witchcraft before they enter the court. Furthermore, the purpose of his visit is to understand whether recently accused citizens are involved in witchcraft before they stand trial, as his uncertainty towards the orders of the court is apparent, during the trial of Elizabeth Proctor, when he protests against the judge; “I cannot say he is an honest man; I know him little. But in all justice, sir, a claim so weighty cannot be argued by a farmer. In God’s name, sir, stop here; send him home and let him come again with a lawyer” (Miller 92). Reverend Hale finds the fact that a farmer’s wife being accused of witchcraft is suspicious. Hale conforms to the authority figures but is also unable to comprehend the fact that Elizabeth Proctor is involved in practicing witchcraft. His inner struggles begin to reveal when he visits the Proctor’s house and then pleads in court to allow them to get a lawyer. Hale relies on logic and his questioning of both Elizabeth and John based on their religious beliefs reveals that while Proctor may not be the sincerest Puritan, Elizabeth is certainly a reputable woman. Therefore, the emergence of morality in Hale is evident, as he does not feel restricted to affiliate with the court’s orders or the young girls’ accusations, since he attempts to further expand his understanding of the situation by meeting the accused before the Salem witch trials, to differentiate between right and wrong. In contrast, Proctor’s moral integrity does not allow the Salem witch trials to conquer him, as they did to others. He decides to remain true to his claims throughout the proceedings of the court, as he is convicted of being involved in witchcraft. Proctor does not falsely accuse any other citizens of Salem, to save his own life even after, being pressurized by Hale and the members of the court. Additionally, being offered the opportunity to make a public confession of his guilt and life, Proctor almost succumbs, even signing a written confession that would be posted on the church door, but then he refuses saying; “I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now, I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs. Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart, and sink them with it!” (Miller 133). Proctor’s action reflects his true self and values. He does not save his life, but instead takes a stand, declining to plead guilty by providing a false confession. Such a confession would dishonor his fellow prisoners, who are brave enough to die as a testimony to the truth, perhaps, a false admission would also disgrace him, staining his reputation and soul. He portrays solidarity as well, by rising for those people that were wrongfully convicted in court. In conclusion, Reverend Hale transforms, as he conflicts with his conscience to remain true to his moral integrity, while Proctor faces personal conflict when deciding between saving his own life, for personal integrity, both the characters struggle but can maintain their sense of morality.

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John Proctor and Reverend Hale are two major characters who rise beyond the hysteria and rebel against the authority figures during the witch trials. As the struggle made by Hale is evident when he begins to doubt his own beliefs and the outcome of his choices. He questions the decisions of the court after he visits Proctors’ house. Since, after gaining perspective of their situation he becomes convinced to change his biased approach towards the accused people. The trials severely test Hale's faith and understanding. He acknowledges that girls have manipulated his own irrefutable beliefs, while also grasping the fact that he has sent innocent people to their deaths. After this realization, Hale’s belief in witchcraft is weakened, as well as his faith in the law. Henceforth, Hale boldly defends the Proctors’ in court exclaiming, “Excellency, it is a natural lie to tell; I beg you, stop now before another is condemned! I may shut my conscience to it no more private vengeance is working through this testimony! From the beginning, this man has struck me as true. By my oath to Heaven, I believe him now…” (Miller 105). Hale has now dedicated himself to fighting for justice, he attempts to persuade the court members to reconsider their decision upon convicting people of witchcraft, especially the Proctors’ based on the witness of unreliable sources. Initially, Hale blindly conformed to members of the court, he was anxious to root out all disorderly elements in Salem and convinced that harmful supernatural forces are tempering with people because he was influenced to believe in a lie all along by Abigail and other people that fueled the trials with their vengeance. Afterward, Hale realized the falsehood of the court's accusations, and he made a dramatic shift in his dependency on the justice system, by refusing to allow the authority figures to influence what he believes in. Hale achieves his liberation by disregarding their judgments. Similarly, John Proctor identifies the hypocrisy of the court members. He defends his wife against the authority that hangs people based on false accusations of young girls. He begins understanding the unfair treatment when, Reverend Hale visits his house, informing them that Elizabeth was named in court, Hale also questioned Proctor about his poor attendance in church and asked him to recite the Ten Commandments. It was unnecessary to judge the deeds of an individual in society based on their faithfulness to religion, although it was extremely important in Salem. Then, Ezekiel Cheever arrived at the Proctor's house and discovered a poppet with a needle inside it, he immediately concluded that it was used to commit a sinful act by Elizabeth, without giving it a second thought. He stated that Abigail charged Elizabeth with attempted murder, as she was stabbed with a needle therefore, she accused Elizabeth's spirit of stabbing her. In disbelief and anger, Proctor ripped the warrant out of Cheever's hand, and ordered him to leave his home while saying, “If she is innocent! Why do you never wonder if Parris is innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem-vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrants vengeance! I’ll not give my wife to vengeance!” (Miller 73). Proctor proves that he opposes authority because it is irrational, present to only protect the unfair, undeserved rights and privileges of the few gained at the expense of the many. He explains that the magistrate has been blindly trusting Abigail and other accusers, instead of understanding both sides of the story. John Proctor vocalized the facts and acted on what he believed in because the decisions of the court were based on the personal agendas of a few citizens who had been expressing their resentment towards the innocent like Elizabeth. Proctor discovered the difference between justice and revenge. By protesting for his wife and against the court, Proctor set an example for other citizens to take a stand. The people of Salem could follow Proctor’s and Hale’s footsteps, as they became responsible for leading the people that were innocent, but unheard and accused to defend themselves. In brief, Hale and Proctor both acted against injustice rather than quietly accepting the unfair treatment.

Reverend Hale and John Proctor prove their loyalty to their beliefs by sacrifice, the suffering that they endure reflects the sacrifices they make for their values. Beginning with, Hale’s guilty conscience thoroughly affects him. He arrives in Salem with his pride of being knowledgeable about witchcraft, and overly confident about his abilities. Hale reconsiders his views on the presence of evil in Salem. Lastly, he recognizes that innocent people are being wrongfully convicted in court of conjuring evil spirits. Reverend Hale then proves his dedication to bring awareness to the town of Salem about the false accusations, causing a hysteria being spread, and disrupting the social order. As Proctor is blamed in court for influencing Mary Warren to take part in witchcraft and conjure evil spirits, Hale rebels against the court and pleads for Proctor’s innocence. However, he is ignored, and Procter is convicted to be hanged. As a result, Hale says; “I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court!” (Miller 111). Hale sacrifices his position, to show that he stands against the ruthless conduct of the court. Even though the court still proceeds with its decision, he cannot sign more death warrants if he has any shred of doubt about the validity of these convictions. Danforth is slightly taken aback by Hale’s actions. Hale does not participate in the corruption of the court. After Hale was summoned to Salem, his eagerness and insistence on uncovering facts made it impossible for him to overlook the evidence indicating that those condemned of witchcraft in Salem were innocent. However, he was never motivated by greed or personal gain, as he intended to discover and cleanse any sign of evil in Salem. Afterward, he observed the girls in their witchcraft act, pretending to see a bird cold. Hale understands that that neither John nor Elizabeth are witches instead they are being falsely blamed, so, by denouncing the court, he publicly accepts that he condemns the occurrences in the court and that he discredits them completely. His real journey for the truth begins when he tries to seek the truth within himself which prompts him to alienate himself from this system by risking his position in court and defending the victims. Hale understands change sometimes requires the highest sacrifice; therefore, he is willing to achieve it by quitting the court. Hale’s determination to make a difference for the better plays a big role in ending the mass hysteria of Salem. He does not compromise his principles to protect his position in the Salem court. In comparison, John Proctor’s patience and sense of values are also tested when Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft, because of his mistakes. It was the ultimate trial of determination and willpower to withstand such a wretched ordeal. First, John brings his servant, Mary Warren, to court to confess that she and the other girls are lying. However, the magistrates doubt her and continue to believe the lies of Abigail Williams, John becomes desperate, and he confesses to his sexual relationship with her and his embarrassment is evident when he says, “I have made a bell of my honor! I have rung the doom of my good name- you will believe me, Mr. Danforth! My wife is innocent, except she knew a whore when she saw one!” (Miller 103). To make it clear that Abigail’s motives are corrupt, Proctor decides to reveal his alleged relationship with Abigail when asked to prove his wife’s innocence in court. Proctor achieves the courage to confront his guilt-ridden conscience proving his stance against the rules of theocracy because the government of Salem is corrupt and there is no justice to protect the people of Salem. Proctor realizes that the witch trials are merely Abigail's attempt to avenge herself against him for ending their affair, before the trial, he had been reluctant to make this confession which would sully his good reputation, but his sense of what is right and his love for his wife supersede his sense of self-preservation. Usually, Proctor puts a great emphasis on the value of one’s name but when he is faced with the choice of either saving his reputation or his wife, he chooses her. To summarize, John Proctor and Reverend Hale play a crucial role during the Salem witch trials, by making sacrifices to achieve justice.

In conclusion, the irrational fear about the presence of the devil in the town of Salem, spreads like wildfire, revealing the schemes and plots that test the principles of Proctor and Hale. While Proctor stays honest to his claims and integrity, Hale transitions throughout overcoming his internal conflicts, as they both struggle through the complications of challenging the decisions of the court, but it results in ending the disturbance created by the hysteria, changing the views of townspeople. Hale and Protect both commit themselves to returning the goodness, as they remain true to their beliefs, with their act of self-sacrifice, which is mainly intended to exterminate the real evil inherent in Salem society. In the beginning, Proctor becomes vulnerable in court due to the lies of Mary Warren, as she falsely blames him for conjuring evil spirits, but then he overcomes the fear of manipulation, risking his reputation Proctor reveals his alleged affair with Abigail Williams to prove that her corrupt intentions fueled the hysteria. He also sacrifices his life to prove solidarity with the other victims, as well, he succeeds in remaining true to his moral integrity by defeating the odds to do what is right since not many citizens can defend the truth. Hale succumbs to the authority figures and is easily persuaded by the false testimony of Abigail, with the existence of overwhelming evidence that proves witchcraft. Soon after, Hale faces moral ambiguity with his own decisions and unconsciously begins doubting his actions, so to gain further perspective about the accused he visits the Proctors’ household, where he discovers the reality. Since Hale is portrayed as being an honest authority figure, he begins contradicting the position of the court believing that it is unjust to innocent people. Therefore, he sacrifices his position as an authority in court to protest against their actions. Overall, Proctor remained true to his beliefs and Hale unintentionally contributed to the condemning of innocent townspeople but began to suffer the guilt. As a result, their actions lead them into a quest for justice, which they successfully achieve in their separate ways.

Work Cited

    1. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. New York: Penguin Books, 1976. Print.
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