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Arthur Miller’s Representation of Mass Hysteria in The Crucible

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The representation of conflict between individuals within society as a human experience is a powerful technique used by playwrights to engage audiences, by offering a new perspective on the dangers of corrupt political systems encouraging responders to take action against corruption. Arthur Miller’s allegorical play The Crucible (1953) draws chilling parallels between the destructive nature of fear from McCarthyism in the 1950s America and the mass hysteria of the 16th century Salem Witch Trials, exposing conflicting ideologies through the manipulation of ungrounded fear within a threatened community. Miller represents conflict as something that is conducted by individuals to maintain reputation and gain power in a theocratic society of Salem by spreading out mass hysteria. Miller’s representation of conflict as a human experience is a powerful technique as it positions the audience to see the value of individuality, and encourages responders to value their innate capacity for individuals agency with the rejection of political apathy.

In representing a polarised Salem sustained by collective hysteria, Miller condemns an oppressive authority in its endorsement of an individual’s wrongful manipulation of politics for their own personal interests. Miller’s theatrical allegory of the Salem Witch trials to the McCarthy communist hunts in 1950s America, delivers his criticism of the government’s exploitation of individuals’ fear and intolerance towards communism to make audience aware of corrupt nature of political powers. Miller creates dramatic irony throughout the play by showing the innocence of John Proctor, thus criticising the loss of justice within the theocracy of Salem, an allegory to his context of McCarthyism. Through the deliberate interweaving public and private scenes, Miller heightens dramatic tension by positioning the audience to realise the immersion of individuals within the political sphere, and their vulnerability to private interests. The oppression of volition is contextually paralleled to the theocratic system in The Crucible, as seen through the high modality within “a person is either with the court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between”. This mirrors the era of McCarthyism as it represents natural justice as corrupted by ideological absolutism, where Danforth seeks to divert attention away from the failures of the system. By mirroring McCarthyism to The Crucible, Miller depicts the impact domination of private lives by political and legal scrutiny has on individuals within society within the simile “as though he comes into court [Mary Warren and Hale come into Proctors residence]” where Proctor is forced to conform to political powers. The inevitable conformity to power is portrayed through the hyperbole in “I should hang ten thousand that dare to rise against the law and ocean of salt tears”. Danforth’s characterisation mirrors Senator McCarthy in his abuse of power, where Miller aims to warn audiences of the events of oppression yet to come within his society. Through his depiction of oppressive authority in Salem, Miller parallels the ideas to his own context of McCarthyism to inform audiences on the oppressive nature of political concerns.

Miller criticises the corruption of power during the McCarthy era through the political injustice present in The Crucible, represented in the abuse of fear to create mass hysteria and irrationality within Salem in order to encourage the audience to remain vigilant against social disintegration. Miller reflects upon the actions of Senator McCarthy, who promoted social harmony as a façade for the real purpose of social exclusion and the personal desire for power, which caused fear of communism pervasive in American society as relinquishment of moral integrity heightened. Miller exploits the flaws of McCarthyism in which individuals can take advantage of the hysteria, through the characterisation of Abigail Williams as a manipulative opportunist shown by the aggressive tone, “I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and bring a pointy reckoning”. The symbolism of ‘pointy reckoning’ uses the dangers of a knife to represent the dangers of Abigail’s manipulation of the girl’s fear of exclusion wi, laying the foundation of exploiting justice through the lies spoken in court. Miller condemns the rise of McCarthyism and the ‘RedScare’ (1917-1920), and creates dramatic tension through Abigail and Betty’s spiteful exclamations “I saw [Accused Person] with the devil”. This exposes the hysteric realities of mindless conformity due to the fear for their own life, criticising the coercion based on the inversion of power Through the parallels with the McCarthy Era, Miller informs audiences of the social detriments of being traitorous caused by individuals exploiting hysteria.. The sarcasm in “…the girl’s a saint now”, compares Abigail’s influence to religious authority and demonstrates the power and position Abigail has risen to, criticising/ condemning/denouncing the immaturity and hysteria within Salem. Through the exploitation of McCarthyism, Miller warns audiences about the implementation of mass hysteria to cause panic within society and cause individuals to not trust one another, commenting on how his current day society was being manipulated as a result of this.

Miller represents fear as causing not only social oppression but also resistance, as he supports individuals exercising their agency to challenge unjust authorities, thereby encouraging audiences to reject political apathy and conformity by expressing personal integrity. Miller reflects upon his own experiences, where he was called to testify before the House Committee on ‘Un-American’ activities, Miller’s refusal to incriminate others who had allied with him in pro-Communist undertakings is represented in John Proctor as a testament to individuality. John Proctor s a symbol of empowerment , as he is constantly subjugated and marginalised, yet he still rises above the rest of the society because he has maintained integrity, whereas other members who conformed have lost meaning in their lives. Miller manipulated the play’s dramatic structure with authorial intrusions to delineate Proctor’s heroic portrayal as “powerful…not easily lead”, which he juxtaposes with Proctors sins as an adulterer. This multi-faceted characterisation encourages audience by reinforcing the ability for all individuals to exercise moral conscience and political agency. Proctor’s indifference was firm until he was directly affected by the town’s hysteria to which he revealed his high integrity with the fervent outburst, ”I have give you my soul, leave me my name!” Miller advocates for maintaining integrity in our human experience, and never giving up on our beliefs even in the direst moments as in the pathetic fallacy “A new sun is pouring in” he suggests that Proctor’s sacrifice has broken the power of theocracy. This indicates that individual protest can make an impact on politics, providing audiences with hope for the collective human experience if integrity is maintained. By relating to his own experiences of integrity within the period of McCarthyism, Miller gives the audience a sense of hope in recognising the power of individual integrity in breaking the conflict of hysteria and conformity within society. 

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Arthur Miller’s Representation Of Mass Hysteria In The Crucible. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from
“Arthur Miller’s Representation Of Mass Hysteria In The Crucible.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
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