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Human Nature and Mass Hysteria in The Crucible

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“Hysteria (noun) – exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement, especially among a group of people. Otherwise known as a psychological disorder whose symptoms include conversion of psychological stress into selective amnesia, shallow volatile emotions, and overdramatic or attention-seeking behavior. The term has a controversial history as it was formerly regarded as a disease specific to women.” (Oxford Dictionary). Basic human nature itself has often been found as the root of hysteria over the years. The biggest examples of the effects caused from hysteria by human nature are the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. This historical period is described in The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s allegorical play about the events in Salem, Massachusetts 1692. Human nature makes hysteria possible through group dynamics and social hierarchy. Hysteria is the main motif for the witch trials and the downfall of Salem in The Crucible.

Starting off, human nature is the natural behavior and characteristics humans tend to have, such as the way people act, think, or emotionally feel. Group dynamics play a key role in human nature, and thus hysteria. Similar to the phrase “misery loves company,” people often feel consolation if they know more people are emotionally feeling or behaving the same way they are, whether these emotions are genuine or superficial. Hysteria can be portrayed in the same way. Another example of human nature’s group dynamics commonly occurs at my school, such as when one student starts to verbally and physically express their stress and worry over an exam. Eventually, the anxiety starts to spread amongst other students, and soon multiple students start to panic once they realize everyone else is panicking. Typically, this allows them to feel less alone and that they can’t solely blame themselves if everyone feels unprepared too. So as humans, if one person continues to suspect someone is a witch, it is possible for more people to join in to prevent the feeling of loneliness and isolation in thought. This is how mass hysteria is formed within a community. As shown in The Crucible, the town began to believe the group of girls because people start to believe if there are multiple townsfolk believing the same thing. “There is a misty plot afoot so subtle we should be criminal to cling to old respects and ancient friendships. I have seen too many frightful proofs in court – the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!” (Reverend Hale, Act 2, p. 68) Reverend Hale describes how the mindsets of the Salem townsfolk have been practically brainwashed by the hysteria being spread. Therefore, mass groups believing the same allows human nature to inflict hysteria amongst communities.

Also, human nature is influenced by social hierarchy and reputation amongst a group of a civilization. “The sheer force and power of group dynamics tends to take over, and people get swept up in the symptoms of the crowd. The social hierarchy of the group can also play out in the spread of symptoms. If the ‘popular’ girls faint first, the less-popular will likely follow their lead.” Humans naturally believe if they act or relate to “those at the top of the social ladder” they’ll be treated with the same respect. “Why do you never wonder if Parris be 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!”. Everyone is praising Abigail at a saint-like level and believing everything she and the girls claim, and thus inflicting the beliefs onto themselves. John Proctor is the only one who can think sensibly through the town’s hysteria and knows the girls are lying and “jangling the keys of the kingdom,” or gaining control over the town’s mindsets. In summary, the basic human nature of the townsfolk follows along with the social hierarchy and allows Abigail and the girls to inflict hysterical behavior onto them, therefore leading to the witch trials.

By taking both of human nature’s main factors, which were described prior, it can be shown that hysteria can be easily conceived by the behavior of humanity. As seen in The Crucible, the hysteria the girls have inflicted onto the town have affected the way everyone thinks and behaves. People are quick to believe answers to troubling questions and problems, even if those answers seem downright impossible and illogical. This is naturally how hysteria is built up. When Betty started acting up in the beginning of Act 1, Abigail and the girls managed to get everyone to believe she was cursed by the devil, instead of taking blame for dancing in the woods. “And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!”. Abigail has forced the girls to lie using brute aggression and intimidation, leading up to more townsfolk following them due to their group dynamics. Abigail soon gains more power and more influence during this time, causing even more people to follow her due to the social hierarchy. People had begun to take Abigail’s side and defended her because they either respected her or were intimidated by her. Hysteria from Abigail’s power lead all the way up to the Proctors’ trial in Act 3, as she managed to get Mary Warren to lie and blame John Proctor out of fear and emotional distress. To summarize, The Crucible has Abigail use factors of human nature; group dynamics and the power of social hierarchy, to get out of trouble and ultimately cause mass hysteria in Salem.

In conclusion, human nature affects hysteria in a community through the use of group dynamics and social hierarchy, described in The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s allegorical play in Salem, 1692. These elements are can be shown as the cause for mass hysteria, the main motif of The Crucible. Abigail used the town’s human nature against them and managed to cause mass hysteria, which lead up to the witch trials. The witch trials can fully be seen as historical evidence of the power hysteria and human nature hold over people’s minds. 

Works Cited

  • Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. New York: Penguin Books, 1976. Print.
  • “Hysteria | Definition of Hysteria in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries,
  • Small, Gary. “Mass Hysteria Can Strike Anywhere, Anytime.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Sept. 2010,

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Human Nature And Mass Hysteria In The Crucible. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from
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