“Fear is simply the consequence of every lie”~Fyodor Dostoyevski. Dostoyevski explains that fear and lying come hand to hand. Telling lies creates a fear of being discovered having told a lie. In addition, one only conjures a lie if there is something to hide. Therefore the discovery of secrets also induces fear. Fear, whether it be fear of life, or reputation, can heavily influence the actions of society. It possess the ability to impair the judgement and actions of people. Similarly, in The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the townspeople are completely ruled by fear. This fear is mainly caused by the strict punishments given to those who violate Puritan morals. It also brings along a sense that one must protect his own life and interests. This need for self-preservation leads to widespread denial and in some cases, even the accusation of others. Governed by the terror of Puritanical law, the townspeople learn to fear its consequences and become quick to deny and accuse others of witchcraft to save themselves, which ultimately leads to the tragic death of innocent citizens
Throughout the play, a stifling atmosphere of fear lingers over Salem. This apprehension is caused by the ever-growing possibility of being accused of witchcraft. During this period, even the mentioning of the word “witchcraft” struck a chord of uneasiness into people. Punishment for this crime was severe and “a hanging error” (18). Witchcraft is closely associated with hanging and being accused meant one is on his way to death. In addition, witchcraft, according to Judge Danforth, is considered “ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime”(100). Only “the witch and the victim” (100) may bear witness to the crime and “we must rely upon the victims [to] […] testify”(100). The victims, in this case, are the children. Consequently, with such an unjust method of court, the townspeople’s fears are further augmented. Not only do they fear being accused, they fear that their lives will merely become a switch that a few children can turn on or off at a whim.
Furthermore, they are intimidated by the judge, Danforth. “Near to four hundred are in the jails and seventy-two [are] condemned to hang by [his] signature” (87). His power as a judge allows him to essentially kill people with a flick on his pen and the facility to which he does so is terrifying. Therefore it is hardly surprising that rampant terror resides in the village. Also, the accusation of witchcraft brings one’s reputation into perspective. The fear of having one’s reputation damaged is another key contributor to the village’s overall uneasiness. In the entirety of the play, Parris is paranoid that being associated with witchcraft in any form will deteriorate his position as a reverend.
He fears that “there is a faction that is sworn to drive [him] from his pulpit” (10) and that people may “compromise [his] very character” (11) if his “own household is discovered to be the very center of some obscene practice” (11). In addition, John Proctor not only exhibits fear for his reputation, but fear for his life as well. Proctor fears for his own life because he had an affair with Abigail. Lechery was punishable by hanging. In addition, if others discover his affair, it will dishonor his name. As a result of the strict laws imposed on Puritan society, fear finds its way into Salem, filling every possible aspect of life and leaving no crack overlooked. With nowhere to hide from this terror, the inhabitants of Salem are forced to find refuge in their lies instead.
A fear for existence causes the townsfolk to instinctively prioritize their own well being in an attempt for self preservation. This sense of self preservation naturally induces widespread lying and denial as the townspeople desperately struggle to maintain their own interests, whether they be life or reputation. Being affiliated with witchcraft automatically threatened one’s life and status. Reverend Parris, being the religious leader of Salem, is expected to uphold Puritan ethic, and be an example for the rest of the town. However when his “daughter and niece [are] discovered dancing like heathen in the forest” (10), he fears that his reputation is brought into question because he thinks, that people “will howl [him] out of Salem for such corruption in [his] house” (14). As a result, when the suspicion of witchery comes up, Parris instantly dismisses it and “pray[s] leap not to witchcraft” (14).
Parris’s role as minister means that any association of his that has anything to do with witchcraft is a threat to the security of his position and it is shown that he is quick to deny it. Likewise, Abigail and the girls are trapped in a dilemma. After being discovered summoning charms, they find themselves hounded into a corner by the suspicions that are laid upon them. She and the girls lie about their witchcraft in the woods in an attempt for self-preservation, “Why–common dancing is all” (42). Because calling the Devil is hanging crime, the children deny their witchcraft and claim to have danced in order to lessen their punishment which is another example of preserving oneself. John Proctor is another character whose lying is induced by his life threatening secrets. As he once said, “there are them that will swear to anything before they’ll hang” (69).
Both him and Abigail abide by this precept. In Proctor’s case he denies his former relationship with Abby because it ruins his image in his wife’s eyes and because it is lechery. He tells Abby to “wipe it out of mind” and claims that “we never touched” (23). By denying their affair, it is shown that Proctor fears the consequences that may arise and possesses an innate sense of self-preservation. Abigail on the other hand, goes to even greater lengths to protect herself from the harsh penalties of the law. Her need for self preservation is so strong, that she even lies to the judge, denying that she had an affair with Proctor and that she was previously pretending in court.
When Abigail is asked to confirm her affair with Proctor, she threatens Danforth saying, “If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back again!” (111). This demonstrates that Abigail is aware of her actions but will not admit it for doing so will mark her as a perpetrator of innocent murder. In addition, her denial is influenced by the risk of death by lying to the court. It is evident that the widespread fear in this society is a driving force that compels the characters to behave in ways that will protect their status and lives. However, this denial becomes an issue when others are dragged into the fire.
When denial does not sufficiently channel away the suspicions laid upon them, some characters go so far as to accuse others. This leads to undesirable consequences, such as the loss of many innocent lives, that soon become unstoppable. Mary Warren is one of many characters who point fingers to others in order to save themselves. Characterized as an unsteady, and unconfident person, Mary is easily overcome by the fear of execution. During her testimony to the court, Proctor’s plan to prove Abigail as a witch goes terribly wrong. Rather than rhaving Abigail accused, Danforth charges Mary with lying to the court and she suddenly finds that she has become the victim. As a result, she blames Proctor, “You’re the Devil’s man! I’ll not hang with you! […] you come at me by night and every day to sign […] The Devil’s book” (118). This shows that after being overwhelmed with fear, Mary’s anxiety explodes and she decides to accuse the very person who dragged her into court in an attempt to free herself from the spotlight. Consequently, John Proctor, a man innocent of witchcraft is hung.
More crucial however, are the accusations made by the children. Led by Abigail, the children, at first, pretend to be bewitched because it was considered sport. They soon learn that by doing so, they are exempt from witchcraft as they are considered ‘God’s fingers’. By taking this position, the girls free themselves from accusation and all suspicion which is the ideal position to be in. During Mary’s testimony, Danforth becomes increasingly convinced that she is telling the truth. This places more suspicion on Abigail and the girls. As a result, they resort to accusing Mary Warren of sending her spirit out to them, “Mary, do you send this shadow on me?” (109).
In another instance, while the girls are being questioned about who they saw with the Devil, they proceed to chant out the names of random townsfolk, “I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil! I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil” (48). Furthermore, Abigail herself, partakes in these accusations even while she is outside of court. When Hale presses her with questions relating to her witchcraft, her slave enters “and instantly Abigail points at Tituba” saying, “She made me do it! She made Betty do it!” (43).
Again, Abigail frames someone in order to save her own life. With the blame now in Tituba, she, in return, claimed she saw Goody Good and Goody Osburn with the Devil. These repeated accusations continue unchecked and soon, the entire town is enveloped with an atmosphere of fear. These false accusations also cause the trials to be prolonged. Because of all these accusations, more and more people are sent to court. With the corrupt children as juries, more and more are sentenced to the grave. The extent to which the townspeople go to in order to save themselves ultimately results in widespread injustice and executions.
For the entirety of the play, the townspeople are smothered with an ever-growing atmosphere of fear. With its cold judges, corrupted juries, and severe punishments, it is not surprising that such an element of fear was present in Salem. In return, the people develop an instinct for self preservation which requires denial to achieve. However, such widespread denial and lies result in unchecked accusations. These accusations are often carried through and the fear of death soon spreads. Therefore a never ending cycle of terror is the outcome and the town ultimately gives way to chaos.