Theodore Roosevelt once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” What is fear? Fear can be a noun or a verb. In the noun form, it is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. In the verb form, it is to be afraid of someone or something that is dangerous, painful, or threatening. If one person looks into fear, then that person becomes feared. But imagine a whole society or community looking into fear. The fear not only gets larger as it spreads, but it also gets more fearful than it already is. The power of fear can be displayed in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and in Ronald Oakley’s “The Great Fear”.
As fear moves on from one mind to the next, it leaves the victim panicked and paranoid about everything that revolves around him or her. This “symptom” is known as hysteria. In The Crucible, the hysteria greatly affected the people of Salem. As well as “The Great Fear”, the whole world was in chaos and turmoil due to mass hysteria. The consequences that followed were innocent people became accused and were persecuted (affected victims), self control and limits to go out of hand (people behaved hysterically), unjustified trials and judgments or accusations to be declared (pressures), and superiors to become defied (misuse of power).
One of the results that hysteria developed in both The Crucible and “The Great Fear” was that innocent people became victims and had to suffer greatly. The most sympathetic victim in The Crucible is John Proctor. John Proctor was not an entirely innocent man because of his lechery with Abigail Williams. His credibility was extremely low and not trustworthy and therefore, he dealt with many hardships and was hesitant for a period of time to reveal the truth. But when he does go to court with Mary Warren, hoping that he would end all the madness, she betrays him and accuses him of being the “Devil’s man”. In the end, he wasn’t able to save Salem and was hanged. “…Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!” – John Proctor (Miller 995).
Instead of living a lie and surrendering into the chaos made by Abigail, he chose death to protect his pride and honor. In “The Great Fear”, many government employees, professors, journalists, actors/actresses, and other private citizens suffered because of McCarthy. For example, the Truman administration was one of the sympathetic victims. “He constantly harassed the Truman administration with his wild charges of incompetence and treason…” (Oakley 203) All these accusations against Truman left it in a no-recovery state for the communism-in-government issue. Another victim that McCarthy aimed for was the movie industry. The HUAC began a series of investigations and hearings on communist infiltration of the movie industry in Hollywood. Blacklists were circulated of anyone who seemed suspicious of communism. 500 people found their name on blacklists and actors like Will Greer and Jeff Corey were never able to work again.
Another consequence of hysteria was that people could not control their fear and behaved hysterically. In The Crucible, the girls (Abigail, Betty, Mary Warren, and Mercy Lewis) caused the hysteria in Salem. They did pretenses, like they saw the “yellow bird” or other spectral evidence and screamed in court whenever they were near the accused. “I’ll fly to Mama. Let me fly! [She raises her arms as though to fly, and streaks for the window, gets one leg out.]” – Betty Parris (Miller 919). Betty pretended to be bewitched and tried to “fly to her Mama” to make it more realistic. In “The Great Fear”, McCarthy’s Wheeling speech made the audience panic. He said that “I have here in my hand a list of 205 – a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party…” (Oakley 201). The public was stunned when it read of these accusations. As the panic spread, people started to agree to take loyalty oaths and gave McCarthy donations because they believed him.
The hysteria also led to the pressures of unjustified hangings and blacklisting. In Salem, people were being accused without solid proof and the court couldn’t believe their hearings because their minds were manipulated by Abigail’s wily tricks. The townspeople became worried and pressured because more and more people were being sentenced to hang each day. Therefore, they felt the urge to name names of other people in order to save their own lives. For example, when Putnam says that Tituba should be hanged, she says “No,no, don’t hang Tituba!…” (Miller 931) and she starts to confess four names that she “saw with the Devil”. In “The Great Fear”, people were afraid that their names might appear on blacklists. Blacklists prevented them from obtaining a job. “Some appeared before HUAC and name names of colleagues who were communists or suspected communists or who had tried to recruit them for the cause.” (Oakley 214). People were afraid of becoming corrupt and penniless so they were pressured to name names.
In both The Crucible and “The Great Fear”, leaders, who had the chance to turn the hysteria around, misused their power and made the situation worse. In The Crucible, Danforth was the highest magistrate in the court of Salem. He gained power by signing his signature to hangings and sentences to jail. “And do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails from Marblehead to Lynn, and upon my signature? And seventy-two condemned to hang by that signature?” – Danforth (Miller 959). However, despite his power as a judge, Danforth was bias and only endeavored to look at the victim’s perspective, not the accused. He was persuaded by all of the daft accusations and pretenses.
In addition, he took advantage of his power in court which made it easier for him to accuse people guilty. In “The Great Fear”, McCarthy abused his powers. He didn’t want to end the hysteria; he wanted to attract national publicity and enhance his chances for reelection. He gained immense power through public attention. “As McCarthy’s fame grew, he became more vituperative and reckless…” (Oakley 205). McCarthy successfully made his audience to believe him through imaginary documents about imaginary people and imaginary events. “McCarthy was a master at using inflammatory rhetoric that obscured his lack of facts, stuck in the minds of his listeners, and made newspaper headlines.” (Oakley 205).
In conclusion, Arthur Miller and Ronald Oakley both presented the powers of fear through their works. As hysteria works its way through people’s minds, it destroys the sense of humanity and replaces it with madness. It causes people to think that the normal things are abnormal and unusual because their minds are consumed by what majority thinks of what is crazy and what is normal. In The Crucible and “The Great Fear”, they represent how people reacted towards hysteria, how innocent people suffered because of the hysteria, ridiculous punishments to be issued, and how leaders responded towards the hysteria. “Much Madness is the divinest sense.” – Emily Dickinson.
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