Mass Hysteria and Its Portrayal in the Crucible

Categories: The Crucible

Emotions may be just a feeling, however one emotion holds enough power to destroy societies as a whole. Hysteria causes people to do and say things that they normally would not. Events like the Holocaust, the Halifax Slasher, and the Salem Witch Trails showed how hysteria can spread like an infectious disease through a society of people. Hysteria is seen by some as an asset to society, because they say that it can persuade people to cleanse the issues present in society.

However, when everyone is infected with this emotion radical decisions are made and serious consequences are produced. Mass hysteria is detrimental to society due to the fact that it causes fear to erupt over myriad people causing chaos. The extent of chaos was represented in the Salem Witch Trials when 20 people were killed because they were “witches.” Witchery was made to seem as a deadly practice and people began to accuse people who were innocent. Hysteria is an emotion that can engender events such as a witch hunt due to fear erupting over mass groups of people.

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Love and the want of attention can also drive people to spread hysteria which was portrayed in The Crucible. Hysteria can and will be the downfall of a previously successful people and communities.

Fear can be an extreme reasoning for hysteria, when one is put into a frightful situation it can cause them to make radical decisions in order to come out on top. For example, John Proctor feared the blackening of his name in front of the whole town, he worried that would cause him to lose authority and destroy his reputation.

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After committing adultery Proctor feared the secret spreading throughout the whole town. When Abigail Williams, his mistress, brought up the incident Proctor said, “ Aye, but we did not” (Miller 23) ever touch. Proctor tried to convince Abigail the incident never happened, because he didn't want his name and reputation to be blackened. He made the decision to deny the incident, instead of owning up to it, because he wants to prevent this crime from spreading in the town. John Proctor eventually went to jail due to contempt of the court, adultery, and witchery. The day before his execution people tried to convince him to confess to the crimes in order to save his life. He decided to turn himself in in order to save his life, even though he didn’t believe he was guilty. He didn’t want his confession signature displayed in town. He felt that because “God does not need [his] name nailed upon the church!” ( Miller 142). He feared losing his authority and reputation, which is why he didn’t want it to be public. Proctor feared losing power which is why he lied to save his name. The chaos of the Witch Trials caused people to erupt into hysteria in order to save their name. John Proctor showed how far the extent of this emotion of hysteria can be taken and it proved to be his downfall.

Hysteria can cause one to make impulsive decisions and actions. Love is one of the strongest emotions and has the power to cause hysteria among a large group of people. Abigail Williams had strong feelings for John Proctor, John committed adultery with Abigail, when she was working as a housekeeper for their home. Abby tried to convince John their love was real by saying, “You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! He turns abruptly to go out she rushes to him. John, pity me, pity me!” (Miller 24). Abigail was convinced her and Proctor were in love after he committed adultery that one night. Love eventually drove her to accuse Proctor's wife of witchery so she could have him to herself. Abigail was consumed by hysteria and the want to have one thing in specific, Abigail did anything to get her way with John Proctor , Abigail says “ you cannot want to tear my face. Envy is a deadly sin” (Miller 115). Abigail has been blinded by hysteria, her feelings and actions are blurred, she envies Elizebeth Proctor's position with John proctor with her whole heart and would do anything to get her out or killed by the witch trials. Hysteria caused Abigail to make an extreme impulsive decision when she accused Proctor's wife as a witch trying to get her hung in result getting Proctor to herself. Abigail's emotions towards John Proctor caused her to make major accusations and actions due to hysteria that overcame Abigails emotions making her do what's necessary to get John Proctor eve if it means lying that Elizebeth Proctor is a witch and getting her killed.

Hysteria doest alawys affect single people but can affect a whole community like when Abigail Willaims and the groups of girls who were caught in the woods dancing to spirits and calling the devil, the girls than realized if they all confess to it they won't be hung but rather worshiped and respected by all the citizens. The girls would then have the authority to choose who lives and who dies. Tituba is there black slave who was also accused of witchery in the woods with all the other girls but than also realizes if she confesses and lies she will be saved, “I tell him I don't desire to work for him, sir” (Miller 44). They told she will be hung for conjuring the devil, than hysteria set in she blurted out she's been under control by the devil and she can't help herself. Tituba's confession didn't only save her life but it gave her more authority for confessing, she is now not looked at as an object but someone who needs help. Abigail and Betty saw the attention Tituba was getting for her confession and became jealous of it and hysteria set in they both wanted attention so Abigail said “I want the Sweet Love of Jesus! I dance for the devil I saw him I wrote in his book” ( Miller 48), The people around her are shocked than betty awakes and says “I Saw George Jacob with the Devil I saw goody howe with the devil” (Miller 48). Both the girls than receive all the attention they could desire but hysteria was just setting in as than they countied to act like they knew about the devil and accusing innocent people of witchcraft and resulting in 20 deaths during the Salem witch trial. The eagerness to gain attention and authority was caused by hysteria when the girls realized they can lie and be saved but also gain power over others. In this case hysteria caused mass death in a community, just because three girls desired attention and power.

The urge to make unclear choices or actions is a direct cause of hysteria, hysteria can cause one to make decisions they wouldn't make with a clear mind. Hysteria can cause issues all the way from making little lies when your scared to faking being controlled by the devil and killing 20 people. Some of the main reason hysteria was formed in the book was due to fear, love, and need for attention. Those are all common emotions that were turned into extreme measures that could end in death. By taking the events that occured in The Crucible our current society can learn the warning signs and effects of hysteria in order to prevent it from occurring again.

Updated: Feb 25, 2024
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Mass Hysteria and Its Portrayal in the Crucible. (2024, Feb 25). Retrieved from

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