Fear in The Crucible

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  • 0:04 Irrational Fears
  • 0:52 Fear or Evil
  • 1:36 Fear of Being Caught
  • 2:35 Fear of Being Alone
  • 3:30 Fear of a Bad Reputation
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In the Arthur Miller play, 'The Crucible,' fear runs rampant through Salem, Massachusetts, resulting in unreasonable accusations and ridiculous behavior. In this lesson, we will learn more about the part that fear plays in 'The Crucible.'

Irrational Fears

In the early 1980s, fundamentalist Christian groups attacked many of the most popular rock musicians of the time with accusations of backmasking, or sending subliminal messages that can be understood if their records are played backwards. The fear of children being exposed to messages of suicide, drugs, sex, and Satanism led to record burning, protests, and law suits, despite the fact that subliminal messages have never been proven effective.

This is just one example of how fear can create an unreasonable panic that drives people to think and act in ways that are not logical. In the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller, there are many different reasons why the people feel afraid. Let's look at ways that fear drives bad behavior in this play.

Fear of Evil

The townspeople in the play are terrified that the Devil resides within the forests surrounding their village and is looking for an opportunity to prey on the citizens. When Ruth becomes ill, it's assumed that the Devil has possessed her. Reverend Parris sends for an expert in another town to help identify and rid the village of the evil presence, but the people are scared.

Another character begs Reverend Parris to speak to the people to calm their fears. 'Let you strike out against the Devil, and the village will bless you for it! Come down, speak to them - pray with them. They're thirsting for your word, Mister! Surely you'll pray with them.' The fear of evil is what drives the townspeople to hysteria and irrational thinking.

Fear of Being Caught

But the townspeople in the play exhibit more than just a fear of evil. There is also a fear of being caught. Young friends, Abigail, Mary, Ruth, Betty, and Mercy, were dancing around a boiling pot and casting spells that Tituba, Reverend Parris' slave from Barbados, had taught them. Abigail drank blood and wished for her lover's wife to die. When Reverend Parris caught them, Betty and Ruth fainted.

In Salem during that time, had they been caught in what they were doing, they each would have been hanged or whipped, but because of her fear of punishment, Abigail forced the other girls to put the blame on Tituba and hide the rest. Abigail orders, 'Now look you. All of you. We danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam's dead sisters. And that is all. 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.'

Fear of Being Alone

The play also touches on people's fear of being alone. Abigail is fired by her lover's wife, Elizabeth, when she finds out about the affair. Abigail is jobless, heartbroken, and concerned about her reputation. Not only does she drink blood in the forest in a spell to get rid of Elizabeth, she goes to her lover, John, and pleads with him to come back to her. She scolds, 'I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near! Or did I dream that? It's she put me out, you cannot pretend it were you. I saw your face when she put me out, and you loved me then and you do now!'

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