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The Crucible – The Dark Side of Man
When does innocence change into the darker side of human imagination? Arthur Miller's, The Crucible portrays the dark side of man that is fueled by suspicion. The setting of Puritan Massachusetts in the 17th century was a crucial part of the story, but what occurred could happen at any time in history with the same effect. Mass hysteria can break out at any time in history no matter what progress is made through time. The Puritan ideal was broken with Salem witchcraft scandal and nearly four hundred years later, the comfortable ideals of Americans were shattered again with McCarthyism in the 1950's. Mass hysteria that is left unchecked exposes the flaws in a society where citizens do not live up to the standards they have set for themselves and brings about an air of suspicion that affects everyone.
In times of mass panic, anything unknown becomes the object of suspicion. People begin to look at the normal way of live and everyday habits take on a more sinister aspect. In the Puritan times of Miller's play, children playing in woods are cause of concern: "My own household is discovered to be very center of some obscene practice. Abominations are done in the forest" (11) and marks the beginning of the mass hysteria, which takes hold of the town of Salem. Distrust forces the community to be on the defensive. The suspicion causes lying and exaggerates of innocent "No one was naked! You mistake yourself, Uncle!" Abigail cries to Parris in terror at his accusations (11). The girls innocent playing in the woods is turned into suspicious acts that Abigail has to defend, "We did dance, uncle, and when you leaped out of the bush so suddenly, Betty was frightened and then she fainted. And there's the whole of it" (10). The Puritans strict moral code turned innocence into shame. The attitude of the Puritans was a crucial element in the Salem Witch Trials, but such as frenzy could happen in any time of suspicion.
As accusations of witchcraft begin to surface, the town takes on a gloom of suspicion. Innocent people look at each other critically; children start having to lie about theirs' secrets: "What are you concealing?
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As the mass hysteria comes to a climax, the worst and the best of the community can be seen. Some refuse to give in to the lies and secrecy, which take over the town and choose to die by refusing to sign any admission of guilt: "I cannot give you no name, sire, I cannot" Giles tells the court (97). Moreover, churches officials are seen as part of the problem in their determination of sift out any suspected "evil": "All innocent and Christian people are happy for the courts in Salem" Parris tells Danforth (94). The hysteria culminates in a witch-hunt that destroys a society and the ideals that goes along with it.
The community is left shattered and changed forever at the end of the trails. Marriages are broken up, countless die unnecessarily, and Puritanism is marked forever. The community learns much about itself and some prefer death to living in such hypocrisy. Over-zealous people who lay down strict codes of morality that they themselves cannot follow cause Mass hysteria. As the Puritans become suspicious of everything that is innocent, the "ideal" society they strived for is destroyed forever.