Society trusts those that conform, and distrusts those that don’t. One advantage of conforming to societies expectations is that you gain trust from the society. People who don’t conform aren’t trusted. One disadvantage is that you join the group, so you’re not technically an individual anymore in your own right. In the novel The Crucible, Arthur Miller explains the causes of hysteria, mob mentality, scapegoating by showing the conflicts within a society.
Hysteria was a major factor in the many accusations of witchcraft that occurred throughout The Crucible. Hysteria is an overwhelming fear and excitement that overrides all logic, and is often enhanced and intensified by the presence of others who are acting out on that fear. The Crucible deals with a community that is superficially knit tightly, however. Once the accusations of witchery begin, fear and suspicion sweep the town like a wild fire. When hysteria and hidden agendas break down the social structure, honesty cannot be trusted. The church is against the devil, yet at the same time it is against such things as dancing and premature acts. The reputation of the family is very important to the members of the community; when the girls were caught dancing they lied to protect not just themselves, but their family name.
The unexplained was caused by the devil, so some member of the community used the unexplained to their advantage. They girls claim that the devil took them over and influenced them to dance; they also said they saw member of the town standing with the devil. In Act 1 under pressure from Parris and Hale, Tituba names two women as witches suggested by Mr. Putnam “And I look and there was Goody Good”(Miller 50), and she then added “Aye, sir, and Goody Osburn”(Miller 50). These types of rumors went on because people didn’t want any blame to be put to them. Salem’s hysteria makes the community lose faith in the spiritual belief are strictly trying to enforce.
Mob mentality is a large disorderly crowd of people. The negatives of mob mentality are usually caused by the failure of leadership and people letting themselves do whatever they feel like without thinking of the consequences. In The Crucible the character that displays most significant signs of mob mentality would be Abigail, who is Parris’s niece. She displays mob mentality in a scene which is in Act 2; Elizabeth says “The Deputy Governor promise hangin’ if they’ll not confess, John. The town’s gone wild, I think. She speaks of Abigail, and I thought she were a saint, to hear her. Abigail brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel. And folks are brought before them, and if they scream and howl and fall to the floor-the person’s clapped in the jail for bewitchin’ them” (Miller 52/53). There are many examples of how people act during a riot, but not a lot of examples of how people avoid and escape mobs. To escape it you must not fall into the traps mobs hold. One can be not following what others are doing around you. Mobs take its victims and take their honesty, individuality and the right to act in a meaningful way away.
The scapegoats are everyone who is accused of witchcraft. They blame bad things that happen in the world on these people, rather than facing the facts that bad things do exist. John Proctor, the local farmer, served as a scapegoat in the town of Salem in an attempt to save himself along with his wife, Elizabeth, from hanging. The town members and court officials used Proctor’s situation and took advantage of him in order to preserve their own reputations. Proctor’s troubles were seen when he made the decision to tell the court of his relationship with Abigail Williams, his former servant, and when he confessed to witchery that he had not committed. Although all of the court officials seemed to take advantage of Proctor and his situation, Parris clearly is the most conceited, as his life and profession seem to depend upon the actions of John.
Proctor’s first decision to act as a scapegoat was made in order to weaken Abigail’s power within the court, for Elizabeth had been wrongly accused of sending her spirits upon Abigail. Although he knew that the people within the court would frown upon him for his sin of committing adultery, he had to give some information to weaken the girls’ power, since Mary Warren, his servant at that time, had just turned on him. After Proctor confessed to the court of their relationship, Danforth, the judge, questioned if Abigail denied what had been said. Her response was that “if I must answer to that, I will leave and I will not come back again” (Miller 111) which gave the judge the impression that they had indeed committed lechery. This action alone could not prove Elizabeth’s innocence. Danforth ordered Elizabeth to inform the court of all that she was aware of between her husband and Abigail. The court agreed that if Elizabeth acknowledged that Proctor had committed lechery,
These witchcraft trials were classic examples of mass hysteria, mob mentality and scapegoating. They result in the hanging and ruthless deaths of countless reputable people based on the charges or convictions of transactions with the devil. The people who convicted them were as upright as themselves to confess to their own wrongdoings. These convictions were largely based on the evidence of young girls who had been caught dancing in the moonlight and laid their immoral behavior to the influence of Satan and witchcraft. Innocent people are accused and convicted of witchcraft on the most ridiculous and unjustifiable testimonies in Salem based on mere “supernatural” evidence.