Hysteria, It’s a powerful thing really. In the midst of a crisis this could really cause trouble. After all people can’t think straight when something goes wrong, it’s human nature to assume things rather than to rationally think. Humans are very social beings and they will follow anyone who they think is correct. It doesn’t take much for someone to blindly trust those who say they are doing good. The problem with this is that many of those they trust know what they want, and that thing is power. Power is the thing that no human can resist. It’s so tempting even if they do not see the power at first they will eventually catch on.
Psychologically it is so grasping, some may say it turns humans into monsters, but on the contrary, those people were already like that. For example in the book The Crucible, a young woman by the name of Abigail Williams was caught after dancing in the woods with her friends and slave as they were “casting spells”. This was because she wanted the wife of the house she worked at dead. So on the topic of The Crucible, this book was written to be a connection to what was going on in Arthur Miller’s time which was the height of the Cold War and one of the most infamous senators in US history, Joe McCarthy.
So how does one accomplish this, and why does this sort of thing happen? Let’s start the journey in The Crucible. The story is set in Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1692. First, what was there to accomplish? Our leading lady Abigail Williams has recently been caught dancing in the woods with her friends by her uncle Rev. Parris, So what happens next? She lies because she doesn’t want something like that to slip out in the public. So her cousin, and one of her friends faked being “sick” so that it would not hurt their reputation.
Rev Parris also saw that they were “casting spells”. Abigail says it was just dancing and singing which it was, but in that time people were so worried and hysterical that everything that went wrong was blamed on the supernatural. So a little while later her cousin woke up which leads to the next step, have someone act bizzare and crazy. Of course this would start a whole rumor there is witchcraft because people had suspicions of it. So what next? Well, of course now that many people are convinced this was perfectly right, but not so fast as Rev.
Parris throws a wrench in the works. With this is the introduction of Rev. Hale, a well known Reverend who is said to know how to deal with these witches, but that doesn’t stop the process What is next? Blaming someone who had no social standing, who is from a foreign place, and who was there at the time of the “spell casting”. Now what does said person do? Well of course they will want to save theirself, so they confess, and make up a story about witches. Of course when asked about it they will throw other people under the bus. In the Crucible it was Parris’s slave Tituba.
Next step is to do what they did, to seem innocent and, of course, throw in some more names. As Abigail said “I want to go back to Jesus, I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil”(Miller 48). Then Abigail and Betty started to accuse people they had “seen” with the devil. Now about a week or so later if someone so much as was looking at someone when bad luck happened they would be accused of being a witch. Those people of course jump at the chance and this is where it gets real. The hysteria was absolutely insane, though of course this is perfect for the goal.
It means many people trust, and support decisions of course this is great look at all of this power, speaking of which this is reminiscent of something else, something that was a reality just a little over 60 years ago. Well let’s lay the next scene. It’s 1951, just 6 years after World War II. The Cold War was intense and many Americans feared the Russians. In fact this was the perfect chance for someone to strike. That someone was Senator Joseph McCarthy. Joseph McCarthy grew up in Wisconsin, and he dropped out of school at 14 but finished later in life.
He was not successful in law school yet later ran to be a circuit judge. He was originally a Democrat but he changed his political party because he wasn’t going to be able to run as one. Next step is to do something that is favourable in the eyes of others because we all know even an unqualified person can be favourable in some way. So what did Joseph McCarthy do? He joined the Marines during World War II. This would help him in the long run when he was running for Senator of Wisconsin and used his military service against his opponent.
Damaging La Follete’s reputation by claiming he hadn’t enlisted in the military during the war, McCarthy won the election and became senator. ” (“Senator, Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the witch hunt “) To do this next step one has to be very manipulative, when not successful in the step, Such as Senator McCarthy was not very noteworthy and was desperate to get re-elected so of course he jumped at a chance that would spark a possibility of being re-elected. At this point everyone was terrified of the idea of communists in the country, it was total hysteria at that time.
So McCarthy and a fellow anticommunist by the name of Edmund Walsh started an anti communist movement. McCarthy of course did this because of all the hysteria and took it to an advantage for him, and he played with much of the public’s perspective at the time. This caused many people to lose their jobs. “Known as McCarthyism, the paranoid hunt for infiltrators was notoriously difficult on writers and entertainers, many of whom were labeled communist sympathizers and were unable to continue working. (“Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin McCarthyism”, 2006).
This of course if we look back to the Salem Witch Trials is very similar to how Abigail took advantage of a situation for herself lying to convince everyone to go against each other just to shake off a reputation ruiner and ruin countless lives. Next step is to target specific people. McCarthy targeted anyone whose views he disagreed with, and would use his power to have them called up before his committee to answer questions there was no way to correctly answer to prove their innocence.
There was no evidence that they were really guilty of being communists, but McCarthy would accuse them nonetheless. This was the same as the Salem Witch Trials as the accusers had no real proof to back up their claims, which were totally made up to cause trouble for someone else and/or take the heat off of them from having been accused by someone else. There were many people who tried to take the heat off themselves by accusing someone else during the McCarthy Era as well. Many friendships, relationships and careers were destroyed by all this, and all it did was feed the power and ego of McCarthy.
Since he was uncovering all these communists hiding in plain sight, it was only a matter of time before he used all this power to make a play for something higher than being a senator. Anyone who stood in his way could also be labeled a communist, so many people, including other senators, stood by quietly rather than risk their own careers and lives by standing up against him. McCarthy specifically targeted certain senators, famous actors, writers, directors, etc. It was really bad for their reputation risking being thrown in jail, and losing their chances at a career.
Anyone who didn’t admit to being a communist would be placed in jail for up to a year. If they did they could never get a job again. This of course was very similar to the tactics of the Salem Witch Trials, people would be accused, but they had no choice their options were limited, but were worse. You confessed you would be put in jail, and if you didn’t you would be executed. Abigail targeted people in the community one specifically being the wife of John Proctor, so she could have him to herself. This created a lot of trouble causing the death of over 20 people.
Now it is clear that it does not take much to gain power by exploiting the fears of the public. In the cases of both The Crucible and Joe McCarthy all it takes is someone willing to do and say anything that will cause a disturbance among the people. They then blame someone as the source of those troubles, worries and fears and how they will be the one to “save” the people from that threat, even though they were the one who started all the trouble. Even to this day it is a tried and true method to gain power that people cannot resist as it is so easy.