Whenever the topic of the Salem Witch Trials comes up there is always the head shake and a role of the eyes that says, “man, those people were dumb.” For a long time I have looked at that time in history that way. I looked at it as a time with poor leaders who let everything get out of control and allowed chaos to arise…but I realize I’ve been looking at it all wrong. The scary thing about the witch trials wasn’t poor leadership during the time, although it is a bit frightening how leaders handled the situation, but the fact that fear caused an entire group of people to encourage the madness.
Fear is like a disease, if gone unchecked it will spread through a person’s entire body and move from one person to the next. In Salem, fear spread like a wildfire. Author Miller captures this atmosphere perfectly in The Crucible.
There is a lot to be learned from The Crucible, but I think the most important part is the danger that fear possesses. There is some sort of this mentality that what happened with the witch trials could never happen now, but if fear is still given the opportunity to consume us, then it’s hard to say what will happen. Most of the people involved in the trials of witches truly thought that the people they were eventually executing were witches. Fear kept the people of Salem from seeing reason. Everyone is at some point afraid. I’m not saying that being afraid of something is wrong, it’s actually completely normal. I’m saying that what people choose to do with that fear is what is important and in some cases dangerous.
The characters of The Crucible blamed others to remove blame from themselves, rather than verbalizing how ridiculous some of the accusations were. None of the characters realized that the people standing next to them were just as afraid of what was to come as they were. Had they all been open and honest instead of acting on their fear and lying to protect themselves, they might have been able to group together and put a stop to the madness before it started.
Fear is a completely normal and human emotion, but when it is fed and encouraged it can become an unpredictable monster. It can cause sane people to do seemingly insane things. It can cause a village to execute twenty people for being witches with no more proof than someone else’s word.