In The Crucible, what are the negative and positive effects that conflict has on individuals?
One negative effect of conflict in the play proves to be a sense of "emotional contagion" that infects the people of Salem. The conflict caused with the accusations of witchcraft and "sympathizers of witchcraft" creates a setting where the notions of justice are perverted to benefit the few over the needs of the many. Additionally, the conflict brought on through the accusations of witchcraft help to set the stage for individuals severing bonds of loyalty between one another and instead creating opportunities to exploit one another's weaknesses and faults. At the same time, the conflict presented in the play provide moments of heroism on the part of specific individuals. John Proctor becomes a figure of moral authority in his desire to voice dissent with false confessions and placating the incorrect majority. Elizabeth's loyalty to her husband's ideals are also demonstrated through the conflict. Giles Corey's demand of "more weight" as he is being crushed, presumably punished because of advocating the truth in a setting where such a term has become distorted, proves to be a lasting moment where one understands that conflict can bring out the worst, but also some of the most admirable qualities in human beings.
I think it might be interesting to explore the positive outcome of the conflicts portrayed in the play. One obvious shift occurs with John and Elizabeth Proctor. Their marriage has been strained, and the public humiliation of having John's affair with Abigail exposed is challenging for Elizabeth. But when both are accused and in danger of being sent to the gallows, the two find enormous reserves of courage and dignity, buoyed up by their love for each other. John finds the strength to tear up his confession, even knowing he may be killed, and is inspired to do this because Elizabeth refuses to condemn her husband. The play's central conflict has to do with the misuse of power: fear and greed for power are shown as forces that encourage misanthropic behavior, but, through John and Elizabeth's actions, are here exposed as forces that can also inspire deep compassion and selflessness.