Discuss how power uses mass hysteria and terror and the to its benefit in The Crucible.  

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the strongest themes in Miller's work is how those in the position of power are able to use mass hysteria and the sense of terror to feed their own positions of power.  This can be seen from the very outset of the drama.  Parris does not know what to say to the gather congregation about the condition of his daughter.  Abigail and Putnam immediately plant the seed in his mind to disclose the presence of witchcraft as a way for him to gain power and to create a genuine division that pits him as a type of crusading force against all else.  It is here where the use of emotional contagion is used to confound the imagination of the public and increase power for those in the position of authority.  Other characters recognize the power present in being able to marshal the forces of hysteria and terror to their own benefit.  Mary Warren derives a sense of power over the Proctors with her role in establishing innocence or guilt as a sitting member of the jury, something that represents how being able to have power in a time of confusion only works when there is sufficient fear and emotional doubt about how one stays clear of being labeled.  Danforth's presiding over the court proceedings is rooted in the idea that his use of power takes root in hysteria and terror.  Invoking ideas such as stressing that there is little to fear if people are honest while demanding that anyone named in front of the court is brought to face accusations from it are reflective of this.  The structure of power in Salem during the witchcraft trials is one in which power consolidates and becomes stronger as greater fear is evident.  The more hysteria and terror that are present in the minds of the townspeople translates into greater power for the authority figures.  It is precisely for this reason that Abigail ends up leaving the town.  When she recognizes the rebellion in Andover beginning to spread ot Salem, in that there is a direct questioning and rejection of the witch trials and their accusation, it translates into a decrease in power.  When the people of Salem begin to stand up and overcome mass hysteria and terror as dominant forces in their lives, power for those in the position of authority begins to decrease, something Parris realizes in Act IV with both the rise in opposition to his power and with his niece's departure.