Some of the most effective quotes about hysteria in The Crucible reflect how calm deliberation gives way to emotional panic, a shift that Miller saw in the 1950s American fear of communism.
There are striking parallels between the world of witchcraft accusations in Salem and accusations of communism during the 1950s. Miller's own involvement in the hunt commissioned by the House Unamerican Activities Committee increases the relevance of the study of hysteria in The Crucible. When looking for quotes about hysterical activity in Salem and their connection to the hunt for communists, some of the most intriguing elements involve the emotions that drive people to fear.
Hysteria can be best seen towards the end of Act I when the accusations of witchcraft begin to materialize. In the middle of the Act, Proctor mentions how "the town's mumbling witchcraft," a statement that represents hysteria taking over Salem. Abigail enhances this fear when she initially accuses Tituba of witchcraft. Abigail claims that she is "a good" and "proper girl." Yet, the moment Tituba enters, Miller writes that Abby "instantly points" at her and says, "She [Tituba] made me do it! She made Betty do it." Abby's accusation brings the percolating fear to the surface, and by naming Tituba, she increases the emotional contagion of everyone around her.
Abby's accusations accelerate the hysteria because it shows how specifically identifying people taps into public fear. Once Abby names more people, the other girls do the same, and the hysteria becomes even greater. This is very similar to the hysteria regarding communism that Miller observed. People "named names" and, in doing so, they fed the fear surrounding the issue. Public accusations increased the hysteria because it widened fear that there was an "enemy" that walked amongst the community. The act of "naming names" triggers hysteria because people immediately become scared that the "enemy" is so close to them. This was in the form of "witchcraft" in Salem, and communism in America.
Once Abby initially names Tituba, some of the best examples of creating hysteria can be seen in Reverend Hale's questioning of her. Brought in as an "expert," Hale immediately targets Tituba. He is sincere in wanting to rid the town of its "devil" problem, and sees questioning her as a way to do so. Hale increases the hysteria of the townspeople in the room with the language he uses. When he asks Tituba about her "compact with the Devil," the fear of the people in the room increases because he, a person in the position of power, has public linked Tituba with witchcraft. Abby named her, but Hale links her. His questioning further enhances this hysteria in the townspeople:
Hale: When the Devil comes to you does he ever come - with another person? She stares up into his face, Perhaps another person in the village? Someone you know.... You are God’s instrument put in our hands to discover the Devil’s agents among us. You are selected, Tituba, you are chosen to help us cleanse our village. So speak utterly, Tituba, turn your back on him and face God - face God, Tituba, and God will protect you.
At this point, the people in the room and in Salem, in general, are feeling hysterical. Hale has been able to squarely place "the Devil" in Salem. When Hale phrases it as "perhaps another person in the village" and "someone you know," people's fears are maximized because they see their world differently. This shift causes emotional contagion.
Miller observed the public accusations of being a communist in the 1950s in much the same way. People in the position of power were using phrases such as "communists in our government" and "communists among us" to trigger hysterical fear that the world people knew was not what they originally thought it to be. In both settings, such questioning increased public hysteria.