In times of conflict, it is difficult for the individual to stand against the group? Why is this so hard for some characters throughout the play?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most pressing issues that is evoked from Miller's work is the role of the individual set against the community.  In American political thought, this has been one of the most problematic issues since the times of the framers of the Constitution.  The hope would be that the individual would be able to work within the community setting or that the community would be tolerant of the individual's belief systems.  Yet, when injecting the poison of paranoia and fear into the equation, Miller suggests that circumstances change and literally, "all bets are off."  In "The Crucible," the issue is witchcraft, and the fear that strikes at the heart of Salem's citizens are twofold:  Who is a witch and the fear of being accused as a witch.  Miller argues that within a climate of fear and paranoia, there is a tendency for the worst of individuals to arise both in social interactions, where bonds of loyalty and trust are dissolved out of pure fear, and political machinations, where the most corrupt are able to seize the moment and stage for their own benefit.

These would be the conditions that try the will of the individuals in the play.  The insecurity and fear felt by those who wish to be left alone, and not fight the accusations, cause them to remain silent.  This is why some of them refuse to take a stand and sign confessions that are not true.  For this reason, the actions of John Proctor, Elizabeth, and Giles Corey, to name a few, are all the more heroic, for they stand against the tyranny of the majority to preserve the rights of the few.  While death is the reality for each of them, Miller shows that the right to speak the truth and clearly defend one's name does not need an end result for it is its own good.  Understanding it, recognizing it, and acting upon it are different things in a setting where trust and loyalty are replaced by bitterness, fear, and self interest.

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