What does The Crucible tell us about the way people react to conflict?
The fundamental premise within the conflicts presented within The Crucible lies in if human beings can openly address conflicts or if they seek to avoid discussing them. The choice Miller seems to suggest is that individuals face a proverbial "fork in the road" and must commit to either choosing to stand up or remain in silence regarding situations of conflict. Certainly, this is a part of how the individuals face conflicts that are present. The conflict presented that best exemplifies this is how the town reacts to Abigail's accusations. On one hand, we do see characters who stand up against the charges of witchcraft and do not recant, nor succumb to the overwhelming social pressure. This would represent one approach. Characters such as John Proctor or Giles Corey could constitute as two of several characters. These individuals posses the ability to understand the nature of the conflict, and sense what it is they have to do. As a consequence, they are misunderstood by the public, deemed as witches, and suffer heavily as a result. Yet, these characters understand this component of their choice, something Miller suggests is essential in making any choice. The other approach is seeking to avoid this conflict and remain silent in the face of the social mob, remaining complicit in either advancing the cause of witchcraft, lacking the moral fiber to stand up, or indirectly benefiting from the conflict driving the town to such hysteric ends. In these characters, such as Reverend Parris, Abigail, or Mary Warren, we seen individuals who take the "other road" in their choices. They do not stand up against society in this conflict, but rather comply with it or actively advance its notion of the good. Miller's suggestion that the conflict between individual and society results in the conscious decision to side with one over the other is exemplified in the characters he depicts.
One interesting parallel between Salem Village in 1692 and the climate in the United States during the 1950s and McCarthyism is that suspicion was bred by fear and ignorance of the unknown. The new Puritan settlers faced extreme hardship in the New World; the cold winters, failure of crops and general relative poverty led to much animosity among community members. Likewise, there was a great deal of anxiety about finances and business after the second world war, when the US was trying to rebuild. In these climates of anxiety about the future, the tendency towards scapegoating was increased. In Salem, the scapegoats were 'witches' who were thought to be in league with the devil, and responsible for everything from crop failure, illness, and bad weather to sick animals and impotence; whereas Senator Mccarthy and his cronies believed the 'evil' cause of social unrest lay in the rise and spread of Communism. In both cases, wildly-exaggerated stories and rumors led to an increasing amount of suspicion and fear, which caused many people to suspect their own friends, co-workers and relatives of being either witches or Communists. The resulting conflict was only resolved after the worst had already happened: the execution and imprisonment of innocent people in Salem, and the blacklisting of hundreds of people in government, journalism and entertainment. During the Salem trials, as well as the McCarthy hearings, people who spoke out against the proceedings only became more prominent targets. No one came to their defense. This demonstrates that in the face of personal risk, and under the scrutiny of powerful authority figures, people will tend to act in a self-centered manner.