What are some examples from The Crucible of how truth gets lost in hysteria?

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

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The ending to Act I and the trial in Act III are two examples from The Crucible when truth gets lost in hysteria.

At the end of Act I, Abigail notices that Hale's questioning has a very lawyerly tone that seeks to get at the truth.  For her part, Abigail has shown that she is very flexible with the truth.  She displays a cavalier attitude with the truth when she is alone with Proctor.  It is clear that Abigail does not care for the truth.  She manipulates it for her own benefit.  As Hale questions Tituba, Abigail recognizes that he is looking for "names."  This proves her with the perfect opportunity to create hysteria.  In the midst of Hale's questioning, she seizes the moment:

Abigail rises, staring as though inspired, and cries out. 

Abigail: I want to open myself! They turn to her, startled. She is enraptured, as though in a pearly light. I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil! 

Miller uses the word "inspired" in the stage directions to describe Abigail.  He does this to show how Abigail is able to create an instant where the truth is lost in hysteria.  As Abigail begins to name names, Miller follows it up with "Betty is rising from the bed, a fever in her eyes, and picks up the chant." As the girls fraudulently name names, they are able to seize this moment as their own.  They are able to ensure that the truth is lost.  From this point, no one pays attention to what the girls were doing in the forest, why they were dancing, or what girls like Abigail sought in the first place.  Instead, in the hysteria of witches and who might be one, the truth is lost.

In Act I, Abigail demonstrates an "inspired" approach.  She has a gift of being able to stir up hysteria when the truth gets too close to her.  This is evident during the trial in Act III.  Abigail recognizes that Danforth's questioning might move too close to scrutinizing her own motives.  It is at this point that she acts in an another "inspired" way to create a hysterical diversion from the truth.  As Danforth questions Abigail, Miller writes that Abigail breaks from answering him, "Suddenly, from an accusatory attitude, her face turns, looking into the air above - it is truly frightened."  Abigail is able to create hysteria again in acting as if "a cold wind, has come" and overtakes her spirit.  Abigail furthers this hysteria when the other girls end up joining her.  They corner Mary Warren, forcing her to capitulate on the stand.  Abigail has once again been able to initiate panic and hysteria.  It is a diversion from the truth.  Abigail is the common denominator between the hysteria which closes Act I and the trial's hysteria in Act III.  She is able to ensure that the truth is lost in hysteria.  As a result, Abigail is able to consolidate her own power.

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