What are some quotes from characters in The Crucible that relate to mass hysteria?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mass hysteria played a huge roll in The Crucible and in so many innocent people being accused of--and hanged for--witchcraft.  The initial accusations themselves started because of mass hysteria.  If you remember, in act one, Tituba is blamed for being a witch, and told that if she doesn't confess, she will be whipped and hanged.  Well, faced with that unpleasant proposition, she confesses, falsely to witchcraft.  Immediately everyone blesses her as a saint, and treat her like an angel.  Abby sees this and decides that's a great way to get out of being whipped for dancing.  So, she says she was bewitched also and wants to confess.  This starts ALL of the girls, in a mass hysteria, to blaming everyone.  A good quote for this comes in act two as Elizabeth shows how it's gotten out of hand.  What started with just a couple people being accused ended with "fourteen people in the jail now," and Elizabeth says that Abby is the ringleader of it all. She says of what happens in court:

"folks are brought before them, and if they scream and howl and fall to the floor--the person's clapped in the jail for bewitchin' them."

Another example is when the judges ask Mary Warren to faint in act three.  When mass hysteria rises, people get caught up in the crown and behave in ys they wouldn't normally.  When Mary can't faint when she's alone, she describes the hysteria as follows:

"I heard the other girls screaming, and you, Your Honor, you seemed to believe them, and I--It were only sport in the beginning, sir, but then the whole world cried spirits, spirits, and I --I promise you, Mr. Danforth I only thought I saw them but I did not."

That perfectly describes how mass hysteria works, and Mary Warren succombs to it many times in the play.  A last example is through Reverend Parris.  When presented with a petition of 99 people attesting to the innocence of the women in jail, instead of logically reasoning and thinking about such a weighty petition, he immediately jumps on the hysteria bandwagon and proclaims,

"These people should be summoned...for questioning...this is a clear attack upon the court...I think you will want to know, form each and every one of them, what discontents them with you!"

Parris illogically and fearfully wants everyone arrested, instead of taking the petition on its true merit.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of Act Two, Elizabeth Proctor tells her husband, John, that "There be fourteen people in the jail now [...]."  This is a number that he can hardly believe, and yet, when Mary Warren returns home, she tells the couple, "There be thirty-nine now."  The incredibly rapid increase in the number of accusations and imprisonments is sure evidence of the growing hysteria.  Then, when Ezekiel Cheever arrives, shortly after Mary's return, he says that he was "given sixteen [new] warrant[s] tonight."  This means that the number of accused witches has gone from thirty-nine to fifty-five in the span of an hour or two: yet more evidence of the growing hysteria.

Further, toward the end of Act Two, John cries

Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail?  Is the accuser always holy now?  Were they born this morning as clean as God's fingers?  I'll tell you what's walking Salem -- vengeance is walking Salem.  We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!  

Hysteria is, perhaps, one way to account for the fact that no one questions Parris, or Abigail.  No one wonders if their motives are pure because the stories the girls tell are too frightening to question.  When fear rages, it breeds hysteria.  We, humans, often behave terribly, and treat one another terribly, when we are afraid.

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The Crucible

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