In The Crucible, which force is most to blame for causing the witch trial hysteria?

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

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I think that it is at this point where Miller is his most complex.  He does not capitulate into one person or element that causes the hysteria surrounding the trial.  The miscarriages of justice and the death and suffering that result from the hysteria is something that he places at the feet of many people and forces.  Certainly, he blames the people of Salem that could not recognize Abigail and the other girls' claims as false.  The lack of evidence and overwhelming faith in "spectral evidence," testimony that could not be refuted without doubt and aspersions being cast upon the person who doubts, are also to blame for this.  In the opening scene, Miller examines how the background of Salem and the predispositions of the town when it comes to social interaction and cultural valences of child raising are all a part of what happens to the town in the midst of the hysteria.  I think that Miller also blames the townspeople for realizing too late what was happening in their town.  The open rebellions in Andover that are alluded in Act IV are an example of how people can assert back authority from the government when it goes astray.  Its inclusion represents how the people are not powerless, but rather how it is more convenient for them to claim to be.  In this, Miller speaks to how individuals can speak out against their government and how, like Proctor demonstrates at the end, freedom and action can be taken in its own name and with its own right.  I think that this becomes another force, the complicity of the populace, that enables the hysteria and emotional contagion to take a hold and Miller does not hesitate in suggesting so.

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