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Belief, Power And Fear Essay, Research Paper

Belief, Fear and Power

Here in the age of Post-Modernism, our society prides itself on it’s individualism and it’s (supposed) free-thinking. Yet there is still a strain that refuses to let go…the grip of religion and science that those who live in the United States have been under since before the USA’s official beginning. Just about as “American as Apple Pie” (however “American” that is) is the paradigm that there is something larger out there that guides us humans through our everyday life. We have seen the dangers that this kind of thinking can produce…our culture has seen its share of religious cults. But the line between where a religion stops being spiritual and starts becoming brainwashing is vague. Similarly, science is just a sophisticated name for another higher power to believe in.

My concern, above all of this, is what the effects are when a group of people choose to believe in something – anything. What are the elements that allow a person to get caught up in something that s/he may or may not really truly believe in?

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible deals with these exact issues. Hysteria, fear and power are brought to the surface in light of one girl’s desperate attempts to save herself and her would-be adult lover. These three elements are what I believe to be the fundamental dangers of religion (primarily) and science (secondarily).

The early American Puritans, as depicted in The Crucible, are a society based on almost purely religious ideals. That the first settlers came to this land to escape religious persecution is no mystery to anyone who has spent any amount of time in elementary school. So from the very beginning, a standard was in place….one would have the freedom of religion. This was undoubtedly an ideal and actually living it out was quite another story, indeed.

As towns were established, a central meeting place was generally the church near the geographical center. This immediately sets up the notion that if residents want the benefits of the townspeople’s support, they must subscribe to the chosen religion (some form of Christianity, respectively).

Belief in the religion’s principles would, I imagine, become almost inevitable, since saying one believed reaped numerous benefits, and not believing earned one alienation from the community-at-large at best, or worse, a one-way ticket to noose (as exemplified in The Crucible). Given the “choices” (to believe or not believe – because I am not convinced that we freely “choose” our religions), it would be much easier to live a life mildly adverse to the town’s school of thought than it would be to openly disagree.

So now we have a town full of people whom, whether or not they all really feel the same, they say they do. Everyone is probably pretty aware of the consequences for disbelief and in an attempt to cover up their own disbelief for fear of persecution, will vehemently persecute anyone who deviates from the norms. This is what grows into hysteria. This is where the “mob mentality” comes in.

To me, the dangers of hysteria are staggering. Nothing is more frightening to me than a large group of people trying to cover up that they don’t really subscribe to a set of standards. Because the lie has already begun, going back would surely only incite harsher penalties. The further one moves away from true beliefs, the more difficult it is to go back (as in the case of Abigail in The Crucible, as well as most everyone except for John Proctor).

Now that the blind belief is in place and there is a desperate need to cover one’s own back, the framework is there to enter power into the equation. Ah, yes….power. Now that’s what I call “American as Apple Pie.” It really only takes one person to recognize this mindset of the people and to decide that there is a vulnerable place. In the case of The Crucible, it was the clergy (surprise, surprise) who saw this weakness. Power could easily come to those who would execute the inevitable persecution for deviation.

The Crucible illustrated the consequences of hysteria, fear and power beautifully. It was quite easy to see that these elements go hand in hand. But how does this fit into modern society? Take, for instance, the example hate crimes against people of minority races, cultures and sexual orientations. These crimes are committed because the perpetrator has a belief that s/he is a certain way. The belief is often times just a disguise for that person’s own fears about the consequences for being “other.”

The eventual deaths of the supposed “deviators” in The Crucible was perhaps a bit of an extreme punishment in the context of modern times. But it is not a complete impossibility. Hysteria, fear and power are a part of “American” framework and each person should be challenged everyday to know their own truth in order to avoid such atrocious outcomes


Arthur Miller’s The Crucible


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