The Crucible Histeria
It was the time of McCarthyism, 1953. Fear of Communism had reached a hysteria, and the nation was consumed by the widespread terror of Communism and its sympathizers. In this period of lost trust and friendships, an American playwright Arthur Miller felt so personally affected by the accusations and mass hysteria that he traveled to Salem by himself and began writing The Crucible. In this play, Arthur Miller parallels and criticizes the corrupt politics of the era by inserting characters who use logical fallacies in order to show the flawed reasoning behind the Salem witch trials and the Red Scare. One of these logical fallacies exhibited throughout the play is ad hominem, where instead of using evidence to back up an argument, an irrational personal attack is used to discredit the accused.
Either out of malice or otherwise, the people who rely on this logical fallacy as evidence do not have the intent of proving the truth, but to justify their beliefs. In The Crucible, where piety is greatly valued, Reverend Parris, exclaims that Proctor is “[…] a Christian that will not come to church but once a month!” (III,118). Parris, who is depicted as weak, paranoid, and self-centered, avoids the argument by questioning Proctor’s Christian sincerity. Being an authority figure of the court, he gains advantage against his opponent this way, wanting others to see Procter as an enemy of the court and discredit his arguments for being un-Christian. Parris by using this weak argument against Proctor, rather than addressing the issues, only shows his lack of ethics and sense of duty to seek the truth. Another example of this would be the court being willfully ignorant to unrelated facts.
How it works
Without hard evidence or proof, the court links two irrelevant events together as evidence, creating a false cause and effect fallacy. Mary Warren, an accuser of the trials and the servant of John Proctor, states that Goody Osburn begs for bread and a cup of cider, but claims “whenever [Mary] turned her away empty, she mumbled”(II,118). Immediately after “she walked away, [Mary] thought [her] guts would burst for two days after”, to which Governor Danforth immediately states that Goody Osburn was mumbling “curses” at Mary (II,119-122). Danforth, being the Deputy Governor, holds the duty to oversee the court. He fails to examine evidence critically and assumes that since the two events happened chronologically, that there was a correlation. However, correlation does not equal causation, therefore Mary’s stomach ache was just a coincidence that happened after she turned Goody Osburn away. Incomplete investigations and blatant assumptions happened like these happened too throughout post-war America, where people of the public eye were often suspected of being Communist or sympathizers.
The investigation of Communist activities was mainly conducted by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where suspects were pressured into being witnesses and providing names and information. Frequently, suspects who refused to answer were automatically labeled as a “Red” without any further investigation, stating that if an individual doesn’t take active measures against Communism, they must be supporting Communism. This is an example of the either-or fallacy, best described by Danforth who stated that ‘[…]a person is either with th[e] court or he must be counted against it. There will be no road between'(III, 170).
Danforth presents an illusion of only having 2 choices, where if one is right the other must be wrong. With his puritan logic, he believes that an innocent person has no reason to be afraid of the court. Therefore, anyone against the court would be guilty. Without a doubt, this false dilemma caused many fatal and false prosecutions throughout history and leads to very simplistic, extreme and often unjust laws Witch hunts like these are catastrophic, yet people refrain themselves from opposing the majority despite knowing that it is wrong. This is bandwagoning, a psychological phenomenon that causes people to sway a certain direction because other people are doing it as well. Mary Warren fell for this phenomenon despite knowing Abigail William’s manipulations of the court. She “rushed to Abigail” and proclaimed Proctor as “[…] the Devil’s man!” instead (III, 500). Mary came up with this false accusation stating that she will “go [his] way no more!” (III, 515) as she crumbled under the pressure and mockery she received the court, succumbing to the herd mentality.
Being the only solid evidence Procter has against the court, she pushes the responsibility of going against the court to himself. The fear of prosecution of being a witch motivated Mary further to join the popular majority. A ‘Crucible’ is a severe test or trial, such as the Salem Witch Trials and the Red Scare. The evidence of these witch hunts was illogical and unreasonable. From circular reasoning to bandwagoning, these are just some examples of logical fallacies in The Crucible. Understanding these errors of logic can help strengthen an argument, making it more credible and prevent mass hysterias. Throughout this essay, it is shown that the work of Arthur Miller is not just historical relic, but a carefully designed lesson for us to learn. It teaches the importance of analysis and warn us against modern day witch hunts and senseless accusations.