Marra WoodringPeriod 6American LiteratureSinatraCan you think of something terrible you may have done in the face of fear? Probably, this is because fear influences us to act irrationally and take extreme measures that we typically would not even think of doing. In our history, fear has lead to very violent actions that have traumatized the lives of many. In The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, we see the way that fear plays out in the town of Salem when the idea of witchcraft is brought upon the town. The role of fear in the story begins when the girls are caught in the woods and Abigail fears for her good reputation and believes she could be shunned for her actions. This leads her to accuse Tituba of witchcraft in order to save herself.
Abigail threatened to kill the girls if they spoke a word about their lies, “And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it.” (19) Abigail Williams’ actions are also fueled by her fear of losing John Proctor, whom she is so helplessly in love with. “You loved me. John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! He turns abruptly to go out.
She rushes to him. John, pity me, pity me!” (22) Abigail realizes that John Proctor recognizes her lies and her fear of being caught grows. When John Proctor convinces Mary Warren to help him show the judge that the girls are lying Abigail then claims that Mary Warren is being controlled by witchcraft. Mary realizes John cannot protect her and admits to witchcraft and accuses John Proctor of being the Devil’s man, “Pointing at Proctor.
You’re the Devil’s man!” (110) John Proctor also acts out of fear, he too fears ruining his reputable name. John Proctor fears losing his wife, losing respect from those around him, and he fears being labeled as an adulterer. We see this when John signs his name on the confession sheet, admitting to witchcraft, but he then refuses to have it hung. John is so afraid of damaging his reputation that he chooses to be hung instead.
John states, ” I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough!” (132). John Proctor chooses death over ruining his name. When John finally confesses to his affair with Abigail, Elizabeth Proctor is brought in. Danforth asks Elizabeth many questions but Elizabeth fears if news of the affair gets out then John will be prosecuted. “Danforth. To your own knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery? In a crisis of indecision, she cannot speak. Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher! Elizabeth, faintly. No, sir.
” (105)She thought she was aiding John by not telling the truth about the affair, but really she made John look like a liar, and indirectly caused his death. Fear is also a motivation in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, Montag realizes what the government is actually like and what they are actually doing to society. His fear of how the government is influencing people motivates him to take a stand against the government. This is similar to John Proctor’s fear of how much influence the girls have over the court. John fears how their actions will affect society and inevitably cause many deaths. When Beatty is taking with Montag, “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn the book. Take the shot from the gun.
Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute.” (Page 62) Beatty equates the power of a book to mind control, similar to the way the girls are controlling people’s opinions about witchcraft.
Montag fears Betty and the power he possesses, Beatty has similar power to that of the girls. Fear is a very powerful thing. It influences people in ways that no other thing can. People become so afraid that they are willing to do just about anything to escape the danger. John Proctor is so fearful of what is going on in the town that he is willing to admit to adultery, and damage his reputation, in order to take the power from Abigail and the girls. When in the presence of fear we often times make irrational decisions because of this fear has the power to manipulate people into doing things very untrue to their character.
Fear is very dangerous and very powerful as we see in The Crucible and Fahrenheit 451, as well as many other works of literature.