What do these texts suggest about human behaviour in a crisis?
Geraldine Brooks’ novel ‘Year of Wonders’ and Arthur Millers’ ‘The Crucible’ explore a myriad of human responses made by individuals in small, isolated communities that suffer from devastating upheaval. The construction of Brooks’ dramatic novel and Millers’ allegorical play illustrate a series of parallels between the Bubonic plague and Salem Witch Trials which expose the impact of calamity human conduct. While the hysteria which emerges within each community perpetuates irrationality, the trepidation prevalent within both Salem and Eyam allows immoral individuals to profit from the widespread grief and fear of the unknown that fuels illogical thought. However, Year of Wonders and The Crucible explore the extent to which individuals within communities gripped by fear and hysteria can overcome the limitations imposed on them and fortify their moral fabrics. Thus, both writers warn against the widespread devastation that can emerge within societies enthralled by crisis.
Within both texts, insipid climates of fear breed immense irrationality that fuels the widespread destruction of each crisis. In Year of Wonders, early hysteria in Eyam as townspeople begin to die from the plague serves as a catalyst for the lynching of Anys Gowdie. Anys’ execution is precipitated by Urith Gordon who claims that she ‘can’t see [her] reflection in [Anys’] eyes’ and deems it as a ‘sign of a witch!’ A pertinent fear of the unknown feeds hysteria in Eyam, and the ignorance of its townspeople ignites this fear and further accelerates the impulsive actions of individuals on the grounds of baseless evidence. The accusations laid upon Anys parallel to the false accusations that plague Salem in The Crucible. When paired with a pervasive fear of the devil, a superstitious ‘voice of reason’ engenders the conviction of Marth Corey. Susanna Walcott claims that Martha ‘hath bewitched the pigs with her books’ despite them not having been ‘fed for days.’ Subsequently, Giles Corey defends his wife, claiming that he ‘never said she was a witch’… rather that ‘[he] had seen her reading books.’ This quote resonates with his amazement that reason has fled Salem and instead been replaced by hysteria and illogical thought. The baseless evidence for the conviction of Martha Corey and the hanging of Anys Gowdie effectively communicates Millers’ and Brooks’ authorial intentions; that a fear of the unknown within communities gripped by crisis drives a collective response within each village that is superseded by ignorance, trepidation and irrationality.
While Year of Wonders and The Crucible explore the prevalence of irrationality within each community, both authors reveal the deliberate psychological manipulation of the weak by the strong which surfaces as the complexity of human behaviour within Salem and Eyam is charted. Within Year of Wonders the characterisation of Josiah Bont, a ‘spawn of Satan,’ reveals the...