**Contains Spoilers** If you have not read the play or watched it, I am sorry for spoiling it.
Fear and suspicion are infectious and can produce a state of general hysteria which results in the destruction of public order and rationality. This is especially evident in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, which recounts the tales of the Salem Witch Trials. In the beginning of the play, people accuse others of witchcraft for unexplainable phenomena. For example, in Act I, Goody Putnam claims that a witch is responsible for the sudden deaths of her seven newborn children. Reverend Parris, jumping to conclusions, assumes that his niece Abigail must be involved in it and witchcraft somehow, merely because he saw her dancing in the woods the night before. He looks for some tangible cause for the misfortune that he is powerless against, and utilizes the excuse of “witchcraft” as a scapegoat for saving his own reputation. Abigail then proceeds to blame Tituba for “bewitching” her. Threatened and afraid, Tituba confesses to witchcraft and blames others. Thus, the claims of “witchcraft,” which was never true to begin with, are given credence by fearful, intimidated “witnesses,” causing more people to believe such absurd claims and become frightened of the prospect of supernatural forces.
Eventually, the entire town of Salem is thrown into chaos, with neighbors and family accusing each other of witchcraft. In the play, many upstanding and innocent citizens are arrested and even executed for witchcraft! The hysteria even spreads to the nearby town of Andover! All over mere coincidences, such as the death of a recently sold pig or even someone forgetting their prayers. It is a testament to the power of fear, superstition, and the desire of people to assign responsibility for misfortune to others, that the entire witch-hunt recounted in The Crucible began from a few children dancing in the woods.