In both The Crucible and Year of Wonders, characters are put under pressure and in times of crisis their true character is revealed. Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible, showcases the grotesque nature of the human form and how it contorts when tempted by jealousy and deceit, Abigail Williams showcases this clearly, although much of the town is evidently swept up in the hysteria of the witch-hunt. Similarly, Geraldine Brooks’, Year of wonders, is also a depiction of the disintegration of moral character resulting from disease and crisis in a small town, specifically in characters of Josiah and Aphra Bont. They take advantage of the weak and exploit them to satisfy their own greed. Many characters in both texts appear to be morally good, especially the Puritans, however both novels show the inner corruption and judgment of the church leaders. Cracks in character are also revealed by the mass hysteria that is ridden throughout both texts. The Crucible explores the detrimental effect the notion of the devil and witchcraft can have on a town, whereas Year of Wonders deals with the death and disease that results from the plague. However a person’s true character can be shown to be moral and good when faced with pressuring situations. The character of Anna Frith shows that life or death situations can allow some to thrive off the duty of helping others. Similarly in The Crucible, John Proctor remains dignified in the madness of the witch trials.
Jealousy, greed and the temptation of a lie can often lure one into darkness, this notion is presented in both The Crucible and Year of Wonders. The lure of these dangerous emotions reveal the worst sides of several charters in the texts. Abigail Williams of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is driven by jealousy and her own carnal instincts to achieve what is best for her at all times. Abigail is a ‘wild thing’ who ‘may say wild things’ and is an unpredictable mark against the puritan ethos of the conventional Salem society. Miller describes her as having an ‘endless capacity for dissembling’, she is devious and capitalizes off the mass hysteria ignited by the witch trials. Abigail makes a habit of taking a pressuring situation and using it to her advantage often to the detriment of others. She does this in Act One, by blaming Tituba of associating with the devil and again in Act Three, when Mary tries to expose her. Similarly, in Year of Wonders Josiah Bont utilizes crisis and hysteria to his own advantage, by capitalizing off the weak and burying their dead. Josiah Bont abuses his position of power by taking advantage of ‘those too ill or weak to bury their dead’. He demands a high fee for this and also loots the possessions of the dead and the mourning, ‘he would take whatever in the house or field had the most value’. However the true testament to the extent of his greed was when ‘He finally committed an act so vile’ by burying a man alive. Josiah’s wife, Aphra Bont, is stricken with grief at Josiah’s passing and falls victim to insanity. Unable to cope with the pressure and crisis she has been left with, Aphra adds to the hysteria by lying and deceiving. Like her late-husband, she uses the plague to exploit her neighbors by posing as the ghost of Anys Gowdie, who was accused of being a witch. Aphra sells the plague stricken townspeople phony remedies that only inflict more pain and suffering. Thus, both The Crucible and Year of Wonders demonstrate the self-centered nature of several characters and how this is heightened by pressure in a crisis.
Both texts are set in similar time period of the 16th century, thus similar societal norms and values are shared by the people of Salem and Eyam. The vast majority of characters in both novels believe in the devil just as passionately as they believe in God. In The Crucible authority is awarded to those of great religious stature. The puritan leaders are given full control of legal conviction and the community has doubtless faith in their decisions, thus in Salem, ‘There is either obedience or the church will burn like hell is burning!’. The people of Salem blur the lines between faith and the law, and go to great lengths to be rid of the devil. Puritan characters such as Reverend Parris begin with good intentions influenced by their faith to cleanse the town of the devil. However the actions they take in the madness are corrupt. Many cling to these ideal as a sense of justification, Danforth defends the standing of the court even when he suspects that the court is wrong, he insists that ‘[he] cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the dame crime. It is not just’. The people of Eyam in the Year of Wonders place a similar amount of authority on the church. Although the puritans no longer rule, their influence still persists, ‘the puritans who had ministered us here had held that all actions and thoughts could be only one of two natures: godly and right, or satanic and evil’. In both texts characters are blinded by the influence of religion and certainty of its righteousness, and often become maniacal in their methods to utilize religion to mend their issues. This is seen in both witch-trials in The Crucible and Year of Wonders. Although puritans are thought of as the moral compasses of a town, when crisis erupts both texts showcase the hysterical nature of characters and their grip on religion as a justifiable reason for madness.
In The Crucible and Year of Wonders, hysteria and fear dominate the villages of Salem and Eyam. Characters in The Crucible turn their own neighbors out of fear that the devil might be conspiring alongside them. The mass hysteria dislodges all rational logic, and leads the characters to blame witchcraft for situations they cannot understand. This blurriness between what is real and what is a product of hysteria presents the witch-hunt as ‘a long overdue opportunity for everyone so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins’ thus ‘long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken’. Hysteria is shown to reveal the selfish nature of character such as Abigail in The Crucible, as she uses the townspeople’s fear of witch-craft to turn them against goody proctor. The influence of hysteria and fear is also apparent in Year of Wonders, particularly in the character of Aphra Bont. Fuelled by grief and trauma, Aphra engages in crazed behavior after the death of her husband Josiah Bont. She commits horrific crimes, however it is the actions taken by her neighbors as a result of her offences that shows the full extent of the mass hysteria. Fears grips other minor characters as well, John Gordon’s self-flagellation also represents the way hysteria can take a hold of people and cause madness. Both The Crucible and Year of Wonders showcase the influence of hysteria and fear on crisis, and how it dominates the community, allowing for the manifestation of human fear and its effect on a person.
Although crisis and pressure predominately reveals the worst in most characters in The Crucible and Year of Wonders, certain characters harness the responsibility and show themselves to be truly moral. In The Crucible, John Proctor was ‘respected and even feared in Salem’, he is a good and godly man who deeply regrets his sins, including his adultery. Proctor acts valiantly and stays in court to ‘face the demons’. Although Proctor is skeptical about the witchcraft movement in refuses to name others who may have been ‘compacting with the devil’ even though it meant sacrificing his survival. Proctor ultimately decides that he must stand by his own dignity and integrity, because he believes himself ‘not worth the dust on the feet of those that hang! … I have given you my soul; leave me my name!’. Thus, Proctor sacrifices his life for his legacy and preservation of a good name. In year of wonders, Anna Frith is the most morally sound character through her devotion to tending the sick and finding a cure for the plague, whilst battling her own grief. Since her husband’s death, ‘[she’s] tended so many bodies, people [she] loved and people [she] barely knew’, Anna puts aside her own pain and suffering to help the community in crisis. Both John Proctor and Anna Frith reveal themselves to be truly good and moral in their reactions to the pressure and crisis.
Crisis grips the two towns of Salem and Eyam, and puts pressure on the characters of both The Crucible and Year of Wonders. Abigail Williams of The Crucible is shown to be truly ugly and twisted by self-desire within. Likewise, in Year of Wonders Josiah and Aphra Bont turn to greed and lying to take advantage of the plague ridden town. The 16th century worldview is deeply saturated with religious and puritan ideology. This reliance on religion often blinds characters and can lead to superstition and mass hysteria, all of which test characters and reveal their inner corruption. In The Crucible, ‘the witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic’, similarly in Year of Wonders the plague had an alike debilitating effect as the characters were ‘rendered in the fiery furnace of this disease’. In both texts the true character of those put under pressure during a crisis is tested and more often than not the results are unflattering. However the pressure can also allow some characters to thrive in a deathly situation.