The Effect Of Fear On Communities In Year of Wonders

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Fear is a constant reminder that we are human although it can make us believe we’re not. Both Geraldine Brooks the author of ‘Year of Wonders’ and Arthur Miller author of ‘The Crucible’, explore the effect of fear on the seventeenth century communities. While both have their differences, both authors show how fear can have control over societies and individuals apart of those societies. In her fictional novel, Brooks re-creates a year in the life of a remote British village decimated by the Bubonic plague which is being told in the point of view of the protagonist Anna Firth, a young mother of two and widower. The plague was brought to the town by wet fabric sent from London where the plague was present, it quickly spread throughout the town killing many taking the children first then the old this created fear and hysteria within the town. The rector of the town of Eyam Michael Mompellion made to decision to quarantine the town in order to save the other villages that surround them. Within Miller’s play it reproduces the Salem witch trails and the parables of mass hysteria that draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch-hunt of 1692. It explores how the small community of Salem, like Eyam, and how it is stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and malice, culminating in a violent climax. Unlike Brooks, Miller’s suggested protagonist Abigail created fear through the witch accusations. Both texts respectively illustrate how the effect of fear on communities can cause individuals to lose their rational thought or their sanity. Likewise, both authors explore how fear can also empower people to perform acts of kindness and selflessness within their communities. Furthermore, fear can make people choose between selflessness and selfishness.

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The effect of fear on communities can cause individuals to lose their rational thought or their sanity. Both Miller and Brooks’ illustrate this through the characterisation of Abigail Williams and Lib Hancock, and the mob, respectively. Anna’s internal monologue initials reveals Lib to be a character of irrational and illogical thought, “Anys Gowdie’s raised the dead! “but as Michael Mompellion arrived at the scene, he seems to have calmed down her fear and the fear of the mob just by stating the truth “oh, yes, the Devil has been here this night! but not in Anys Gowdie!”. However, as the plague progresses across the town her fear increased. Lib fears the loss of her family. Fear leads to blame, which is collimated in the mob scene with Mem and Anys. This fear and the chaos it inspire ultimately leads to Lib been part of the murder of Anys Gowdie in this moment, it is Anna that provides the rational thought “don’t be a fool! Who amongst us here hasn’t put their mouth to a lamb born unbreathing”, but Lib is too far gone, “As you yourself told me that this witch consorted with the Devil’s spawn who brought the plague here!”. Therein, showing how fear can progress into hysteria that drives people from rational thought and pushes them lines of insanity. Like Brooks, Miller also suggests that fear can drive a character to insanity. This is evident through the characterisation of Abigail Williams. Abigail is presented as a young orphaned girl living with her Uncle Parris Salem’s reverend; she is also madly in lust for John Proctor. Driven to superstition in order to have John, Abigail is seen ‘dancing in the woods’ as part of a love potion. Abigail fears the punishment that comes with this behaviour, and opts to defer this to Tituba and accuse her of witchcraft. This begins a web of lies wherein Abigail accuses Elizabeth Proctor then runs away in order to get out of all the punishment she would have got. Both characters insanity due to the crisis in their towns resulted in the murder of someone else, Lib, assisting in the murder of Anys Gowdie and Abigail incriminated 19 people who had performed witchcraft and they were sent to hang. Lib Hancock became part of the surging ‘mob’ that hysterically labels Anys a “whore”, and “fornicator”. Just like Abigail who accuses Goody Proctor of evil deeds. Unlike Brooks, Miller suggests that Abigail although she feared for the punishment, she also reviled in the fact that the fear she creates create chaos in her town, whereas Lib feared for her family rather than herself. This shows that fear can drive people to insanity, but some can find their way through it like Lib. Nonetheless, both authors illustrate the lengths Abigail and Lib went (insanity wise) because of the effect of fear.

Fear can empower people to perform acts of heroism, kindness and selflessness. Due to the growing fear within the texts, both authors illustrate how there can be the hero or heroine in the time of a crisis, this is illustrated through characterisation of Michael Mompellion and John Proctor and Reverend Hale respectively. Brooks’ text explores Michael Mompellion, is presented ambiguously as a charismatic leader and initially indefatigable hero, “like the ore that must be melted all to liquid to the pure metal, so must we be rendered in the fiery furnace of this disease”. Mompellion’s intelligence and initiatives are deployed in the services of Eyam during the plague year, his aim was that “none should die alone” therefore this motivated him to protect the village. He took control of situations that were derived from fear and hysteria like the mob deciding to throw Mem over into the water and hanging Anys as well where he indignantly accuses them of using “their own ugly thoughts and evil doubting of one another”. He further explains: “there have been times when in mobs, they have laid blame for the Plague on the sins of others- Jews, many times.” Where he didn’t show kindness, he was showing the selflessness as he deployed his eloquence to persuade the villagers that “no on should leave or enter the village” putting himself at risk of catching the contagion as well which greatly displays his selflessness. His delivery of his words was so serene that he engenders a sense of communal warmth, making the township feel as if “he intoxicated [them] with words, lifting and carrying [them] away into a strange ecstasy”. In a similar vein, when chaos governs the town of Salem, and hysteria is rife, John Proctor and Reverend Hale endanger their safety as they resist giving in to the frenzy which holds Salem. As ignorant accusations of witchcraft and allegations of “loose spirits” run “all about” Salem, John and Reverend Hale fight for the truth as they attempt to reveal to the Salem court that Abigail’s torrent of accusations was only a “whores’ vengeance”. In this sense they are both seen as the villain in the court’s eyes but really, they are doing the town justice by stopping the source of the accusations. Whereas in ‘Year of Wonders’, Mompellion is able to control the situation within the town, unlike ‘The Crucible’ where 19 people were killed due to the fear and rumours that spread throughout the town. Although John and Hale were not seen as selfless or heroic at first like Mompellion was, but as the accusations and fear progressed, they began to illustrate valiant and noble qualities. Moreover, both texts demonstrate how the fear and hysteria that was wide spread in their communities caused characters think of others before themselves.

Fear can make people choose between selflessness and selfishness. Within the ‘Year of Wonders’ the Bradfords become the embodiment of evil and are particularly insidious because they can help and yet resolutely turn their backs on the suffering of their fellow citizens. They ruthlessly place their own interest above the welfare of others. They appear selfish and hardened to the suffering of others and live ‘safe in their Oxfordshire haven’. The villagers expect support; however, the Bradfords send “neither alms of any sort nor even a kindly word”. Colonel Bradford ruthlessly abandons his servants, many of whom have been with his for decades and cares little for the fact that they have nowhere else to go. Despite their responsibility to their household and to the village, he refuses to accept that he has a duty to offer support and leadership; rather, he insists that his primary concern is to his family as his “life and the lives of my family are more consequence to me than some possible risk to strangers”. Elizabeth Bradford also shows similar signs of evil, as she attempts to drown her mother’s newborn half-sister; she “cannot have our family’s shame flaunted in this village for all to stare at and whisper over”. However, throughout the ‘The Crucible’, Elizabeth portrays selflessness, integrity and loving personality. She shows it when she protects other people’s reputation as she lies in court to keep John’s affair with Abigail a secret because she feared losing him forever, although this goes against John’s confession. Even soon after that affair Elizabeth forgives him, “John, it comes to naught that I should forgive you, if you’ll not forgive yourself. It is not my soul, John, it is yours”. she does this because she realizes that their love is the only thing that matters and what she feared most was losing that love. Both texts have characters that are selfish and selfless, but fear and hysteria made them choose whether to put themselves at risk or to run away because they don’t want to put themselves at peril.

To conclude, fear is apart of the human condition it can make us fall into a pit of insanity, turn us into a hero and makes us chose if we want to be selfless person or a selfish person. Both text illustrate this through their characters respectively.

29 April 2022

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