"The 'Yellow Bird' Spirit" - analysis of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" play. Focuses on the "yellow bird" in Act II and how "mass hysteria is achieved and the effects of such panic."

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The "Yellow Bird" Spirit

One of the most vibrant, deep, and sagacious screenplays of the 21st century is Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Miller brilliantly comments on human morals, authority, and mass hysteria. He parallels the events of Salem in 1600's to the blacklisting and the discrimination against those who were labeled as a "communist" in America during the 1950's. He proficiently shows how mass hysteria could sweep an entire community like a tsunami and erase all logical thought and rationality. Especially in the "yellow bird" scene during Act III, he portrays how mass hysteria is achieved and the effects of such panic. Miller uses the dialogue, the stage directions, and the atmosphere, setting, and time period of the scene to acquire the desired mindless panic. Through his play, he manages to show how jealousy, frustration, and vulgar vengeance can transform a sound and tranquil town into own that is predominated by hysteria.

Miller uses the character's dialogue to help to create the hysterical mood. On page 224, Abigail initially introduced the supposed "yellow bird" spirit of Mary by saying, "Why do you come, yellow bird?" Her ongoing "conversation" with the "yellow bird" quickly escalates out of control with the girls chiming in eagerly. Miller uses both Abigail and the group of girls to mock Mary. In an extended passage on page 224, it is evident the effect of this mimic:

Mary Warren. Abby you mustn't!

Abigail and All the Girls. Abby, you mustn't!

Mary Warren. I'm here, I'm here!

Girls. I'm here! I'm here!

Mary Warren. Mr. Danforth!

Girls. Mr. Danforth!

Mary Warren. They're sporting! They-!

Girls. They're sporting!

Mary Warren. Stop it!!

Girls. Stop it!!

Mary begins to get hysterical by the girl's imitation of her. While it is obvious to the outside reader that the girls are only pretending, it truly affects the person that they are pretending to be. By only repeating exactly what Mary is saying, the girls affect her rational thought and make her emotionally unstable. Furthermore, the extent of the effect on Mary is great because it is not just one girl - it is Abigail, Mercy Lewis, Betty Paris, Susanna Walcott, among others - a large group chanting along with Abigail. Mary quickly becomes frantic and her panic-stricken state affects everyone. Danforth exclaims, completely baffled by the screaming girls: "Why can they only repeat you?" Even he, a character with a strong and powerful personality, is swayed and believes with absolute conviction in the girl's pretense. His rhetorical question helps progress the hysteria. He is the leading authority figure, and if he is that gullible, then who is not? The imaginary "yellow bird", while not really alive, has come to life through the histrionic diction and dialogue that Miller chose. The powerful language of the scene deceitfully helps the hysteria set in.

In addition, the stage directions add to the dialogue by portraying raw physical emotional along with what is said. Abigail "gulps" as she first talks with the bird (224). The connotation of the word "gulp" implies that she is frightened and nervous of the bird's presence. By making her gulp, Miller lends an air of authenticity to Abigail's pretense - making her more believable to the other characters. Her gulp makes her fear seem real, instead of mere pretending. Also, Proctor is described using the adjective "frantically" - defined as "emotionally out of control." The actor portraying Proctor, in his subtle physical of being "frantic", should convey the fear, nervousness, and anxiety that Proctor is feeling, contributing to the ride of hysteria. Furthermore, one very distinct set of stage directions are those for Mary Warren. At first, when Abby first speaks of the yellow bird, Mary is merely "on her feet with a spring, and horrified, pleading" (224); she senses the danger and thus has risen, but has not yet panicked. However, soon she is "turning on them all...
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