The AIDS Epidemic "Blame Game"

Nate Russell

AIDS in the United States: What You Need to Know

In the early 1980's, the United States of America became victim to what is known as the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) virus. It destroys the immune system of its inhabitant, and can take months or years to reach its most severe symptoms (MedlinePlus, "HIV/AIDS"). The origin of AIDS was likely at the beginning of the 20th century in Africa, and was first identified in the US in 1981.

Early on, the disease was most commonly found in California and New York. It is spread easiest through unprotected sex, use of intravenous drugs (involving the veins), or blood transfusions involving contaminated blood. Throughout the 1980's, AIDS was often associated with homosexuality, as that was what initial patients showed as common traits. The first suggestions to name the disease often displayed this association. As states, "by 1982, the condition had acquired a number of names- GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), 'gay cancer'... and 'gay compromise syndrome'" ("History of HIV & AIDS in the U.S.A"). It was not until around the year 1984 when wider groups of people, including heterosexual men and women, began contracting the disease that it was realized as a common threat to anyones health.

According to, by the start of the year 1990 there had been over 117,000 reported cases and 90,000 deaths from AIDS in the US ("Thirty Years of HIV/AIDS: Snapshots of an Epidemic"). To this day, almost 1.2 million people suffer with AIDS/HIV in the US today. Homosexuals (often men) and bisexuals continue to be the highest at-risk demographic for the disease. The most at-risk for AIDS among all races are African-Americans (, "U.S. Statistics: HIV in the United States"). This was the case in the epidemic of the 80's, and in such a vulnerable stage of familiarity with the disease, led to accusations that gay men and women, as well as African-Americans, were responsible for the spread of the disease in America. Therefore, anyone who contracted the disease during this time was also assumed gay most of the time. When teenager Ryan White was diagnosed in 1984 at age 13, he was banned from going to school and accused of having to be gay to have contracted the virus, as his mother talked about in an interview:

“It was really bad. People were really cruel, people said that he had to be gay, that he had to have done something bad or wrong, or he wouldn't have had it. It was God's punishment, we heard the God's punishment a lot. That somehow, someway he had done something he shouldn't have done or he wouldn't have gotten AIDS.” (Health Resources and Services Administration: "Who Was Ryan White?")

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The Connection: How Does It Relate to "The Crucible"?

The panic of the people in both "The Crucible" and in America during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980's resulted from bias against certain groups of people and fueled even greater bias against these groups.

The sense of fear that surrounded both the figures in "The Crucible" and the American people of the 1980's had many similarities. The theme of bias and prejudice is present in "The Crucible" as it was in the AIDS epidemic. During the 80's epidemic, the feelings towards the gay community were not very accepting. As the Health Resources and Services Administration states, homosexuals were "a community jolted by fear" and "shunned by many" ("Gay Men and the History of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program"). Because of the bias that was present towards gay men at the time, AIDS was turned away from by politicians and medical workers until it became a heterosexual problem as well. It is very clear that there is bias towards witches before the events in "The Crucible", and as Betty Parris even states, "witchery's a hangin' error, a hangin' like they done in Boston" (Miller 1034). Therefore, this already strong hatred for witches caused the people of Salem to jump to the conclusion of witchery, just as the strong bias towards gay men in the 1980s caused the conclusion that AIDS was only a gay man's disease.

Many other parallels exist between "The Crucible" and the AIDS epidemic. AIDS having the greatest effect on homosexuals worsened the social acceptance of the gay community because just being associated with such a deadly disease gave those with bias even more of a reason to "shun" them. Richard Isay wrote for The Los Angeles Times in 1987 about the subject, noting that "Verbal and physical attacks on gay men have increased" during the AIDS epidemic (Los Angeles Times, "Scapegoating of Gay Men Leaves Its Mark"). This is similar to the way that anyone who was ACCUSED of being a witch in "The Crucible" was shunned by the community. In the final act of "The Crucible", John Proctor shows that he would rather die than let the community know that he admitted to witchery and accused others when he says that "God does not need to see my name nailed upon the church" (Miller 1110). He knew that no matter what, he would be treated differently in the community if he continued to live. To be a Salem man or woman associated with witchery would have destroyed one's reputation in the community, just like being a gay man or woman would have hurt one's reputation just for being associated with AIDS.

The prejudice that the court and people of Salem had for Abigail Williams and the girls also was similar to prejudice had for heterosexual and even white men and women in some cases. In "The Crucible", the community-wide belief that Abigail Williams is simply a young, innocent girl allows her to control others. In court, when Danforth questions her about what John Proctor has said about her lies, the prejudice that the people of Salem have for her allows her to respond with "let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits?" in such a threatening voice (Miller 1088). She knows that there will be no consequences because she is thought to be the reason that the Puritan people of the town are "cleansing the village" so to speak. For these reasons, Abigail is never considered a devil worshipper after she confesses nor a liar for starting the Salem Witch Trials. This is similar to prejudice had towards heterosexual and white people during the AIDS epidemic. While AIDS is obviously not solely a homosexual disease, the heterosexual community was so highly appreciated socially when compared to homosexuals, and therefore made such a demographic seem incapable of attracting the disease. This is the same case when looked at from a perspective of racism. Prejudice for white men led to public belief that only African American men were getting the AIDS disease. Just as Abigail Williams would never be caught for lying because she was young and innocent, heterosexual and white men and women were often never accused of having or spreading AIDS in the early 80's. This is all because of the bias had toward the oppressed (gay men), and prejudice for the heterosexual Americans in the 1980's.

Works Cited

"Gay Men and the History of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program." The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.

"History of HIV & AIDS in the U.S.A." HIV and AIDS Information and Resources. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.

"HIV/AIDS: MedlinePlus." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.

Isay, Richard A. "Scapegoating of Gay Men Leaves Its Mark." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 July 1987. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Viking, 1953. Print.

"Thirty Years of HIV/AIDS: Snapshots of an Epidemic." AmfAR. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

"U.S. Statistics." N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2014.

"Who Was Ryan White?" Health Resources and Services Administration. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.