The AIDS Epidemic and It's Hysteria

Continued prejudice against those infected with this disease

In the early 1980's, the first cases of the AIDS disease were recognized along with the injustice against those who were infected/in contact with the disease.

The Recognition of AIDS in the 1980's

In the beginning of the 1980's a small number of gay men were diagnosed with different/rare forms of cancer or pneumonia. As more and more cases began to arise it was found that these mens immune systems were compromised, meaning they were vulnerable to illness such as pneumonia. "By the end of 1981, 5 to 6 cases of this disease were being reported each week." (History of HIV & AIDS in the US) "There were a number of different names assigned to this disease including, GRID (gay-related immune deficiency, 'gay cancer', and 'gay compromise syndrome, eventually given the same AIDS meaning Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome." (History of HIV & AIDS in the US) These names given to the disease show how the gay community was seen as a target/ those who started this deadly disease and it's spread.

Ryan White

Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS in December 1984 at the age of 13. Ryan was a hemophiliac meaning his blood didn't clot normally and contracted AIDS from a contaminated blood treatment (Johnson, Ryan White Dies of AIDS at 18) After his diagnosis, Ryan was expelled from middle school. Many students and parents were fearful of Ryan and his family because they feared they would be infected as well. But, through all the fear and tormenting, Ryan continued to fight for his right to attend school. The fight was taken to court where eventually the Indiana Department of Education rules Ryan should be allowed back in school. (Ryan White: His Story) But, the tormenting continued."Vandals broke windows of the family's house and slashed their car's tires. When his mother, Jeanne White, went to the grocery store, cashiers would throw down her change to avoid touching her hands." (Johnson, Ryan White Dies of AIDS at 18) Eventually, Ryan and his family moved to another town that was more accepting of his disease. At the age of 18, Ryan White died at Riley Hospital for Children. The Ryan White CARE Act was enacted in 1990 and worked "to improve the quality and availability of care for medically underserved individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS" (Ryan White CARE Act) This is just one example of Ryan's legacy and how his fight helps us even today.

The Crucible

In Arthur Millers, The Crucible, hysteria plays a huge role in the accusations made by those who were accused, and what hysteria can do to a person. Abigail Williams is one of the first to accuse someone else in Salem of being a witch. Once Abigail realizes that she now has to make sure all the other girls agree with her lies she threatens them. "Now look you. All of you. We danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam's dead sisters. And that is all. And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents' heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down! She goes to Betty and roughly sits her up. Now, you-sit up and stop this!" (1034) This shows us what Abigail does when she's fearful for her own safety/ whether anyone will find out the truth. She rather threaten others in order to make sure she is not accused any further. In The Crucible, many who were accused of witchcraft named others who were later accused. These people being their neighbors, friends, and even enemies. "Betty: I saw Martha Bellows with the Devil! Abigail: I saw Goody Sibber with the Devil! Putnam: The marshal! I'll call the marshal! Betty: I saw Alice Barrow with the Devil! Abigail: I saw Goody Hawkins with the Devil!" (1049) In this scene, Abigail and Betty accuse other women of witchcraft. This shows what the frenzy of the witch trials did to these people. It made them turn on people they lived with in order to make sure they were safe. The hysteria and fear put into people during the witch trials caused them to forget their morals and only think of themselves. Mary Warren is another person who is accused of witchcraft and let's the hysteria surrounding the trials affect her thinking. "Mary Warren: I cannot charge murder on Abigail. John Proctor: You will tell the court how that poppet come here and who stuck the needle in. Mary Warren: She'll kill me for sayin' that! Abby'll charge lechery on you." (1071) In this scene between Mary Warren and John Proctor, Mary knows the truth that could set his wife Elizabeth free. Mary Warren withholds the truth about Elizabeth in order to protect herself. She doesn't defend another person in her community which means that the hysteria has changed something in her.

Hysteria in the 1980's

In The Crucible, the hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials is similar to that surrounded by the 1980's AIDS epidemic. In The Crucible the hysteria surrounding the accusations of witchcraft made those accused turn on their community similar to those involved in the AIDS epidemic. When looking at Ryan White's situation we see that his community turned on him when he was diagnosed with the disease. They did not want to let him back into school.

Throughout the witch trials we see that all those accused of witchcraft and put on trial, forget their morals and would rather save themselves than others. Mary Warren promised John Proctor that she would defend his wife, Elizabeth Proctor in court. But, Mary Warren would rather save herself from Abigail than tell the truth about Elizabeth. We see this in Ryan White's case. He needed his communities support when he was diagnosed with AIDS but, instead of support he was tormented. They did not protect him like they should have but instead, isolated him even further, in order to protect themselves. The people in his community feared they would "catch AIDS" if they came in contact with Ryan.

We see in The Crucible that many ditch their morals and sacrifice others to make sure they are safe in their own community. When Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS his own teachers turned on him, not wanting him to return to school. They do this in order to protect themselves from the disease but, they are doing more harm than good.

Work Cited

Michels, Spencer. "‘We Were Here’ Revisits San Francisco’s AIDS Epidemic of Early ’80s." PBS. NewsHour Productions, 14 June 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health-jan-june12-wewerehere_06-14/>.


Johnson, Dirk. "Ryan White Dies of AIDS at 18; His Struggle Helped Pierce Myths." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 9 Apr. 1990. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/09/obituaries/ryan-white-dies-of-aids-at-18-his-struggle-helped-pierce-myths.html>.


"Thirty Years of HIV/AIDS: Snapshots of an Epidemic." AmfAR. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.amfar.org/thirty-years-of-hiv/aids-snapshots-of-an-epidemic/>.


Boynton, Andrew. "Remembering St. Vincent’s - The New Yorker." The New Yorker. 16 May 2013. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/remembering-st-vincents>.


"History of HIV & AIDS in the U.S.A." HIV and AIDS Information and Resources. AVERT. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.avert.org/history-hiv-aids-usa.htm#footnote1_09m2r8l>.


Frank, Priscilla. "12 Stunning Photos Reveal How San Francisco's Castro District Changed History." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/10/thomas-alleman_n_4915182.html>.