One of the most central motifs within Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is the importance of one’s name. A person’s ‘name’ was equivalent to their reputation and how everybody knew them. Having a good name had become especially important in Salem due to the witchcraft trials, where the untrue accusations made in court could easily end a person’s life. Therefore, many of the characters within Salem are concerned with the perception of their name, as a person with a blackened name is far more likely to be accused than somebody with an untarnished one. There are several examples of the obsessive attitude to maintain a healthy name throughout the play. An example of this would be John Proctor and Abigail, who would rather lose their lives than live them with a burdened name.
During the beginning of the play (Act One), after the girls had been caught dancing in the forest, Parris appeared to be worried and questioned Abigail about her good name and if she were entirely innocent. He asked, “Your name is entirely white, is it not.” Abigail then replied, ‘There be no blush about my name.’ When further questioned her stature Abigail flew into a temper, “My name is good in the village! I will not have it said my name is soiled!” These statements show how Abigail would not tolerate having a blackened name and how important it was to maintain an unblemished one. Once the citizens of Salem believed that Abigail had a good and trustworthy name, she had the power to accuse anyone of performing witchcraft.
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This quote is stated by Elizabeth and shows how Mary Warren spoke of Abigail, “She speaks of Abigail, and I thought she was a saint, to hear her. Abigail brings the other girls to court, and where she walks, the crowd will part like the sea for Israel.” This is exactly what Abigail had wished for, to have a name so trusted that she could accuse and hopefully condemn Elizabeth Proctor so that she could be with her husband, John Proctor. Instead, Abigail managed to accuse and almost condemn Elizabeth for witchcraft; this pushes John to prove that Abigail is a fraud. John Proctor stated this quote; it shows how difficult it could be to wreck such a healthy name “I am only wondering how I may prove what she told me Elizabeth. If the girl’s a saint now, I think it is not easy to prove she’s a fraud”.
John decided to reveal his past relationship with Abigail to prove that she is a whore despite sacrificing his good name. He then verified the importance of the statement with his name, “A man will not cast away his good name. You surely know that”. This quote by Proctor proves that he is true, as no man would cast away their good and respected reputation for an unworthy or unjust cause. John’s accusation of Abigail backfired, though, due to his attachment to maintaining a good name. This happened when Elizabeth was called into the courtroom to testify that John had performed adultery with Abigail. John had previously stated that his wife would never tell a lie, although he knew that she would save his good name.
Elizabeth then denies knowledge of the affair between Abigail and John, and he is arrested as a witch. John’s actions to preserve his good name could be considered of a selfish nature. This is because John would rather keep his name intact than save his wife and save the many others that Abigail had accused of witchcraft. It might be considered that he was extremely selfish and his actions unethical, sacrificing others for the sake of himself. On his day of execution, John was allowed to confess himself to witchcraft or be hung. It was a difficult decision for John to make, though. This was because he had realized that if he confirmed, he would have been left without his name and to be without a name was to be like any other citizen of Salem, instead of the individual that he took pride in being.
He also considered the impact his name as a confessor would have had on the community. He would have had to lie and state who he had seen with the devil. This would have been an awful lie and would destroy his name. His spoilt name would then be carried on to his spawn, which as a good man, he would not have wished for his children to have witchery in their names. His confession would also have been hung up on the church’s door, which he would hate. This would be a lie which was a sin, and Proctor believed that he had already committed enough sins in his life. It could also be said that John’s actions were of an ungenerous and self-centred individual. This is because some of the community needed him greatly; for example, Elizabeth needed him to provide income for the family to buy food and take care of their children.
With a huge amount of difficulty, Proctor realized the consequences that his confession would cause on the community and himself and decided to hang with all his goodness still intact. He refused to sign the document and tore it up as if it were his life. Danforth then asked why. John cried, “Because it is my name. Because I cannot have another in my life. Because I lie and sign my name to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of those that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!!”
The quote above was one of the most important in The Crucible. It shows how reputation was critical in Salem, where public and private morality were the same. Earlier in the play, Proctor decided to preserve his good name when testifying against Abigail. Although he understood completely what a good reputation is and that he should tell the truth instead of telling a lie that will save him. It shows how John would rather die as a good person than live as a bad one.