Reputation as a Theme in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible

‘Reputation’ as a Theme in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.  One of the most important themes in The Crucible is reputation.

In a theocratic society like Salem, where public and private moralities are one and the same, reputation plays such an important role.  Focused on maintaining public reputation, the townsfolk of Salem much fear that the sins of their friends and associates will taint their names.  Various characters base their actions on the desire to protect their respective reputations.  The protagonist John Proctor’s desire to keep his good name leads him to make the heroic choice not to make a false confession and to go to his death without signing his name to an untrue statement.

Quote of John Proctor in Act IV:

Because it is my name!  Because I cannot have another in my life!  Because I lie and sign myself to lies!  Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name?  I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

Explanation of Quote:

Proctor utters these lines at the end of the play, in Act IV, when he is wrestling with his conscience over whether to confess to witchcraft and thereby save himself from the gallows.  The judges and Hale have almost convinced him to do so, but the last stumbling block is his signature on the confession, which he cannot bring himself to give. In part, this unwillingness reflects his desire not to dis-honour his fellow prisoners: he would not be able to live with himself knowing that other innocents died while he quaked at death’s door and fled.

More importantly, it illustrates his obsession with his good name.  Early in the play, Proctor’s desire to preserve his good name keeps him from testifying against Abigail. Now, however, he has come to a true understanding of what a good reputation means and what course of action it necessitates—namely, that he tell the truth, not lie to save himself. “I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” he rages; this defense of his name enables him to muster the courage to die, heroically, with his goodness intact.

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