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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Every Man in this Village is a Liar by Megan Stack


What is Every Man in This Village Is a Liar about?

A few weeks after the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre on 9/11, journalist Megan Stack, a 25-year-old national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, was thrust into Afghanistan and Pakistan, dodging gunmen and prodding warlords for information.  From there, she travelled to war-ravaged Iraq and Lebanon and to other countries scarred by violence, including Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, witnessing the changes that swept the Muslim world, and striving to tell its stories.

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar is Megan Stack’s unique and breathtaking account of what she saw in the combat zones and beyond.  It is her memoir about the wars of the 21st century.  She relates her initial wild excitement and her slow disillusionment as the cost of violence outweighs the elusive promise of freedom and democracy.  She reports from under bombardment in Lebanon; documents the growth of unusual friendships; records the raw pain of suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq; and, one by one, marks the deaths and disappearances of those she interviews.

The Prologue in Every Man in this Village is a Liar

The Prologue is Megan’s way of looking back on 10 years of killing and dying.  She says that “… the first thing I knew about war was also the truest, and maybe it’s as true for nations as for individuals: You can survive and not survive, both at the same time” [p.4].  Megan reflects that the US determination in the wake of the September 11 attacks to go out and ‘tame all the wilderness of the world’ was an instinctive response.  With the benefit of retrospect Megan surveyed the damage this folly has done to the US, to the affected nations in the Middle East and to her.  In the end she judged that September 11 was the beginning of a ‘disastrous reaction’.

The Quote “Every man in this village is a liar”

Megan realises that in the new reality of the war on terror, truth is no longer an absolute but the servant of political necessity.  In Pakistan someone said to Megan, “Every man in this village is a liar” [p.9].  She explains it as “… one of the world’s oldest logic problems … If he’s telling the truth, he’s lying.  If he’s lying, he’s telling the truth.  That was Afghanistan after September 11” [p.9].

Conflict in the Text

The text is primarily concerned with Megan’s encounters with violent military conflicts in the Middle East.  It does also deal with conflict on many levels.  Not only does it examine deadly force used by countries at war it also considers how people subjected to this invasion or assault live with the constant fear of arrest, torture or death.

Megan also contemplates her own survival of what covering these wars has done to her as a person.  In effect she documents the political and also moral price of the war on terror for America.  She speaks about ‘sacrifice’ in chapter 8 [p.96] in countries that have historical conflict that stretches back over centuries.  As a result Megan asserts that “Violence is a reprint of itself, an endless copy” [p.96].

Ways to Look at Conflict

Have a look carefully at this brilliant Conflict Flowchart to see what light it might shed for you on the ideas connected with the Context ‘Encountering Conflict’ and the text Every Man in this Village is a Liarconflict flow chart

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The Quiet American by Graham Greene

In applying the theme of conflict to an analysis on Graham Greene’s mid-1950s novel The Quiet American, we cannot avoid the constant, juxtaposed pairing of motifs that create the plot basis of the narrative: non-involvement versus action, neutrality versus commitment, ‘‘dégagé’’ versus ‘‘engagé’’.  The idea of conflict is both explicitly and implicitly explored in the text at a societal as well as a personal level.  Being set in Vietnam before the defeat and subsequent withdrawal of the French, provides a backdrop to a clash between personal and political ideologies.  Throughout the novel there is a running debate on the issue of foreign intervention in Indochina.  In terms of political symbolism, it is Fowler and Pyle’s rival attempts to possess Phuong that reflect the West’s attempts to possess and control Vietnam itself.

The Crux of this Novel and the Central Dilemma

The text raises key questions of its protagonist Thomas Fowler.  How long can a non-participating observer — a cynical, middle-aged British journalist paid to report only the facts of conflict — stand on the sidelines until he is compelled to pass a personal and moral judgment upon another, and to become involved?  Fowler clearly points out to Pyle “I don’t know what I’m talking politics for.  They don’t interest me and I’m a reporter.  I’m not engagé’’… “I don’t take sides.  I’ll be still reporting, whoever wins” (p.88).  We are forced to question whether there is any such thing as the moral high ground.  Sooner or later Fowler finds out what Captain Trouin tells him is the truth “One has to take sides.  If one is to remain human” (p.166).

A Moral Choice

Does Fowler have Pyle killed as a result of his jealousy over Phuong’s desertion of him for the American?  Or is he asserting his humanity and taking sides?  He sacrifices his friend to prevent further needless civilian deaths but Greene is ambiguous on how far Fowler’s motives are honest.  Greene in fact makes Fowler deal with a moral choice but he is left with a guilt that is reluctant to let him go.  Human life according to Greene is muddied, even chaotic with dark and contradictory elements in Fowler that leave the reader with more questions than answers at the end of the novel.

The Exposition of Conflict

The exposition of conflict is played out through the relationship between Fowler the journalist, who is also the first-person, confessional narrator of the novel, and Pyle, a young American governmental representative.  Pyle, described by Fowler as a “quiet American”, (p. 9) is inoculated with a textbook education — little more than an academic and ideological theory — on how the creation of a political and military ‘‘Third Force’’ might bring the values of American-style democracy to a Vietnam being destroyed by a war waged between French colonialism and the insurgency of nationalist communism during the early 1950s.

Personal Conflict

Complicating and intensifying matters is the more personal conflict arising in Saigon between the two characters when Pyle falls in love with Fowler’s mistress, Phuong; behind the scenes, with the collusion of a ‘‘third force’’ in Phuong’s grasping older sister, Pyle succeeds in winning her.  Embittered, and a man accustomed to deserting wives and girlfriends rather than them leaving him, Fowler breaks down in the toilet, symbolically, of the American Legation building: ‘‘… with my head against the cold wall I cried.  I hadn’t cried until now.  Even their lavatories were air-conditioned, and presently the temperate tempered air dried my tears as it dries the spit in your mouth and the seed in your body’’ (p.139).

Interconnected Conflicts and Love, Personal Relationships and War

This is black comedy rather than tragic drama.  It is also one example in the novel of where the wider, large-scale conflict of war and ideology, as viewed from Fowler’s stance, intersects and coalesces with the personal.  For Phuong may also be interpreted in a wider sense as representative of the culture, nature and beauty of a ‘‘feminised’’, perhaps idealised image of traditional Vietnam being fought over by an old, tired, cynical Europe and a thoroughly modern, optimistic, yet unworldly United States.

Through Fowler, Greene’s ferocious contempt for the popularity and insidious spread of American values, affluence, behaviour and antiseptic cleanliness is obvious.  He even associates the name ‘‘Pyle’’ with constipation and haemorrhoids in one sequence.

For example, although the novel is narrated by Fowler, Greene ensures an alternative — and accurate — point of view through two sequences in which the British journalist receives a letter and a telegram from his deserted and badly hurt wife, in which she refers to Phuong and to his serial emotional insecurity and weakness: ‘‘You pick up women like your coat picks up dust … I suppose like the rest of us you are getting old and don’t like living alone … You say that we’ve always tried to tell the truth to each other, but, Thomas, your truth is always so temporary’’ (p.108-110 ).

Engagé  – Commitment

Engagé is foretold in a scene in which Fowler accompanies Trouin, a French air force pilot, on an aerial bombing mission, in which a sampan and its crew are casually obliterated.  Who should feel responsible for this, and for the dropping of napalm on villages?  The pilot only, carrying out his nation’s orders?  Trouin insists that at some point everyone, including Fowler, will be forced to take sides, because you cannot stand aside and be dispassionate: ‘‘It’s not a matter of reason or justice. We all get involved in a moment of emotion and then we cannot get out. War and Love — they have always been compared’’ (p.144).

Fowler’s moment is the realisation that Pyle’s covert activities in organising a ‘‘democratic’’ Third Force have brought bloodshed to the streets of Saigon.  Yet it is more complex than this.  It is also a moment that deeply involves the personal — ‘‘War and Love’’ (p.144) — for Fowler’s immediate reaction is that Phuong has been caught up in the bombing, and that Pyle is directly responsible.  Phuong is safe, but Fowler is fully engagé for the first time: ‘‘I thought, ‘What’s the good?  He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless.  All you can do is control them or eliminate them.  Innocence is a kind of insanity’ ’’ (p.155).

Dégagé – Professional Neutrality

Ironically, Pyle’s ‘‘elimination’’ at the hands of the local communists can be traced back to Fowler’s non-partisan, dégagé newspaper coverage of the war, and the fact that the communists trust him. ‘‘Mr Fowler, you are British.  You are neutral.  You have been fair to all of us,’’ (p.120) says one of their sympathisers, Mr Heng.  This reputation of professional neutrality from conflict, and the consequent insider knowledge supplied to him by the communists, is precisely the factor that has awoken Fowler to Pyle’s quiet ‘‘insanity’’, and drawn him into engagement.

Is Fowler a Murderer by Proxy?

Regardless of cause, motive and justification, is Fowler, by proxy and at arm’s length, a murderer?  At the end of the narrative, with his estranged wife willing to divorce him, he tells Phuong, ‘‘Here’s your happy ending’’ (p.180).  But the words are charged with cynicism and self-recrimination.  For according to Graham Greene — the unhappy country in which the author’s moral and emotional compass swings and points — there is secrecy, guilt, sorrow, and an aftermath in which peace, a quiet resting place of the soul, will never be realised.

By the conclusion of The Quiet American, the interconnected conflicts of love, personal relationships and war have reached some sense of relief and resolution through the agency of Pyle’s death.  In one moment Fowler, whose constant refrain throughout the narrative has been, ‘‘Let them fight, let them love, let them murder, I would not be involved,’’ (p.20) now becomes fully engaged and complicit.  Fowler’s usual response to the conflict that surrounds him has been to sit on the sidelines.  However, when the conflict comes closer, threatening to undo his carefully cultivated equilibrium, his cynicism does not protect him from the horrors of war.

No Definitive Sense of Personal Redemption for Fowler

At Phat Diem, Fowler is confronted with a canal “full of bodies” (p.43) and at this time his own values are unexpectedly challenged by Pyle’s actions.  He is reminded of the truth in what Captain Trouin said that “One day something will happen.  You will take a side” (p.143).  However, it is the bombing in Place Garnier that is the turning point for the hardened journalist.  Haunted by images of the carnage he has witnessed, he realises that inaction can also have lasting consequences.  Fowler’s moral conflict is stark.  Does he betray the man who saved his life?  Does he become complicit in the assassination of another human being?  Does he allow Pyle to continue to “… play with plastics” (p.125) unchecked and kill more innocent people?

Yet when he does engagé, Fowler ends up with a hollow victory.  While Fowler may have gained in humanity by becoming ‘involved’, inevitably he feels guilt for his role in Pyle’s murder.  Paradoxically, he has become like Pyle “… I had betrayed my own principles; I had become engagé as Pyle, and it seemed to me that no decision would ever be simple again” (p.175).  Nonetheless, Fowler expresses remorse for the part he played in Pyle’s death.  He remarks at the end of the novel “Everything has gone right with me since he had died, but how I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry” (p.180).  In the end I believe Fowler is fully engagé and complicit.

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‘The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif ‘ Themes

The Themes in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif includes the importance of the relationship between culture and identity

You have to ask yourself the question, “What becomes of a person in our world if political developments made it impossible for him to live in his own country?”  The politics of displacement creates an identity crisis.  Thinking outside the square about the issue of identity; “Is ‘identity’ portable?”

Conflict has Far-reaching Consequences

The text articulates the many and varied ways conflict affects individuals and communities.  The immediate and personal costs of war are often obvious.  Gorg Ali and Rosal Ali are killed.  Najaf is injured when a bomb explodes above his house and he suffers financial hardship and shame as a result of this injury.  Ultimately, Najaf is forced to flee Afghanistan when the Taliban take control of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Long Lasting Trauma from Violent Events

The text also captures the long-lasting emotional trauma that accompanies these violent events.  Consider Najaf’s emotional state while recovering from his injured leg.  He is uncharacteristically despondent, angry and jealous.  His inability to contribute to the family income and, worse, calling on his brother’s charity, make him feel “sick with shame” (p.137).  While these feelings subside when Najaf is finally cured, other key incidents show that single events have lifelong ramifications.  Najaf’s grief for Gorg Ali, for instance, does not diminish and he sheds disconsolate tears in his interview at Woomera 18 years later.  Najaf’s mother, too, endures lifelong grief.  Just before the rocket attack, Najaf comments, “her heart was still broken after the death of Gorg Ali a year before, and would stay broken for the rest of her life” (p.13).

Indirect Consequences of Living with Conflict

Long-term consequences of conflict also arise indirectly.  Living with conflict makes Najaf perpetually fearful.  He is so accustomed to being threatened that he inanely worries that the Australian authorities have been fed misinformation.  To avoid forcible recruitment into either the communist or mujahedin forces, Najaf has to keep his “eyes peeled” and “one part of [his] brain … always on alert” (pp.152-3).  He is tense, vigilant and constantly “ready to respond” to seemingly imperceptible signals (p.153).  Najaf’s safety and security are constantly undermined.

Insecurity Leads to a Sense of Powerlessness

Najaf sums up this state of mind when he realises, early in his rug-making apprenticeship, that “this future of learning and gaining greater and greater skill all depended on things that I couldn’t control” (p.154).  To cope, Najaf trains himself “not to think too far into the future” (p.154).  This demonstrates a terrible and often hidden consequence of war: people lose hope.

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