A Theme Of Reputation In The Crucible By Arthur Miller

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Introduction

Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it. ” In other words, a good reputation takes a long time to form, often taking numerous years of kind actions and generosity. However, it takes only one circumstance of immorality to change the way that people view and perceive a person. In The Crucible, one of the underlying themes found throughout the novel is the theme of reputation. Arthur Miller emphasizes this theme through the careful examination of certain respected characters such as John Proctor, Reverend Parris, and others, particularly by analyzing their individual motives and distinct aspects of their character.

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Thesis Statement

Arthur Miller emphasizes this theme of reputation through the careful examination of certain respected characters such as John Proctor, Reverend Parris, and others, particularly by analyzing their individual motives and distinct aspects of their character.

The only thing that Reverend Parris seems to worry about is how others in the community perceive him. At the beginning of the play, Parris says “Abigail, I have fought here three long years to bend these stiff-necked people to me, and now, just now when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character”. In this instance, Parris is standing over his daughter’s sick bed, apparently very distraught. What we learn from this dialogue however is that instead of being concerned for his daughter’s safety and well being, he only cares about what the people in the village will think about his current situation. Parris is questioning Abigail in an attempt “to discover the ‘truth’ to prevent it from damaging his already precarious reputation as Salem’s minister. . . ”, because he knows that if the people believe that his daughter and niece were summoning spirits in the forest, they would probably fire him as their pastor. Unfortunately for Parris, he is not very well respected as it is, and “he resents his parishioners’ lack of respect. . . Believing that his authority comes from God, and therefore ought to be respected absolutely. . . ”. Despite the fact that he feels like he should be revered and honored by the village of Salem, he is decidedly not. This is why he knows that any rumors brought against him and his family will stir a public uproar and create grounds for his dismissal from the minister position. He desperately fights to portray a good image for himself in an effort to save his own skin. Parris’s self-centered focus on his reputation reveal a minister who is, ironically, trying to avoid the truth at all costs rather than seek it as one would expect a man of God to do. Miller is leading us to the conclusion that Parris is not necessarily an evil person, but his selfish desire to protect his own reputation paves the way for greater evils to snowball out of control.

Another good illustration of the theme of reputation can be found by carefully analyzing the character of John Proctor. At the climax of the play, Proctor exclaims, “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!”. This scene takes place after Danforth is trying to persuade Proctor to sign a document confessing that he is a witch. Obviously, Proctor refuses. He doesn’t want his reputation to be tarnished more than he already believes that it is. “For him his ‘name’ does not only mean reputation, but truth to oneself and others. . . and when he refuses to ‘sign his name’, it is to save his own integrity before God and himself”. Even at this time, Proctor is struggling with the inner guilt that he feels for sleeping with Abigail, and it is in this moment that he realizes how to restore his reputation, not necessarily in the eyes of the rest of the community, but to himself. He believes that he must hang, not for the crime of witchcraft, but for the crime of lechery. According to him, it’s what he deserves. This whole scene is used in an effort “‘to find John Proctor’s soul,’ where the term ‘soul’ is understood to mean Proctor’s integrity, his sense of self-respect, what he himself variously calls his ‘honesty’ and (finally) his ‘name’”. Proctor’s reputation is so much more than Parris’s or Danforth’s. Where Parris’s image is completely external, Proctor’s reputation encompasses who he is, both inside and out. It his very being, his identity, and to compromise that would be the equivalent of selling his soul to the devil. For once, Proctor is choosing to take the hard path, not because he believes that he is a righteous person like Rebecca Nurse, but because in dying, he hopes to gain a little bit of self respect. It would have been shameful and cowardly if he had sold out those that had already hanged, because it would mean that their deaths were in vain. He wasn’t necessarily restoring his reputation in the town, but he was restoring his sense of self worth.

Deputy Danforth is another major character that struggles with the weight of reputation. When Reverend Hale tries to convince Danforth to postpone the hangings because it would be the murder of innocent people, Danforth replies with, “Mr. Hale, as God have not empowered me like Joshua to stop this sun from rising, so I cannot withhold from them the perfection of their punishment”. Despite knowing that Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and John Proctor are not guilty, he decides to follow through with the death sentence anyway. He does this because he knows that if the people find out that all of the accusations were false and that the court condemned innocent people, the court will be overthrown and its reputation will forever be blemished. “At first, the witches who were brought to trial and convicted were generally old and eccentric women like Sarah Good who were of questionable character long before the trials began. But people like Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor were not”. The community was initially very supportive of the trials, but when respected women like Rebecca Nurse were charged, doubts were placed in the minds of the people. This made it imperative for Danforth to “sell it” if you will. He had to make the public believe that the accused were guilty, even if he didn’t think so himself. Danforth progressed with the executions even after realizing that they were wrong in an effort to sustain the reputation and power of the court. “Miller conceded that he had himself been remiss in this respect, failing clearly to demarcate the moment at which, knowing, finally, the deceptions being practised, Danforth nonetheless decides to proceed. This, as he suggests, is the obverse of Proctor’s final decision that he cannot sign his name to a lie. Danforth can”. Unlike Proctor, Danforth has no sense of personal integrity and doesn’t seem to care that his own character and soul is being defaced in making this decision. The only thing that matters to him is that the reputation of the court is not marred, which would occur if the convictions were found to be false. By refusing to show mercy, even to the innocents, he is, in a way, upholding the “integrity” and reputation of the court. Unlike Parris, who is acting out of the selfish desires of his heart, Danforth is legitimately evil. Despite being a judge, someone that is supposed to uphold the truth, Danforth discourages the truth and even promotes a lie.

Conclusion

Through the critical study of certain honorable characters within the play, mainly by exploring their specific motives and facets, Miller is able to adequately manifest the theme of reputation. Reverend Parris fights to protect his reputation in a selfish effort to save himself and his precarious position as Salem’s minister. John Proctor on the other hand chooses to die, not necessarily to boost his reputation, but to restore the self respect that he lost when he committed lechery. Unlike what a judge should do, Danforth sells himself to a lie, not for his own purposes, but to protect the reputation of the court. Miller is undeniably illustrating through these characters that in the long run, reputation will get you nowhere, but personal integrity is what truly matters.

31 October 2020

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