“They think to go like saints. I like not to spoil their names.”(Miller Act IV). John Procter’s words connect to the mentality of a few characters in the play, “The Crucible”. The play is set in the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 where one's name is of the utmost importance. The characters take all action, no matter how drastic or selfish to keep their name from darkening. When Reverend Parris’s daughter falls mysteriously ill, the town fears witchcraft is responsible which began the blame and accusations. It is revealed that Abigail along with her girls were dancing in the woods with Tituba the slave to conjure the dead; John Proctor committed adultery by cheating on Elizabeth with Abigail and a fiasco concerning a poppet that ‘stabbed’ Abigail. These events are all punishable by death for being a sin or related to witchcraft. As the play progresses there are false confessions, court trials, and innocent put in jail or executed.In “The Crucible” the playwright Arthur Miller reveals the power of Salem’s ideals of defending one's name by creating a paradoxical society in which vengeance, pride and cowardice influence characters’ decisions in negative ways.
Early in the play the characters express a need for vengeance that impacts their Puritan society negatively. One of the characters, John Proctor comments, “I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem- vengeance is walking Salem...and common vengeance writes the law”(Miller Page 24) about the presence of vengeance in their town. There were multiple perspectives of the witch trials in Salem; some used the trials to their advantage to get their vengeance. For example, in the perspective of Thomas Putnam and his daughter the trials were a chance to make many witch accusations towards people they felt who wronged them or land-lusted towards. Abigail Williams another character that is constantly seeking her revenge and hurts many people in the process. She argues,“There be no blush about my name” “My name is good in the village! I will not have it said my name is soiled! Goody Proctor is a gossiping liar!”(Miller Page 4) about how John Proctor's wife Elizabeth is spreading lies that Abigail and the girls have been practicing witchcraft. However, Elizabeth is not lying about Abigail's ulterior motive of replacing her as John Proctor's wife. Abigail has drank blood to kill Elizabeth (a practice of witchcraft), blamed Elizabeth’s soul bewitching a poppet that tried to kill her, and made many accusations to get rid of her. Abigail has been chasing her vengeance ever since her affair with John. In contrast, some characters value their pride over vengeance which retains them from engaging in foolish actions.
Arthur Miller creates a society where one always has to do everything in their power to defend their identity and take pride in it. A person’s efforts to keep their prideful name from being tarnished in “The Crucible” often creates a paradox. John Procter states, “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!”(Miller Page 43). Procter is fighting his conscience in court with the judges and Reverend Hale on whether to sign the confession to witchcraft when this is said. By signing, he would be falsely confessing which is a sin but, he would not be hanged. To Procter signing would lead him to a life of a fraud, therefore, his pride influences his life or death decision to die with his pride. Giles Corey is another character who let his pride influence a significant decision. When his wife, Martha Corey is accused of witchcraft he appears in court to defend her innocence which leads to accusations towards him. Elizabeth explains, “Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay.They say he gight," he says. And died.”(Miller Page 41). Giles would not answer his indictment for witchcraft to ensure his property was legally inherited by his sons. In doing so he would also save his respected name and his pride, which ethically was very important to him. John Proctor and Giles let the power of their pride influence their decisions however some characters let cowardly influence their actions.
In “The Crucible” it is revealed that there are characters that do not have the strength to do what is ethically right in their paradoxical puritan society causing them to take the coward's way out. Many times their cowardice is the result of their efforts to keep their reputation from being tarnished. For example, Abigail often lets cowardice guide her actions instead of having the courage to take responsibility for her actions. She threatens the girls, “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...I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!”(Miller Page 6). Abigail is not willing to own up to practicing witchcraft so, she uses her power over the girls to keep them quiet. Following this threat is a series of cowardly actions like manipulating, framing, accusing and more. Mary Warren was one of the girls threatened by Abigail to lie. She insists, “Pointing at Procter. You’re the devil’s man!He is stopped in his tracks…(sobbing she rushes to Abby)Abby, Abby, I’ll never hurt you more!(They all watch as Abigail out of her infinite charity, reaches out and draws the sobbing Mary to her, and looks up to Danforth.” (Miller Page 36). Before this is said John Proctor asked her to help him defend the accused witches innocence including his wife Elizabeth in court by exposing the girls for lying which she agrees to. That all changes when she is accused of witchcraft because she jumps back to her old story that she and the girls have been bewitched. This is a pattern we see with Mary Warren, where she is constantly shifting her loyalty from the Proctors and Abigail. John Proctor saw this pattern before with Mary, therefore, he was doubtful when she agreed and his doubts were correct. The acts of cowardice in this play many times set a domino effect of negative events not only for that person as well as the people around them.
The Puritan society Arthur Miller created was filled with paradoxes. These paradoxes often concern a person's’ purity (not committing a sin) and significant decisions. A paradox we see in this play that is common in our present society involves false confessions. Many innocent people are forced or persuaded to make a false confessions (lie) to save themselves from a worse punishment. This is unfortunate for the person having to lie but, lets the guilty person on committed the crime free. The power of how they valued vengeance, pride and cowardice greatly impacted their actions. Understanding how those powers can contribute to dictating the characters decisions will help one learn that letting those values overpower may have a negative influence.