The Crucible by Arthur Miller ends with the hanging of two of the most respected citizens of Salem in 1692. After the terrible witch trials, over a hundred people had confessed so that they would not lose their lives by hanging. On this day, John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are to be hanged. Even Reverend Parris knows that these are wrongly accused.
In order to save one’s life, Governor Danforth insists that each person sign a confession to witchcraft. If a person does not, then he is hanged.
In the town of Salem, a person’s reputation was important to the social standing and acceptance by the church and trade. Business and trade meant life and having enough to eat. When a person was accused, his reputation lost some of its value because living became the ultimate goal.
Religion was the heart of life in the puritan communities. Reverend Parris stood by his daughter and the other girls as they accused respected, ordinary citizens of bewitching them. Now, two of the leading citizens of Salem were the last of those to be executed. Everyone wants them to sign the confessions because no one really believes that they bewitched anyone. One of the judges, Reverend Hale doubts the validity of these accusations.
John Proctor has been accused because of his relationship with Abigail Williams. Abigail has left Salem and stolen money. Her affair with Proctor was denied by Elizabeth, John’s wife, but validated by Abigail and John. He was accused of bewitching Mary Warren, his house girl. Proctor had come to the court to help his wife and to tell them that Abigail had told him that it was all a pretense. Now, he is going to be executed for his efforts.
Rebecca Nurse was a pillar in the community. A devout religious woman—no one believes that she is a witch. Rebecca Nurse has lots of children and grandchildren. Anne Putnam has lost seven children. In her bitterness, Anne Putnam accuses Rebecca of killing 7 of her 8 babies. No one believes it, but it makes no difference: Rebecca is accused and found guilty. She will not sign a false confession, so she will go to the gallows. Danforth tries to get Proctor to accuse Nurse, and of course, he refuses.
Rebecca: Why, John!
Danforth: Now, woman, you surely see it profit nothin’ so keep this conspiracy any further. Will. You confess yourself with him?
Rebecca: Oh, John—God sen His mercy on you!
Danforth: I say will you confess yourself, Goody Nurse!
Rebecca: Why, it is a lie, it is a lie, how may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot.
After Elizabeth forgives him for his affair with Abigail and observing how Rebecca Nurse carries herself, John realizes that he cannot sign the confession. He will not give it to Danforth. John tells the judges that he will not lose his good name by admitting to something that he did not do
These two courageous people are willing to give up their lives to save their good names and reputations. Consequently, their descendants will know that they died for what they knew was right in the eyes of God.