What does the following line say about John Proctor's character? "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 is a great line and sequence from this play. If you haven't already seen the film version with Daniel Day-Lewis, please do so. Day-Lewis delivers the above line in such a way that it is the part that I remember the most.
At this point in the play, John Proctor has already admitted to the court that he committed adultery with Abigail Williams. In essence, he has intentionally hurt his reputation in the community. Many people looked up to Proctor as a good, strong, and moral man, but the adultery will taint that image.
The court asks John to sign his name and admit to witchcraft, and John refuses to let the court keep the paper that he signed. John is okay with his reputation being hurt because he was trying to save others, but he is not okay with his name (and his family's name) being tainted by lies. By not signing the paper, Proctor knows that he will die, but he is going to die knowing that he stood firm in his beliefs. He dies knowing that his wife and kids are attached to the good name of "Proctor." Those lines once again affirm to the audience the moral character, strength, and dignity that John Proctor has been demonstrating throughout the play.
The lines bring out the selfless and strong nature of John Proctor. He admitted to adultery in an attempt to save his wife. He later refused to sign the testimony, not because of his own reputation, but the reputation of his name which his family carried. According to John, his reputation was tainted, and even though he was not going to die a saint, he was going to hold onto his dignity because it was all that he had left. By refusing to sign to lies, John was also affirming his commitment to atone for his past mistakes. The signed testimony would have saved his life, but at the same time jeopardize his family. John chose to pursue the moral high road even when he was aware it would result in his death.
We can take this set of lines to relate to the title of the play. At this point, Proctor has been reduced to his essence. No more can be taken from him. His wife and children have been taken from him. He wants to keep at least his name. The name contains or represents that barest modicum of identity that a person cannot lose and still live.
This is one of my favorite lines from the play. John refuses to testify falsely because the name is the only thing he has of value. Your name is your reputation. Your name is the one thing everyone has, which you will always have.