In Act IV of The Crucible, why does Proctor not "name names?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It at this particular point in the play where John Proctor ascends into a transcendent realm of great literary characters.  It is in this act, in particular the last scene, where the importance of "name" is important, proving to be one of the lasting legacies of the drama.  Proctor has admitted, albeit in a lie, to seeing witches and being guilty of witchcraft.  Rebecca Nurse is brought in to see this, in the hopes she will follow suit.  It is at this moment when John recognizes his own mistakes and simultaneously his own capacity for moral greatness.  Rebecca is "astonished" that John would do such a thing and John catches this glimpse of himself in her own eyes.  It is through this that when John is forced to "name names," he refuses to do so and recants his confession as a lie, guaranteeing his own death.  He cannot name names because it would convict innocent people as well as cause harm to those who remained true to their own name.  John's refusal to name names is actually done to protect others' names.  John is not one to make himself out to be a martyr, but rather he recognizes the need to "make things right" in a setting where so much is wrong.  Someone has to break the moral corruption and hypocrisy that has taken a hold of Salem.  In the first scene of the act, there was ample discussion of how citizens banded together in Andover when a similar predicament plagued their community.  This might not be as evident in Salem, but John's stance is a hopeful start at redemption.  John recognizes this, which is why Elizabeth ends the drama with her own statement:  “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”  In a context where there is so little, "goodness," John's refusal to "name names" in recognition of the importance of name is a starting point towards redemption.

jennadc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Miller's choice to not name names is not only a literary choice, but parallels his experience with the McCarthy era hearings. John does not choose to incriminate his fellow Salemites, as Miller would choose not to incriminate fellow Americans during the Red Scare of the 1950s. To name names in either situation would result in the destruction of reputation. For Proctor, to not name names allows Proctor to regain his morally compromised reputation. It is a matter of what is the greater good-do you protect yourself from the destruction of reputation, loss of livelihood, or even death or do you stand up against those who deny the rights of others.

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The Crucible

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