Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1651
Essential Passage 1: Act 1
Parris: Mr. Corey, you will look far for a man of my kind at sixty pound a year! I am not used to this poverty; I left a thrifty business in the Barbados to serve the Lord. I do not fathom it, why am I persecuted here? I cannot offer one proposition but there be a howling riot of argument. I have often wondered if the Devil be in it somewhere; I cannot understand you people otherwise.
Proctor: Mr. Parris, you are the first minister ever did demand the deed to this house—
Parris: Man! Don’t a minister deserve a house to live in?
Proctor: To live in, yes. But to ask ownership is like you shall own the meeting house itself; the last meeting I were at you spoke so long on deeds and mortgages I thought it were an auction.
Parris: I want a mark of confidence, is all! I am your third preacher in seven years. I do not wish to put out like the cat whenever some majority feels the whim. You people seem not to comprehend that a minister is the Lord’s man in the parish; a minister is not to be so lightly crossed and contradicted—
Parris: There is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning!
Parris, as the pastor of the only church in Salem, is insecure in his position. His concern with Betty’s illness is not for her safety but his own reputation if there is a charge of witchcraft brought against someone of his own house. This has shifted the argument from witchcraft to his role as pastor. Proctor has been accused of being lax in his church attendance. It is because, he says, of Parris and his method of preaching. Defensively, Parris complains that he is not provided for by the community. His demand for ownership of the parsonage is a method to gain security that he knows his reputation will not provide. As the minister, he demands respect and the signs that accompany that respect. He is “the Lord’s man,” and thus deserves more than he is getting. He threatens eternal damnation if he is not obeyed and respected.
Essential Passage 2: Act 4
Danforth, conciliatory: You misunderstand, sir; I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime. It is not just.
Parris, with failing heart: Rebecca will not confess?
Hale: The sun will rise in a few minutes. Excellency, I must have more time.
Danforth: Now hear me, and beguile yourselves no more. I will not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement. Them that will not confess will hang. Twelve are already executed; the names of these seven are given out, and the village expects to see them die this morning. Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this—I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes. Now draw yourselves up like men and help me, as you are bound by Heaven to do.
Danforth, as the lead judge in the witch trials, has had difficulty maintaining his objectivism. Designated the legal arbiter in spiritual cases, he admits that he is forced to use evidence that is not seen. After several months, the rightness of the case of witchcraft is beginning to be questioned, even by Parris and Danforth themselves. The illogic of the position is clear: If you are innocent, you die. If you proclaim your guilt, you live. The tenuous nature of this line of reasoning, as well as the increasing number of people who refuse to confess, has cast doubt on the trials. Yet Danforth cannot stop. If he refused to try and hang those found guilty of witchcraft, it would mean that he had been wrong in the twelve cases that were pursued to the end. His reputation as a judge, and indeed of the court system of Massachusetts itself, hangs on the refusal to admit error. Rather than damage the reputation of the court, more people must die.
Essential Passage 3: Act 4
Proctor: I mean to deny nothing!
Danforth: Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let—
Proctor, with a cry of his whole soul: 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!
Danforth, pointing at the confession in Proctor’s hand: Is that document a lie? If it is lie I will not accept it! What say you? I will not deal in lies, Mister! Proctor is motionless. You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope. Proctor does not reply. Which way do you go, Mister?
His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect.
John Proctor, in order to save his life, has agreed to confess to being in league with the devil. Danforth, Parris, and others of the court have gathered to bear witness to his signature on his confession. Proctor, however, resists writing his name. Knowing what he has confessed is a lie, that he is in fact innocent of the charges, he does not want his name attached to a lie. It would be a fraud as the whole proceedings have been a fraud. He has signed his name, but is horrified that it will be posted in public, with everyone knowing his “guilt,” and thus destroying his reputation, literally his “good name.” He admits that he has sold his soul to the devil (in the guise of the trial officers), but begs to be at least allowed to keep his name free from the lie. When Danforth refuses, Proctor wordlessly tears up his confession, consigning himself to be hanged.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Reputation goes beyond mere public opinion, as portrayed in The Crucible. It is the very essence of either the individual or the institution. In The Crucible, the reputation of the church, the government, and the individual is called into question.
Reverend Parris has a false notion of reputation. He believes that, as the pastor, he is entitled to respect simply because of his office. The office should fill the man, he believes, rather than the man fill the office. Knowing in his heart that he cannot adequately fill the office, he grasps at externals to fill the gap. Whether it is being provided with firewood or the deed to a house, he is demanding the recognition of a reputation that he does not really have nor deserve. His lack of reputation thus leads him into playing a leading role in this darkness.
Danforth, as a representative of the court and thus the government, is also concerned about a reputation that is undeserved. With the growing realization of the evil of these trials, he is concerned more with the reputation of the court than the lives of the men and women who stand accused. Better that men die than that the court admit to error. Danforth, like Parris, personify the advertising tag line, “Image is everything.”
Yet it is John Proctor who has the truest understanding of reputation. He focuses on the meaning of his name, whether or not it is attached to a lie. His name is what he is. By signing his name to a lie, he will proclaim his whole existence as a lie. A man’s name is honor or, in the words of Elizabeth, it is goodness. A man’s name is his righteousness, in the most religious sense of the word. In a community that holds “taking the Lord’s name in vain” with such high regard, the struggle during this trial is taking a man’s name in vain. Proctor refuses at last to do so. He willingly chooses to die rather than put his name to something that is less than the highest truth. Truth is honor. It is reputation. He will die with his name still on the side of innocence, of truth.
John Proctor recognizes the foundational importance of the reputation of the individual in the community. The state does not bestow worth on the individual. Instead, it is the individual who grants worth on the state. If the reputation of the individual is unimportant, the state has no foundation. The implication that the state (and in Massachusetts at the time this included the church) is the strength of its citizens is an age-old question. Within two hundred years of the time of the Salem Witch Trials, that question would be answered by the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” rest with the individual, not the state. And how a man pursues those three concepts is a measure of the state of his good name, thus constructing his reputation. By pursuing honor and goodness, the individual builds not only his own reputation, but also the reputation of the nation. John Proctor can thus be seen, in his plea for his name, as the embodiment of that Declaration. Thomas Jefferson set the authority of the new United States on a foundation that John Proctor would understand: “In the Name, and by the Authority of these good People of the United States” and pledge the Americans to uphold freedom by their “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
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