Most people have developed a reputation for themselves in one way or another during their lives. The desire to protect one’s reputation is an extremely prominent theme in The Crucible. This play takes place in a Puritan society in Salem, where the moral code and beliefs learned from the Bible stress the importance of bearing a good name. The protagonist, John Proctor, is extremely concerned with how the townspeople view him and does not want to tarnish his name in the town. Since reputation is quintessential to the townspeople of Salem, they use deception, slander, and even go against their religious beliefs to save their good name. Arthur Miller successfully blends shifting diction, figurative language, and allusion to emphasize the resounding theme of the importance of maintaining one’s reputation in this passage of The Crucible.
Arthur Miller’s use of shifting diction highlights the theme of maintaining one’s reputation in this passage. Miller incorporates the use of grim diction when Proctor exclaims, ‘I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence!'(Miller 132) Danforth tries to convince Proctor to sign the confession and when Proctor finally does, he does not want it hung on the church. Proctor does not want his reputation smeared with this confession of witchcraft. He feels that he will no longer be a good person one his reputation is damaged and he wishes to save his and his family’s reputation. The grimness of the word “blacken” makes the reader feel the dreariness and darkness of lies against the purity of the truth. It Miller uses accusatory diction when Danforth questions Proctor and asks,”Is that document a lie?”(133) The word “lie” accentuates that the townspeople use deception and lies to save their false reputations in society. Also, since the word “lie” is directed at Proctor, it accuses him of another lie in addition to his having deceived Elizabeth by keeping the secret of his adultery to secure his false reputation. Danforth’s words underscore that deception and lies are used to achieve the desirability of a good reputation in Salem. He wants to hang Proctor’s confession on the church door to show his authority and maintain his reputation in the town. John Proctor tells Danforth the reason he does not want his confession nailed to the church when he emphatically proclaims, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies”(133). Miller’s use of Proctor’s impassioned diction demonstrates how determined the character to preserve his honor. Although he is ashamed of committing adultery, he does not want any other accusation to tarnish his good name. Proctor’s use of the word “lie” leaves the reader with a negative connotation about lying. He stresses that he is not lying, nor will he lie to save his life. He condemns it, refuses to do it, and would rather die than falsely confess and have himself remembered as a man of sin. He emphasizes the word “name” to show his desperation to keep his good reputation. Additionally, the writer uses hopeful diction when John Proctor comments, “You have made your magic now, for now I do think that I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor”(133). Proctor uses the words “shred of goodness” to show that he is extremely pleased with his decision to be truthful. This stresses his concern with his reputation because it demonstrates that Proctor is hopeful and at peace, finally seeing some good qualities in himself again after having sinned by committing adultery. Finally, John again uses impassioned diction when he pleads with Elizabeth to “Give them no tear! Tears pleasure them! Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it!”(133) John does not want Elizabeth to cry for him because he realizes he is doing the right thing. He is aware that his refusal to sign the confession means he will hang for the false crime of witchcraft, but it is worth it in John’s opinion because he has confessed everything and is able to die without shame and without dishonoring his family.
Similarly, Arthur Miller’s use of figurative language highlights the theme of maintaining one’s reputation in this passage. This is clear when Proctor tells Hale, “You have made your magic now…”(133) and describes how he sees some goodness in himself, though “[n]ot enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs”(133). The symbolic use of the words “white’ and “banner” symbolize how Proctor has saved his name by signing the confession. He, like a person carrying or waving a white flag, or banner, cannot be fired upon, or, in Proctor’s case, found guilty of another wrongful act. Miller also uses symbolism to stress the importance of reputation when Proctor calls the townspeople “dogs” for trying to convince him to confess to lies. He chooses this word because it shows that he feels they are immoral men who want him to go against his principles and confess to witchcraft. The “dogs” want to perform “magic” by intimidating Proctor into falsely confessing and ruining his reputation. Proctor states, ‘ I have three children—how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?'(132) This simile illustrates Proctor’s sense of social responsibility and concern with his good name. He is offered a way out of hanging, but it would mean condemning other innocent townspeople. He believes that he cannot be a man his children would be proud of and look up to if his reputation is soiled by betraying his friends. Proctor urges, “Tell them I confessed myself; say Proctor broke his knees and wept like a woman”(132). By using this simile, Miller asserts the importance Proctor places upon his good name and reputation. He wants Danforth to say he cried as a “woman” would because during this time period in Salem, if Proctor weeps like an inferior woman who lacks power, his reputation is saved because he has confessed and lowered himself to crying like a lowly woman.
In addition, Arthur Miller’s use of allusion highlights the theme of maintaining one’s reputation in this passage. Proctor asserts, “It is no part of salvation that you should use me!”(132) This allusion to the Bible and “salvation” from sin shows John Proctor’s wish to save his name even though he will definitely be put to death. His reputation and dignity mean everything to him, so he wants to die with a good name. Also, Proctor’s comment that he is ‘…not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang”(133) brings forth the concept of ashes to ashes, dust to dust from the Bible. He solidifies his desire to die with the townspeople that hung because they stood for the truth rather than live knowing that he died for nothing and disgraced himself. This shows his unending concern with his reputation. When Proctor declares, ”I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”(133) the word “soul” once again shows an allusion to the Bible. By using this term, Proctor shows his preoccupation with leaving his good name intact. He realizes that having a good reputation means telling the truth rather than lying to save his life, but he also knows he has already sold his “soul” by signing a false confession. Rebecca Nurse announces, “Let you fear nothing! Another judgment waits us all!”(133) She uses the word “judgment” as an allusion to the Bible and judgment by God that occurs after death. Although Rebecca Nurse is imprisoned and sentenced to hang, she holds strong to her beliefs and will not tarnish her name by lying. She addresses Proctor and tells him this to assure him there is nothing to fear from men like Danforth because they have been truthful and good, so God will judge them fairly. This emphasizes the fact that Rebecca believes a good reputation and honesty will be rewarded.
Undoubtedly, Arthur Miller’s use of shifting diction, figurative language, and allusion successfully emphasizes the resounding theme of the importance of maintaining one’s reputation in this passage of The Crucible since he shows the townspeople’s struggle to protect their good name by either discrediting others, praising deception, or risking their lives by telling the truth. Proctor’s use of grim diction indicates that he cannot bear to have his reputation tarnished by having his confession of witchcraft hung on the church because he believes that if his reputation is damaged, he will no longer be seen as an upstanding citizen. Danforth’s accusations toward Proctor underscore the fact that Danforth sees deception is a means of achieving what is desirable, which is a good reputation. Proctor’s hopeful and impassioned words stress his concern with his reputation because they demonstrate that at last Proctor sees some good qualities in himself after having sinned by committing adultery. Although he is aware that standing by his principles by telling the truth will cause him to be hung for the crime of witchcraft, it is worth it for Proctor because he has confessed and is able to die without dishonoring his family and save his reputation. Miller’s use of figurative language in the form of symbolism when Proctor mentions a “white banner” and “dogs” reveals Proctor’s belief that he has maintained some level of purity or goodness even though he was intimidated into falsely signing a confession to witchcraft and ruining his reputation. Miller effectively uses the technique of simile to emphasize the importance of reputation when he states that Proctor cried like a woman would cannot walk like a man would. Proctor believes that he cannot be a man his children would be proud of and look up to if his reputation is soiled by betraying his friends. He feels that his reputation will be salvaged if the townspeople know he has confessed and lowered himself to crying like a lowly woman. Miller uses several biblical allusions in this passage to emphasize the importance of reputation. Proctor mentions “salvation” and wants to die with a good name like the townspeople that hung because they stood for the truth. He also knows he has already sold his “soul” by signing a false confession. Rebecca Nurse reassures Proctor that there is nothing to fear because God will judge them fairly and that a good reputation and honesty will be rewarded in the end. Quite often, reputation is held above all else, but it is no substitute for good character.