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Reputation in The Crucible

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

Reputation plays an important role in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This lesson will provide a general overview of that role and also give some specific examples from the play.

What's in a Name?

Shakespeare's Juliet might decry the worth of a name when she implores Romeo to change his, but in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a name and its attached reputation are very important, indeed. To illustrate this, we must begin at the end: John Proctor, when he is condemned to hang for witchcraft, decides at one point to make a false confession just to save his life. He confesses in front of the judge and a few witnesses, but when he is asked to sign his name to this testimony, he balks. He does not want to give them the signed document, because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! ... How may I live without my name? We are told that he exclaims these words with a cry of his whole soul. He is willing to confess to a few officials, but he is not willing to append his name publicly to this false confession. His reputation is so important to him that he chooses death by hanging instead.

Do You Know Who I Am?!

Judge Danforth also asserts the importance of names and reputations in The Crucible, but in a less noble way. When John Proctor, Francis Nurse, and Giles Corey come to the court to present evidence to Judge Danforth in defense of their wives, Danforth asks on two different occasions, Do you know who I am? He says these words in an effort to get his own way or to quell dissent. Unlike John Proctor, Judge Danforth is here thinking his name and his reputation should prevent him from having to actually DO or BE anything. He seems to just want to wear his reputation as a banner and have the world bow before him. Reputation surely is important to all characters in The Crucible, but Judge Danforth seems to have the wrong idea about it.

Preceded by Reputation

Rebecca and Francis Nurse together provide an example of all the positive aspects of reputation in the society presented in The Crucible. We are told that Francis Nurse is so well respected in his community that he is often called upon to act as an unofficial judge. This high esteem extends also to Rebecca, his wife. We see this respect in action as Rebecca moves among her neighbors during the opening act. She seems to have the freedom to speak truth to all parties--in a dispute between John Proctor and Reverend Parris, she tells Parris that John is right in saying that some children are frightened by his sermons, but she also tells John that you cannot break charity with your minister. She urges them both to shake hands and make your peace. When Reverend Hale arrives from a nearby town, he recognizes Rebecca though he has never met her. I suppose you look as such a good soul should, he says, we have all heard of your great charities. It seems Rebecca's reputation does, indeed, precede her.

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