Study Guide

The Crucible Respect and Reputation

By Arthur Miller

Respect and Reputation

Act I
Abigail Williams

ABIGAIL, with a bitter anger: Oh, I marvel how such a strong man may let such a sickly wife be—
PROCTOR, angeredat himself as well: You'll speak nothin' of Elizabeth!
ABIGAIL: She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! She is a cold, sniveling woman, and you bend to her! Let her turn you like a—
PROCTOR, shaking her: Do you look for whippin'? (I.202-205)

Abigail accuses Elizabeth Proctor of damaging her reputation, and she also maligns the man she loves. Elizabeth will later admit that there is some truth to the charge that she is “cold.” But “sniveling”? Now that’s just a low blow.

Reverend Parris

PARRIS, studies here, then nods, half convinced: Abigail, I have fought here three long years to bend these stiff-necked people to me, and now, just now when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character. I have given you a home, child. I have put clothes upon your back—now give me an upright answer. Your name in the town—it is entirely white, is it not?
ABIGAIL, with an edge of resentment: Why, I am sure it is, sir. There be no blush about my name.
PARRIS, to the point: Abigail, is there any other cause than you have told me, for your being discharged from Goody Proctor’s service? I have heard it said, and I tell you as I heard it, that she come so rarely to the church this year for she will not sit so close to something soiled. What signified that remark?
ABIGAIL: She hates me, uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. It’s a bigger woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman! (I.63-66)

After seeing the girls dancing in the forest, Parris recognizes the possibility that the witchcraft being practiced has originated in his own household, and he worries about the possible danger to his reputation if the townsfolk learn that his daughter and niece could be consorting with the devil. More to the point: the townspeople may already have heard rumors that Abigail is not a proper girl, if Elizabeth Proctor has been talking about her around town.

Mrs. Ann Putnam

MRS. PUTNAM: Reverend Parris, I have laid seven babies unbaptized in the earth. Believe me, sir, you never saw more hearty babies born. And yet, each would wither in my arms the very night of their birth. I have spoke nothin', but my heart has clamored intimations. And now, this year, my Ruth, my only—I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin’ on her life too. And so I thought to send her to your Tituba—
PARRIS: To Tituba! What may Tituba—?
MRS. PUTNAM: Tituba knows how to speak to the dead, Mr. Parris.
PARRIS: Goody Ann, it is a formidable sin to conjure up the dead!
MRS. PUTNAM: I take it on my soul, but who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?
PARRIS, horrified: Woman!
MRS. PUTNAM: They were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir. For how else is she struck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth? It is a marvelous sign, Mr. Parris! (I.103-109)

Parris is only concerned with his reputation; Mrs. Putnam is only concerned about getting justice for her dead babies. When things go wrong, the people of Salem need someone to blame for it. Things don’t just happen for no reason. This may seem strange to us, but life was considerably more difficult for the early Puritans, so we have to consider that Mrs. Putnam’s reaction is not wholly irrational.

Act II
Reverend John Hale

HALE: I am a stranger here, as you know. And in my ignorance I find it hard to draw a clear opinion of them that come accused before the court. And so this afternoon, and now tonight, I go from house to house—I come now from Rebecca Nurse's house and—
ELIZABETH, shocked: Rebecca's charged!
HALE: God forbid such a one be charged. She is, however—mentioned somewhat.
ELIZABETH, with an attempt at a laugh: You will never believe, I hope, that Rebecca trafficked with the Devil.
HALE: Woman, it is possible.
PROCTOR, taken aback: Surely you cannot think so.
HALE: This is a strange time, Mister. No man may longer doubt the powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack upon this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it. You will agree, sir?
PROCTOR, evading: I—have no knowledge in that line. But it's hard to think so pious a woman be secretly a Devil's b**** after seventy year of such good prayer.
HALE: Aye. But the Devil is a wily one, you cannot deny it. (II.203-211)

Elizabeth and Proctor want to believe that Rebecca’s good reputation will save her, but in this time of craziness, nothing is certain. The idea that Rebecca Nurse could be a witch is shocking to Elizabeth and Proctor because their whole religion is based on the idea that a lifetime a prayer and good service should protect one from the Devil. All that Rev. Hale can offer in consolation is the lame explanation that “this is a strange time.” In fact, it’s not strange at all: the community has simply abandoned its principles.

Deputy Governor Danforth

DANFORTH: Then you tell me that you sat in my court, callously lying, when you knew that people would hang by your evidence? (She does not answer.) Answer me!
MARY WARREN, almost inaudibly: I did, sir.
DANFORTH: How were you instructed in your life? Do you not know that God damns all liars? (She cannot speak.) Or is it now that you lie?
MARY WARREN: No, sir—I am with God now.
DANFORTH: You are with God now.
MARY WARREN: Aye, sir.
DANFORTH, containing himself: I will tell you this—you are either lying now, or you were lying in the court, and in either case you have committed perjury and you will go to jail for it. You cannot lightly say you lied, Mary. Do you know that?
MARY WARREN: I cannot lie no more. I am with God, I am with God.
DANFORTH: These will be sufficient. Sit you down, children. (Silently they sit.) Your friend, Mary Warren, has given us a deposition. In which she swears that she never saw familiar spirits, apparitions, nor any manifest of the Devil. She claims as well that none of you have not seen these things either. (Slight pause.) Now, children, this is a court of law. The law, based upon the Bible, and the Bible, writ by Almighty God, forbid the practice of witchcraft, and describe death as the penalty thereof. But likewise, children, the law and Bible damn all bearers of false witness. (Slight pause.) Now then. It does not escape me that this deposition may be devised to blind us; it may well be that Mary Warren has been conquered by Satan, who sends her here to distract our sacred purpose. If so, her neck will break for it. But if she speak true, I bid you now drop your guile and confess your pretense, for a quick confession will go easier with you. (Pause.) Abigail Williams, rise. (Abigail slowly rises.) Is there any truth in this?
ABIGAIL: No, sir.
DANFORTH, thinks, glances at Mary, then back to Abigail: Children, a very augur bit will now be turned into your souls until your honesty is proved. Will either of you change your positions now, or do you force me to hard questioning?
ABIGAIL: I have naught to change, sir. She lies. (III.256-263; 266-269)

Mary asserts that she is telling the truth, but without Abigail’s confirmation, it is one person’s word against another's. The Court has assumed all along that the girls are telling the truth, and it has too much invested now to take only one girl’s word against all the others. Having disregarded reputation as a means of deciding who is telling the truth, the court has completely lost its direction. Notice how Danforth almost seems to think he has supernatural powers to make Abigail and the other girls tell the truth, by putting a metaphoric “augur bit” of drill into their souls. In reality, he has no power whatsoever to make them be honest.

DANFORTH: I judge nothing. (Pause. He keeps watching Proctor, who tries to meet his gaze.) I tell you straight, Mister—I have seen marvels in this court. I have seen people choked before my eyes by spirits; I have seen them stuck by pins and slashed by daggers. I have until this moment not the slightest reason to suspect that the children may be deceiving me. Do you understand my meaning?
PROCTOR: Excellency, does it not strike upon you that so many of these women have lived so long with such upright reputation, and—
PARRIS: Do you read the Gospel, Mr. Proctor?
PROCTOR: I read the Gospel.
PARRIS: I think not, or you should surely know that Cain were an upright man, and yet he did kill Abel.
PROCTOR: Aye, God tells us that. (To Danforth) But who tells us Rebecca Nurse murdered seven babies by sending out her spirit on them? It is the children only, and this one will swear she lied to you. (III.127-132)

Proctor appeals to the women’s long-standing excellent reputations to demonstrate that there might be something fishy about the accusations against them. Though Danforth and Parris try to suggest that the Devil is disingenuous and can fool even the most righteous man, Proctor diffuses their arguments by pointing to the ones who made the accusations and to their possibly negative reputations.

DANFORTH: Your husband—did he indeed turn from you?
ELIZABETH, in agony: My husband—is a goodly man, sir.
DANFORTH: Then he did not turn from you.
ELIZABETH, starting to glance at Proctor: He—
DANFORTH, reaches out and holds her face, then: Look at me! To your own knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery? (In a crisis of indecision she cannot speak.) Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher!
ELIZABETH, faintly: No, sir.
DANFORTH: Remove her!
PROCTOR: Elizabeth, tell the truth!
DANFORTH: She has spoken. Remove her!
PROCTOR, crying out: Elizabeth, I have confessed it!
ELIZABETH: Oh, God! (The door closes behind her.)
PROCTOR: She only thought to save my name! (III.410-426)

The one moment in Elizabeth’s life when telling the truth would save her, she lies to save her husband’s reputation. Is this an act of love and courage, or has she gotten her priorities mixed up? Proctor bears some of the blame for her telling a lie. He has failed to appreciate or praise her honesty in the past, so it’s easy to understand why she would cave at this moment, dealing with a personal subject in front of so many people.

John Proctor

PROCTOR, breathless and in agony: It [Abigail] is a whore!
DANFORTH, dumfounded: You charge—?
ABIGAIL: Mr. Danforth, he is lying!
PROCTOR: Mark her! Now she'll suck a scream to stab me with but—
DANFORTH: You will prove this! This will not pass!
PROCTOR, trembling, his life collapsing about him: I have known her, sir. I have known her.
DANFORTH: You—you are a lecher?
FRANCIS, horrified: John, you cannot say such a—
PROCTOR: Oh, Francis, I wish you had some evil in you that you might know me. (To Danforth:) A man will not cast away his good name. You surely know that.
DANFORTH, dumfounded: In—in what time? In what place?
PROCTOR, his voice about to break, and his shame great: In the proper place—where my beasts are bedded. On the last night of my joy, some eight months past. She used to serve me in my house, sir. (He has to clamp his jaw to keep from weeping.) A man may think God sleeps, but God sees everything, I know it now. I beg you, sir, I beg you—see her what she is. My wife, my dear good wife, took this girl soon after, sir, and put her out on the highroad. And being what she is, a lump of vanity, sir— (He is being overcome.) Excellency, forgive me, forgive me. (Angrily against himself, he turns away from the Governor for a moment. Then, as though to cry out is his only means of speech left:) She thinks to dance with me on my wife's grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore's vengeance, and you must see it now. (III.374-384)

Proctor sacrifices his reputation in order to save his wife and stop the court proceedings. Then again, there are really two ways of having a reputation. The first is to follow the rules, which is what Proctor gives up by admitting he committed adultery. The second is to have integrity. Proctor preserves his integrity by being honest.

Act IV
John Proctor

PROCTOR: I have three children—how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?
DANFORTH: You have not sold your friends—
PROCTOR: Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence!
DANFORTH: Mr. Proctor, I must have good and legal proof that you—
PROCTOR: You are the high court, your word is good enough! Tell them I confessed myself; say Proctor broke his knees and wept like a woman; say what you will, but my name cannot—
DANFORTH, with suspicion: It is the same, is it not? If I report it or you sign to it?
PROCTOR, he knows it is insane: No, it is not the same! What others say and what I sign to is not the same!
DANFORTH: Why? Do you mean to deny this confession when you are free?
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 a 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. (IV.284-294)

Proctor is unwilling to blacken his friends’ reputations—and he clings to his own reputation of loyalty and integrity. So he throws his confession away.