In modern society, reputation has the dubious position of utmost importance. Especially in a digital era, when the first things you learn of a person are what others are saying, reputation has been elevated exponentially. In the time within which The Crucible is set, around the turn of the 17th century, reputation still held a very important position. Indeed, because of the small town nature of Salem, everyone’s business was everyone else’s news. This immediate spread of any misdeeds motivated many in town to lie in order to save face amongst their neighbors.
The hysteria at the center of The Crucible starts with one girl’s attempt to keep her uncle away from discovering the fact that she has been misbehaving in a rather unsavory way. Abigail Williams resides under the guardianship of her uncle, Reverend Parris, the priest in the town of Salem, a man whose very livelihood depended on the reputation of both himself and his family. Her willingness to succumb to the ease of lying in order to protect herself leads to a spiral towards a slightly anarchist Salem, very different from the uptight and rigid nature generally found in a Puritan settlement.
Everything in the story, with the exception of the initial romance between Abigail and John Proctor, can be traced back to a need to improve or protect one’s reputation. Indeed, the play itself can be neatly brought full circle by the beginning scene, in which Reverend Parris attempts to clear his family’s name of any suspicious activity, and the final scene when John Proctor chooses to keep his reputation in tact, choosing death over admitting to a crime he did not commit.
It is clear within the play that the characters see reputation as not just something that applies to the earthly life, so to speak. In “Act IV” John Proctor states the following: “I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough!” (p. 142) It appears to be that Proctor believes that God has formed an opinion about him. While the Puritans believed in an altered version of predestination, it seems here that Proctor is referring to a divine reputation if you will, one that will be sullied by his actions on earth, regardless of his predestined standing in the celestial realms.
Regardless of the importance that each individual Puritan places on reputation, they all recognize the place that it holds for the community at large. Thus, though they might not place much importance of their own reputation and the effects that their actions can have on it, they do censor themselves and their actions in the interest of maintaining a good opinion within the town of Salem.
Ergo, it is clear that many of the townspeople’s actions are influenced by the fear that accompanies possible ostracisation from the town and excommunication from the church, an all around unpleasant affair. Though it may seem that the actions of the Puritans are motivated by greed, in the case of the Putnam’s, love, in the case of Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams, or personal pride, in the case of John Proctor, most of those motivations stem from a greater cause, the need to maintain a good reputation.
Many a mind has been swayed by an unsavory word whispered in the right ear. None of Salem’s residents had any wish to have the town turned against them next.
Not my best work, but we all know that my analytical writing is most definitely on the weaker side…