A reworking of Appearance is Everything.
Page references are from the play.
Thanks to Facebook, everybody’s business is everyone else’s news. In many ways, this no different than the turn of the 17th century, when the events in The Crucible occur. Almost every action in The Crucible 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, and his family’s name, intact, choosing death over admitting to a crime he did not commit. The immediate spread of any misdeeds through an efficient gossip network within Salem motivated many in town to lie or deceive others 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 from discovering the fact that she has been misbehaving in a rather unsavory fashion. She fears that her reputation in the eyes of her uncle will be tarnished if she tells the truth. In addition, Abigail Williams, who resides under the guardianship of her uncle, Reverend Parris, the priest in the town of Salem, and a man whose reputation can be used by his enemies to “ruin [him]”, fears that her uncle will be associated with her misdeeds which will, in his words, “compromise [his] very character.” (p. 11) Her willingness to succumb to the ease of lying leads Salem spiraling towards the edge of anarchy.
Within the play, many of the characters value earthly reputation over heavenly reputation, which is in contrast to the Puritan belief of a modified predestination. “God knows how black my sins are! It is enough!” (p. 142) John Proctor cries as he refuses to let his name be associated with witchcraft. Before he ultimately chooses death over deception, he claims that he cannot tarnish his name with lies “because it is [his] name!” (p. 143) Because he has “given…[his] soul” to the judges, he begs that they “leave [him] [his] name!” (p. 143) Here, though he places more emphasis on his soul, by claiming that it has already been taken from him, he posits that at the end of a person’s time on earth, all they have left is their name and he is clearly willing to go to great lengths to protect his name. By not signing the witness statement, he supports the argument that gossip, “what others say,” and what he signs to “[are] not the same.” (p. 143)
When John Proctor reaches the point where he realizes that he would rather not be seen as someone “not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang” (p. 143) he chooses to cleanse his reputation further by completely denying all charges and by choosing to die for his honesty. All though this may seem self-sacrificing, it can also be seen as self-serving since the net benefit of his actions is that history looks upon him kindly.
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 on 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, as can be seen with the actions of Mary Warren who, when pressed, attempts to confess to the subterfuge. When the townspeople realize that they have all been duped, they would rather live in ignorance than learn the error of their ways. Because of this justification, they, or more specifically the girls involved in the trial, force her to recant her previous statement and they use the accusation of witchcraft as effective blackmail against her.
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 and responded to the fear of social repugnance targeted towards them through lying and deceit. Many characters from disparate areas of town choose the path where the ends justify the means and the ends entailed deceit.