After reading The Crucible by Arthur Miller, one cannot help but wonder why when given the chance to confess to the accusations and live, did the characters choose to stay firm and die? For people today that question is not easily answered. In the past, however, this was not a question at all.
The answer was found within the strong religious background that most of the accused were raised on, and the feeling of pride and honor they felt in their hearts.
John Proctor exemplifies the importance of a strong name through his actions and choices throughout the play; most significantly in the fourth act when he chose death over disgracing his name.
Giles Corey’s refusal to reveal the name of the informant who accused Putnam of conspiracy also shows the role of justice in these individuals’ lives, letting God be the judge of their actions in life and not their peers.
Sometimes you have to stand for more. Throughout the play, one of the central themes continues to be John Proctor’s, Giles Corey’s, and Rebecca Nurse’s refusal to degrade their souls with lies of confession only to save themselves from the unjust accusations of witchcraft.
In this time and era the people living in and around Salem, Massachusetts was of Puritan faith and lived very strict lives. At this point in history, there was still no separation between church and state, so the church had a major role in each individual’s life.
When Reverend Parris came upon the children of Salem dancing and conducting against their religion, they were accused of being in a pact with the devil by many of the town’s people in the beginning. Rumors spread, and innocent people were charged with witchcraft.
Some of the accused were, in every aspect, perfect Puritans. Rebecca Nurse was one of these individuals. She was held in a high opinion by almost everyone, except for Ann Putnam, who blamed her for the unexplained deaths of her seven children Rebecca had delivered. Ann Putnam claimed that Rebecca sent her “spirit” out on them.
At one point there was even a testament signed and proposed in court declaring many people’s good opinion of Goody Nurse. Giles Corey was an old, strong-willed man, accused of witchery. After trying to disprove the faulty actions of the court and refusing to give up the name of his informant he was killed.
Proctor was accused of witchcraft while trying to defend his wife and was then later executed when he refused to slander his name.
These three proud individuals did not want to confess to the lies they were accused of doing only to save their lives. For what is a name when you have no soul to go with it? That is what these individuals faced.
The religious background of these individuals was the cause of their refusal to confess to the accusations toward them. Both Giles Corey and John Proctor believed in letting God be the judge of their faults.
When Giles Corey refused to answer his indictment in order to preserve his land ownership for his family, he was trusting in a higher power, God, even when death was his punishment.
Proctor also felt this way, and when arguing with Danforth about his confession of adultery, he turned to God as his judge when he said, 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! (4.132).
These two individuals lost hope in the justice system that ruled their lives here on earth, so instead, they decided to put their trust in their religious background and their belief in God as the definitive judge.
Times have changed since the era in which John, Giles, and Rebecca lived. During the Salem witch trials confessing to a lie to save your life was an option many people chose, others did not out of a sense of pride and honor.
John Proctor was the perfect example of this. He had self-respect, particularly for his name. After verbally admitting his sin, Danforth wished for him to sign his name on a document, which would be displayed in public as evidence of his confession. He refused to say, How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! (4.133).
John would rather die than give up his name. He had already given up his “soul”; he refused to give them the joy of his name. Hale then pleaded with his wife to take John’s shame away before it was too late; Elizabeth defended his choice saying He have his goodness now.
God forbid I take it from him! (4.134). Elizabeth knew that John had made a decision he believed in. She could not tell him that what he felt in his heart was wrong. Rebecca Nurse summed it up best when she said to John, “Let you fear nothing! Another judgment waits for us all!” (4.133).
Throughout history, people have chosen to die with honor instead of living full of guilt the remainder of their life. The above-mentioned characters chose to die for their beliefs, not wishing to demean their lives, names, or families.
The Salem witchcraft era was another extreme example of man’s fear of the unknown, the unexplainable. Often in life, people take for granted what it is that truly makes them who they are. Too many times people are willing to sacrifice their name or beliefs for something that is not admirable.
The honor felt by those individuals in their hearts and their knowledge of the truth is what prevented them from confessing to lies. History has a way of repeating itself. Over and over again there are examples of individuals who decided that they stood for something more than lies. In biblical times John died for his beliefs.
Joan of Arc did the same. The Crucible shows a historical event in recent history, which reaffirms people’s belief in themselves and their reasons for not degrading their souls. Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture of life and decide what you stand for. John, Giles, and Rebecca all discovered what was truly important to them and for that, they died.