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Literature: Arthur Miller

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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 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 were from 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 of witchcraft. Some of the accused were, in every
aspect, a perfect Puritan. Rebecca Nurse was one of these individuals. She was
held in 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 to his indictment in order to preserve his
land's 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 for his confession. He refused saying, "How may I
live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!" (4.133).
John would rather die then 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 to 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
judgement waits 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 belief's, 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 heart 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 reason’s 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.
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