Reputation is a fragile beast hinged on perceived notions andimpressions. Your reputation has a life of its own in the community based onwhat is heard of you or has been judged from your prior actions. It is fragileand calls for utmost care. People go through great lengths to protect it. ArthurMiller who was condemned and disrespected by the United States Congress wrote aplay, The Crucible, to draw attention to the Red Scare propaganda thatruined the reputations of many including himself. Arthur Miller employs anallegory depicting McCarthyism in The Crucible to help him articulatethe importance of preserving one’s reputation in order to belong in societythrough the use of characters, setting, and events.
Arthur Miller portrays characters who have dark desires, hiddenagendas, and moral contradictions, but mask them to desperately preserve theirgood name and to maintain a good standing in the town. They go through greatlengths to avoid being falsely accused and condemned like those who faceddisapprovals and tragedies during the McCarthyism propaganda.Reverend Parris is a character in The Crucible who puts ina great deal of effort to maintain an honorable repute. Although he is not themost well liked person, Reverend Parris is a recognized church leader and iswell respected for being a faithful Christian and does not want to beassociated with the devil. “There is a faction that is sworn to drive me frommy pulpit.
Do you understand that?… Now then, in the midst of suchdisruption, my own household is discovered to be the very center of someobscene practice. Abominations are done in the forest” (Miller 25). This quoteshows how Reverend Parris is very fearful regarding the rumors that hisdaughter’s sickness is induced by witchcraft.
Reverend Parris does not want theembarrassment of associating the devil with his family, and thereby affectinghis position as the town’s spiritual leader. He is worried that a rival groupin the town might push him out of his position due to his daughter’saffiliation to witchcraft. “I’ll lead them in a psalm, but let you say nothingof witchcraft yet. I will not discuss it.
The cause is yet unknown. I have hadenough contention since I came; I want no more” (Miller 29). This excerpt showshow Reverend Parris is trying to steer the debate away from the devil. It seemsas if he is far less concerned with finding the real issue that is afflictinghis daughter than to desperately camouflage his predicament. He is trying to devisea plan to suppress the evil rumors about his daughter’s coma to avoidjeopardizing his position in the Church. He wants to depict to the rest of thetown, that he still has control over his house and that he maintains high moralvalues as a Christian. This will allow him to safeguard his reputation, and inturn allow him to continue as the town’s church leader.
Just like the peoplewho feared about association with communism and “being put on trial foratrocities during the McCarthyism period” (“What was the red scare?”), ReverendParris has fears for association to the devil and the repercussions in the formof the witch trials.Judge Danforth is another example of a character in The Cruciblewho is characterized as an open-minded judge who prides in fair judgements, butwould not revisit any mistakes from the past. “Look at me! To your ownknowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery? In a crisis ofindecision she cannot speak. Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher..
.She spoke nothing of lechery, and this man has lied!” (Miller 88). This quoteshows how Judge Danforth went out of his way to discredit John Proctor’s claims that Abigail was a fraud. If JohnProctor’s allegations had been right, then Judge Danforth would have beenexposed to all the prior manipulations by Abigail, a meager teenager who had trickedhim with her acting. If he were to lose this reputation, he believed that hewould be questioned on every decision going forward, and would eventually losehis job. On top of this, he thought that going back on his word now would causehim to lose credibility.
He feared being blamed for the loss of all thoseinnocent lives based on the testimonies of Abigail and to be looked down uponfor being fooled by a teenage girl. These consequences would influence hissocietal reputation. He believes that this will do irreparable damage to hisreputation and his ability to lead the court. Danforth desires to preserve hisreputation and won’t allow the validity of his decisions to be questioned.Arthur Miller perhaps used this character to depict “Joseph McCarthy who put certainArmy officers, leaders and citizens on trial without having evidence to back uphis claim” (“Joseph McCarthy”).Arthur Miller uses the setting of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 toillustrate that in order to be a part of society in that era, you need topreserve your reputation.
This setting paints the perfect atmosphere for arigid and socially unacceptable society like the McCarthyism period withconflicting beliefs.Salem was a puritan town based on a theocratic government, and itspeople believed that god could see right through one’s actions and see theiractual intentions. “And yet, Mister, a Christian on Sabbath Day must be inchurch.
(pause) Tell me—you have three children?” (Miller 59). This quote helpsexplain the expectations of the Puritan people. They had to be considered good Christiansfirst. People in the town were worried about their Christian reputations. Thisreputation was based on if they went to church every Sunday, if they believedin god, and if they didn’t work on Sunday. If they went against any one ofthese rules, they were automatically considered not Christian and were labelledas a witch and an ally of the devil.
All their judicial laws were based on theBible. This fact altered how people had to carefully portray their reputationto the townspeople. This is identical to the McCarthyism era when people had tobe “discreet about their beliefs in fear of being interpreted as bordering oncommunist ideologies” (“None without Sin McCarthyism”). Puritan societies had a black and white perspective on the world.
Either you were good or you were evil. There was no middle ground. ArthurMiller used this fact for symbolism and to explain how one would be viewed in asociety like this. “At any rate, very few Indians were converted, and the Salemfolk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his homebase and the citadel of his final stand. To the best of their knowledge theAmerican forest was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God”(Miller 22). This quote shows how puritans in Salem viewed the world in twodistinct categories: good vs evil.
It also shows how the forest was viewed inthe realm of evil and that anyone who was associated with it, was against thepuritan values. Arthur Miller exploits this feature of the puritan society toportray how dancing in the woods damaged the girls’ reputations. When the girlswere caught in the forest, the symbol of evil forest caused people in the townto second guess their intentions, and not trust them. People did not want to beassociated with those that were on the evil side.
In the Crucible, the evil forest represents Communism while thePuritan town represents American Democracy where they did not want the evilcommunism to infiltrate their pure society.Arthur Miller embeds specific events and twists in the plot todemonstrate actions and decisions taken to preserve reputation. There aretrials and judgements to favor the popular beliefs much like the tragedies andsentences that befell people during the McCarthyism trials.The events from John Proctor’s attempt to expose Abigail in ActIII led to his decision to die rather than confess at the end of Act IV.”Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lieand sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of themthat hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave memy name!” (Miller 105). This excerpt shows how much more John Proctor valuedhis reputation over his own life.
It explains that he is ready to accept deathby telling the truth rather than signing collusion with the devil which heconsidered as a deeper sin that would tarnish his reputation for his legacy.This strikes a similarity with “Arthur Miller as he also chose during the RedScare to not provide government misinformation about his meetings” (“ArthurMiller Biography”) in order to save his reputation.The event from Act 3 relates to Reverend Parris who provides hisfeedback to the judge in favor of Abigail in support of the popular Witchtrials.
“Excellency, you surely cannot think to let so vile a lie be spread inopen court!” (Miller 72). This excerpt refers to the plot where Reverend Parrisis requesting the court to stop the spread of lies by Mary Warren while callingfor acceptance of Abigail’s accusations to incarcerate and convict evenimportant, influential citizens. This is his attempt to protect his reputationin support of the witch trials which is a popular Christian belief. Hedoes not want to do anything to jeopardize his good name by going against the Christianspirit. It is similar to the Red Scare phenomenon of believing in theperpetration of communism on American believes during the era of McCarthyism.Arthur Miller uses an allegory in his play, The Crucible,to show the similarities between the Salem witch trials and the Red Scare. Thecharacters, setting, and events of The Cruciblehelped convey the fact about how important reputations are in any society.
Thisimportant life lesson can also be applicable today as well as in the future.You should always be aware of your actions and the effect it has on yourperception in the world based on the popular beliefs.