Names in “The Crucible”

The first time I read The Crucible in grade 12, I picked up on a quote by John Proctor near the end of the play:

Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

While I fought to decide whom I believed were good or bad in the play, I kept this quote in mind when thinking about Proctor. Morality plays a huge part when reading this text, and it’s hard to side with anybody at all (it’s not hard to determine that Abigail is a horrible person, and Parris is super annoying, let’s just come clean with that now).

So what’s in a name? It turns out that there is a lot that is tied to one’s name. Names identify us, and we, as humans, like to name and classify things in order to give it purpose (Q: What would a stapler be if it didn’t have a name? A: Probably nothing, since we only give names to things we can conceive, or conceive to exist). Aside from that,¬†t is the only thing we have when we have nothing left. After everything comes and goes, we are left, at the end of the (extremely dreadful and theoretical) day, with what we call ourselves.

Proctor, I believe, was so obsessed with refusing to sign his name on the written confession because it is the only thing he had left to pass on. His soul and his body are incapable of being handed down to his children or over to his wife, but his name is. Elizabeth¬†already shares his name, and therefore, if he signed his name upon the confession, he would have “shared” with her his “fault” (if that makes sense). The same applies to his children (and future child). Proctor’s sins would have been carried down through his name.

I think of this like Hitler. The name “Hitler” (and even “Adolf”, as seen in Until the Dawn’s Light) holds very negative connotations because he was associated with the Holocaust in WWII. Imagine if Hitler had kids; imagine the dread they would have had to live solely because of the name they bore. Because the community in which the Salem witch trials took place was highly religious, carrying the burden of sin would have been a big deal.

One comment

  1. That’s the line I picked up on right away as well. It struck me that he was willing to say lies but not sign his name to them in public. He was willing to let them say that he had confessed, but not give written proof. He had already lost his soul, if one thinks of the soul as being given up when one lies (which they may have done), but somehow his name was more important. He’d give up his soul but not his name. That really stood out to me (thus the essay topic!).

    Your discussion here makes sense, that he wouldn’t want his confession, his evil in the eyes of the community (though they perhaps thought it less evil than not confessing) to attach to his family. I guess I can see that it would do so more if he had signed his name than if he just said it orally.

    But there’s something going on here with written vs oral as well. Maybe with saying it and having the others report that he said it, there might be a question whether he really did. Or it could be forgotten. If it’s written down and he signs it it is much more believable, and lasts longer.

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