The Crucible: What’s in a Name

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play diverse in its approach, themes, ideas and messages. Miller takes the play to form as a cornucopia of political, social and psychological topics. The Crucible is famously known as a play with political theme, at face value an attack against theocracy, but is commonly associated with the time of the Red Scare, as an attack against Communism. It was so much so associated with this issue that Miller himself faced persecution by the government and was accused of being Communist.

However, I would like to focus on a less popular aspect of the text: It’s reflection of the self, of self-identity within the Crucible and Miller’s messages regarding this topic. in the final moments of the Crucible, John Proctor begs to be left with “his name”. He exclaims, “I have given you my soul, leave me my name!” What does this imply? When the consequences of denying to give his name are so dire, so fatal, what drives a man to be so adamant to keep his name?

The Crucible, while known to be a political text, Miller pays great detail to the struggle of the Individual, of the human temptations and individualist thoughts, that struggle in a society based on autocratic, strict religious thought and rigid collectivism. We can see this as the ignition, the actions that carry the play along. For example, Abigail Williams is seen as the orchestrator of the hysteria that takes over the community, all, in a general sense, due to revenge-motivated intention against John Proctor due to their messy affair. Proctor goes as far as to demote the entire hysteria to a “whore’s revenge”, a very individualistic statement in his expression of his individual irritation and aggression, and for its focus on her own selfish intentions. The affair, a individualistic, emotionally-based act of torrid temptation, expresses what I believe is Miller’s argument:  All Individuals are what let events unfold, it is by individuals anything progresses.

What is difficult to determine is whether Miller’s argument is for or against individualism. While the results of this individualism are largely fatal and negative, the power of the Individual is incomparable and unlike no other, and the suppression of Individuals within the text via the political structure, can be seen as what is to blame for the problematic approach and activities of the individual–for example, it is the government itself that puts Proctor in the situation in which he feels compelled to guard his individuality–if this approach is true, then one may see as Miller’s text completely against its conventional theme, and to actually be a critic of collectivist thought, or maybe even by extension, communism.

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