While reading The Crucible, I was a little dissatisfied that this was the mandatory summer reading book, as it was not one of my favorites genres. Plays do not provide an adequate description and The Crucible especially has a strict format of dialogue and stage cues, with no movie-like details of its characters and setting. Still, as I read more, I found three major selfish characters who seemed to be the most reminiscent of archetypes in high school and therefore the most relatable. It is John Proctor, Reverend Parris, and Elizabeth Proctor who reveal the fact that the people in Salem do not just like good reputations, but obsess over it.
John Proctor, the main protagonist, seems to be an indifferent guy who secretly believes that he is better than everyone else. He reminds me of the people in my high school who consider themselves too “cool” for school. Even though he tries to act nonchalant, he acts as though he is more righteous than Salem’s esteemed authorities. But, I already know that his lechery makes him despicable. When Proctor is asked to sign his name to false confession, he refuses and cries out, "Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! ...How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (Miller 132). Initially, he ignores external critics, as he openly admits his distaste for them. Later on, though, Proctor desperately pleas to preserve his name, which is ironic considering Miller's predominant characterization of Proctor as being immune to criticism. This made me realize that despite Proctor’s reputation-obsessed hypocrisy, at heart, he is a human just like the others: someone who, at the crucial moment, chooses himself. Also, I think that because he is the last person anyone would expect to care, his plea highlights Salem’s hysteria over reputation.
Proctor’s “arch-nemesis,” Reverend Parris seems to be always at odds with Proctor. They seemed to have nothing in common at first glance, but I realized that they have one thing in common - their care for their reputation. So, right from the get-go, I knew that Parris is a poor leader and father, as he prioritizes himself before the wellbeing of his townspeople and his own family. When his daughter suddenly falls “ill,” he tells this to Abigail: “I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it” (Miller 10). In my opinion, Parris strongly resembles some high school club leaders who neglect their club duties. I know that club leaders have a lot on their plate, as they have responsibilities as students, as athletes if they are one, and as peer leaders. But their overscheduling cannot be an excuse for them to focus only on their ambitions as a student and not as a club leader. Parris, like those poor club leaders, chooses himself over others, including his family. He lets public opinion fester and does nothing as innocent townspeople get hanged for a crime they did not commit in order to protect his reputation. Even when his daughter is “ill,” the first thing he worries about is himself, not his daughter. And I believe this makes him a horrible father to Betty and loathsome husband to his deceased wife.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of Proctor, is the complete opposite of Parris. She is a good, submissive wife, who always put her husband first and herself and her justice second. This contrasts with Parris’ putting himself first and his daughter second. So, I first thought of her as someone who is too angelic that people always try to take advantage of her. However, as I read more about her, I saw her in a different light. Elizabeth can also be seen as a patronizing person who thinks she knows what is best for other people when she actually has no clue. Proctor confesses his adultery to prove Elizabeth’s innocence, but his plan backfires when Elizabeth, who has never lied in her life, says, “No, sir,” denying her husband’s lechery (Miller 105). At that moment, she could have told the truth, but, she chooses to tell a lie to save Proctor’s reputation. Her act of forgiveness shows how it is hard to live with a bad reputation in Salem as Elizabeth chooses her husband’s reputation over personal justice. However, because she does this, Abigail’s credibility still stands. Even though she believes that what she does is for love’s sake, in the end, it is her lie and that patronizing character of hers that leads to the doom of her husband.
Once I finished the book, I changed my mind about The Crucible. Even though it is still not one of my favorites, it was better than I had expected. With few stage cues and dialogue to infer what each character was like, I expected the characters to be simplistic. But, as I went deep into the heart of the story, I could not help but become immersed in the complex setup of the characters. All of them are not all good or all evil; each one of them has both good and bad in them, even though some may be more good than others and some may be more evil than others. This makes them, in my opinion, more human, more realistic, and more relatable. I am sure at one point in their lives, people had all felt that they were more superior than others, did not want to sacrifice anything of their own for others, and believed that they knew what was best for others. After all, the way people in Salem obsess over reputation is not new. We obsess over it too, as rumors in school will ruin a student’s reputation, a scandal will ruin a celebrity’s reputation, and bad reputations will not land anyone with a job. So, in a way, this book reminded me much of human behavior and made me reflect more on myself.