The authority within the town of Salem, Massachusetts, expresses a lack of freedom for individuals and pressures the public into showing dishonesty. Those who think or act in ways that are independent to societal norms are thought of as dangerous. Giles Corey explains his situation with his wife: “I have waked at night many a time and found her in the corner, readin’ of a book. Now what do you make of that?” (Miller 37). The concept of another individual attempting to educate themselves, especially a woman during this time period, is deemed as a direct threat. Giles Corey is suspicious of his wife’s intent, and apprehensive that it might challenge his own masculinity if she becomes too knowledgeable. In order to prevent this, he accuses her of witchcraft and struggles with an external conflict to ensure the stability of his own pride and character. When it becomes known throughout the village that Reverend Parris’ daughter was included in the group of girls dancing in the woods, he quickly manipulates the situation to escape the blame and correct his name. Reverend Parris explains, “There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit” (Miller 10).
Parris is more concerned about being held accountable for his daughters actions and whether they will have an impact on his position, than the health of his own daughter. Thus speaking to the concept of position over morality as an external conflict, which is seen throughout the behavior of citizens within the novel. A majority of the town in Salem succumbs to society’s pressure to assimilate, yet by the end of the novel, John Proctor proves to be a character who strays away from these forced ideals and focuses on staying true to himself. Proctor says, “[with a cry of his soul] 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!” (Miller 133).
Proctor martyrs himself, not as a result of society’s views, but because of how he wishes to view himself. He struggles with an inner conflict as he chastises himself because of his past decisions. Within the trial, he admits to committing adultery, which is a serious sin in Puritan society. Yet, by refusing to confess to something in which he did not truly partake in, he chose to sacrifice himself for the sake of honesty. Through this action, Proctor can see some goodness within himself, and believes it is the only way to be true to his conviction.
The message behind Proctor keeping his name is that it is the last vestige of his self identity. By John Proctor denying to give his name to the court, he proves that his own self image is more important than his reputation. The citizens within The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, were dealing with the issues of external and internal conflicts to preserve their status. Many were willing to allow innocent civilians to take their blame; nevertheless, John Proctor died for his beliefs and was later deemed a hero for this decision. The question is posed of which is more significant: an individual’s decency or their life?