Why It Is Better to Die For One’s Beliefs
Some people would be willing to do whatever it takes to save their life, no matter what. In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, John Proctor, who is the main character, is about to be sent to the gallows in the end unless he falsely accuses to witchcraft. John refuses, and Reverend Hale urges John to confess to save himself, and that there is no belief worth dying for. Although Hale says no belief is worth dying for, it is better to die for what one believes in than to lie to save one’s life.
Firstly, it is better to not lie because it prevents that lie from being misused and fueling hysteria. When John Proctor is asked to sign a confession of practicing witchcraft, John says “You will not use me!” (Miller 206) when he learns his confession will be displayed on the church door for the whole village to see. John knows what the confession will be used for, and he does not want his false confession to be used to fuel the witch hunts. If it was posted, it would give more validity to the court, as the villagers would be more likely to believe witches really were afoot in Salem if they saw a signed confession from one. The town’s hysteria would mean the court would have more power to hang the accused. If he confessed, John would have to live with the guilt that he helped fuel the hysteria by empowering the court, and while he may be still alive, he would be raising his family in an unsafe environment where hangings and accusations are a part of daily life. It is better to die than to go against one’s beliefs because while lying can save a life, that lie can be manipulated, misused to fuel hysteria, and hurt innocents.
In addition, it is best to not lie and go against one’s beliefs because it preserves one’s reputation. Another reason why John refuses to sign a confession is because “It is my name!” and that “I cannot have another in my life!” (Miller 207). John knew that he would be hung if he refused to sign, but he wanted to have his family be able to live safely without him, without having to worry for their lives. If he signed, it would doom the reputation of him and his family. John would be alive, but would have a reputation as a witch and an adulterer. He works as a farmer, but it would be highly unlikely he, or his children when they come of age, would be able to do business with anyone given the family’s reputation of housing a self-confessed witch. Salem in the era of witch hunts is shown to be a highly unstable and dangerous place to live, and the fact that John, with his reputation, is still alive, puts his entire family in danger. Reputation represents a person’s identity, and is passed through generations. A bad reputation can sink an entire family. As a result, by choosing to die rather than to live as a witch, John put the livelihood of his family before himself, in order to secure their future.
Finally, it is better to die for one’s beliefs because lying can make a person look worse, but refusing to tell a lie and dying for the truth makes up for past sins. In act three, Judge Danforth tells Mary Warren, who is defending John Proctor, that “God damns all liars” (Miller 185). It is a strong belief of the Puritans that lying is a sin, and if word got out that John Proctor lied to save his life, it would make him look even worse, as the Puritans are a strict and theocratic society. Lies can destroy lives, and that is something John Proctor would know, as lies are what destroyed the lives of himself and others caught up in the witch trials. He is already known as a liar, as he was already accused of lying about having an affair with Abigail Williams, who is known in town for being tormented by witchcraft, in a court of law in order to discredit her; he could not risk the possibility of another lie, one he made on purpose, being exposed and not only destroying the reputation of himself, but his entire family. John Proctor acknowledges that he is a man who has sinned, as he says “I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it” (Miller 207). He is still a man of religion, and he wants to make up for his past sins. Consequently, by choosing to not lie and save himself, John Proctor dies without the burden of another sin.
However, some think that no belief is worth dying for, and that it is better to do whatever it takes to stay alive, and that includes lying. They also believe that as people only have one life to live, it is not worth dying for a belief. While it is true that people only live once, it is better to do good things with one’s life, no matter how short it is. Elizabeth says that “He has his goodness now” (Miller 207), referring to John choosing to hang rather than to lie. While it may seem strange that John considers dying as his last act of goodness, he cannot stand living with the shame of living in town as a shell of a man he was once seen as, and with the shame of cheating death by helping kindle the fire of hysteria. John ultimately wanted to enter the afterlife with one less sin to carry with him, and dying for his belief was what he considered to be his final act of goodness. In brief, human beings get once chance at life, but it is better to use that one life for goodness, than to prolong it and harm others, directly, or indirectly.
Sticking to one’s beliefs until the end is the better choice than to go against those beliefs to save one’s life, when all the consequences are laid out. Staying true to one’s core beliefs and standing for them is a selfless decision, unlike lying for one’s benefit. There are many situations where the line between right and wrong is blurred, as is shown in The Crucible. John Proctor is forced to make decisions that no parent should have to make in order to secure the life of his family, and what many others would not consider doing in order to stop the flames of hysteria from spreading in Salem. How many other villagers in Salem would choose to stand like John Proctor and certainly die, or to selfishly lie and have a chance of hanging anyway as Tituba?