Not long afterward, Parris is voted out of office. He leaves Salem, never to be heard from again. Rumors have it that Abigail became a prostitute in Boston. Elizabeth remarries a few years after her husband’s execution. In 1712, the excommunications of the condemned are retracted. The farms of the executed go fallow and remain vacant for years.
Months have passed, and things are falling apart in Massachusetts, making Danforth and Hathorne increasingly insecure. They do not want to, and ultimately cannot, admit that they made a mistake in signing the death warrants of the nineteen convicted, so they hope for confessions from the remaining prisoners to insulate them from accusations of mistaken verdicts. Danforth cannot pardon the prisoners, despite Hale’s pleas and his obvious doubts about their guilt, because he does not want to “cast doubt” on the justification of the hangings of the twelve previously condemned and on the sentence of hanging for the seven remaining prisoners. In the twisted logic of the court, it would not be “fair” to the twelve already hanged if the seven remaining prisoners were pardoned. Danforth prioritizes a bizarre, abstract notion of equality over the tangible reality of potential innocence.
Clearly, the most important issue for the officials of the court is the preservation of their reputations and the integrity of the court. As a theocratic institution, the court represents divine, as well as secular, justice. To admit to twelve mistaken hangings would be to question divine justice and the very foundations of the state and of human life. The integrity of the court would be shattered, and the reputations of court officials would fall with it. Danforth and Hathorne would rather preserve the appearance of justice than threaten the religious and political order of Salem.
Danforth and Hathorne’s treatment of Proctor reveals an obsessive need to preserve the appearance of order and justify their actions as well as a hypocritical attitude about honesty. They want Proctor to sign a confession that admits his own status as a witch, testifies to the effect that he saw the other six prisoners in the company of the devil, and completely corroborates the court’s findings. While they seek to take advantage of Proctor’s reputation for honesty in order to support their claims of having conducted themselves justly, Danforth and Hathorne are wholly unwilling to believe Proctor when he says that he has conducted himself justly.
Proctor’s refusal to take part in the ritual transfer of guilt that has dominated the play—the naming of other “witches”—separates him from the rest of the accused. His unwillingness to sign his name to the confession results in part from his desire not to dishonor his fellow prisoners’ decisions to stand firm. More important, however, Proctor fixates on his name and on how it will be destroyed if he signs the confession. Proctor’s desire to preserve his good name earlier keeps him from testifying against Abigail, leading to disastrous consequences. Now, however, he has finally come to a true understanding of what a good reputation means, and his defense of his name, in the form of not signing the confession, enables him to muster the courage to die heroically. His goodness and honesty, lost during his affair with Abigail, are recovered.