John Proctor as a Tragic Hero in The Crucible
The ancient Greeks invented tragedy for theater in order to explore concepts of humanity
like duty, suffering, and fate. These tragedies would often follow the story of a good character
whose downfall was brought by their own flaws. Although they have suffered, the character
accepts their ultimate demise with dignity. This archetype is known as the tragic hero. In Arthur
Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor is an honest and respected man in the Puritan town of Salem.
However, guilt over an affair he had with a certain Abigail Williams plagues him. When Abigail
starts to cry “witch” on innocent Salemers, ultimately leading to their execution, Proctor
hesitates to testify to her lies, fearing that his lechery will be exposed. When the truth comes out,
he is not believed and it is he, not Abigail, that is jailed for perjury and witchcraft. His only way
to escapes the noose is to confess to practicing witchcraft, but it is a lie. When push comes to
shove, he refuses to sign himself to lies, ripping his confession and assuring his death. John
Proctor is a classic example of a tragic hero. The people of Salem viewed him highly for his
honesty, his adultery gives him a tragic flaw, and he accepted his demise with dignity.
Proctor starts off in the play honored as a someone with weight in the town. He is known
in Salem as straightforward and honest, at times erring on the side of callousness. His character
description claims, “In Proctor’s presence a fool felt his foolishness instantly—and a Proctor is
always marked for calumny therefore … [he was] respected and even feared in Salem” (Miller
19). Because Miller takes the time to point out these details, this sentence can be taken with extra
weight. Further evidence arises in Act IV as Reverend Parris warns Deputy Governor Danforth,
“It were another sort that hanged till now … John Proctor is not Isaac Ward that drank his family
to ruin” (Miller 117). It is important to note that Reverend Parris, for the entire play, has only
been looking out for himself and his own well being. In Act III, he argued against Proctor’s
arguments, claiming that Proctor was trying to ruin his name. So him arguing to save Proctor’s
life out of fear that the people will riot if he, as well as other respected Salemers, is hanged is a
testament to his value to the community.
It could be argued that John Proctor could have survived the Salem witch trials had he not
lusted for Abigail Williams. In a land where the Bible is law, a married man like Proctor having
an affair with a servant girl is a heinous crime. Even Arthur Miller took the time to write that he
was a sinner in both the eyes of society at the time and by his own standards. The audience is
introduced to the affair in the first act as he struggles to get Abigail to leave their relationship in
the past. Angrily, Abigail lashes out at him, raving,
“I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my...