John Proctor As A Tragic Hero In The Crucible - English - Essay

1206 words - 5 pages

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 heart! I
never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all
these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me tear the light out
of my eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you
love me yet!” (Miller 22)
This is the first real instance where the audience can see the resentment Abigail had built up
towards Salem. John Proctor’s refusal to continue their affair was, perhaps, the straw that broke
the camel’s back. She had earlier shown herself to be forceful and violent as she threatened the
other girls, so it is not out of character for her to use the witch hysteria to her advantage. It would
only be a matter of time before she used it on the Proctors. In fact, it is the very next act that
Elizabeth Proctor is arrested for practicing witchcraft. Desperate to save her, John forces their
servant, Mary Warren to testify against the conviction, but she warns him, “Abby’ll charge
lechery on you, Mr. Proctor! … She’ll ruin you with it, I know she will” (Miller 76). Here, the
audience can begin to see Proctor’s sins tumbling down on him. Had he not lusted for Abigail, it
is plausible that she would not have gone after his wife and he would not have had to go to court
and reveal his adultery.
Throughout the entire play, John Proctor has been largely concerned with his public
reputation. He may never forgive himself for his affair with Abigail Williams, but at the very
least he is able to see past his sins and make peace with himself for what he was valued for from
the beginning, his honesty. In the finale of the play, Proctor refuses to give his public confession,
assuring his death. Each fearing his hanging for their own reasons, the other men beg Elizabeth
to convince him to save himself. She responds, “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it
from him!” (Miller 134). Elizabeth, although denying it, has acted for the audience as a medium
to judge John Proctor’s character. In her first appearance in Act II, she is cold and heartbroken
towards him for his affair with Abigail. As she speaks to him in Act IV, John begs her to tell him
what to do, signifying great inner turmoil as he decides to give a confession. By the end of the
act, it is this line that truly tells the audience that he has found acceptance with himself. At the
point where John destroys his confession, he feels himself released from a heavy burden,
proclaiming “For now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to
weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs” (Miller 133). It is at this point
that Proctor understands what true reputation is. He is able to let go of what the other Salemers,
the dogs driving the witch hysteria, think of him and instead consider his personal reputation in
the eyes of God and himself.
The Crucible​ is a great tragedy and John Proctor is its tragic hero. Stern, straightforward,
and honest, his upright character is flawed by the affair he had with Abigail Williams, a mistake
that would come to haunt him. By the end of the play, however, he is finally able to make peace
with himself and accept his downfall with dignity. Miller wrote ​The Crucible​ as an allegory of
the Red Scare, in which people in America, including Miller himself, were being charged for
communists and communist sympathizers left, right, and center. Any flaws in one’s character
could be twisted around by one’s enemies as evidence to use against oneself. Like the Greeks,
Miller explored human ideals in his writing. The audience may learn the same lessons John
Proctor learned. They may learn what can come from fear, pride, and lust. They may learn what
is truly important.

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