The Crubcible – John Proctor
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The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller set in Salem during the witch trials of 1692. It studies the hysteria about witchcraft during this time and how the justice system coped with all the accusations. One of the main characters in this play is John Proctor; I will be looking at whether or not he would be considered as a tragic hero. This decision will be based upon his moral values and choices in life.
John Proctor could be described as a tragic hero because in Act 2 he stands up for his wife Elizabeth when she is mentioned in court. He reacts furiously when told this by Cheever. His voice is ‘angry and bewildered’. This shows he loves her and didn’t mean the things he said to her in their argument previously in the scene. He says to Mary Warren ‘My wife will not die for me.’ Because the statement is so blunt it shows Proctor doesn’t want anyone else to take the blame for his mistake which shows one of the qualities of a hero.
Proctor knows that Abigail accused Elizabeth of witchcraft in court because of his affair with her. ‘Why, Abigail charged her [Elizabeth].’ He doesn’t want his sin to be the cause of Elizabeth’s death. He still loves Elizabeth and it links with the context of the play as in the 17th century men protected their wives as women were seen as more dependant. This shows heroic qualities as he is standing up for what he believes in and he must believe in this strongly because he is shouting at Mary desperately to get her to tell the truth.
The affair also caused Elizabeth to distrust Proctor, who for seven months has been trying to reinforce Elizabeth’s trust in him and is tired of her suspicion. He bluntly tells her “I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you…I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies”. His voice has a violent undertone and a stubborn attitude throughout most of his conversation with Elizabeth as Millers stage directions are ‘Proctor: (with a violent undertone) You doubt me yet?’.
This shows Proctor trying to redeem himself for his sin and wanting to make right the troubles his mistake brought upon him, although he is growing angrier with Elizabeth because of the lack of faith she has in him, and she is unable to forgive him. Because of Proctor’s inability to control his desire and resist temptation, his life is being turned upside down by Abigail’s jealousy. This is when things begin to go wrong for him leading him to become a tragic hero.
However one of Proctor’s flaws is definitely his pride. Proctor’s honor and good name is what kept him from confessing to adultery, which would have most likely, stopped the witch trials. Elizabeth even asked him to go into the court and tell them that Abigail is a fraud, but his response was, “I know I cannot keep it. I say I will think on it!” he refuses because of his dignity. Nonetheless, when Elizabeth is arrested, Proctor has to choose between his pride and his wife. He tries to compromise by bringing Mary Warren into the court to save his wife by confessing to lying about seeing the accused women with the devil. Ultimately, this fails when Mary Warren turns on him and he is forced to admit his adultery, putting aside his dignity in order to rescue his wife. ‘I have known her [Abigail], sir’. This shows a heroic quality in Proctor as he is putting the well-being of others before himself.
However, he too is arrested after Elizabeth is questioned about his confession by Danforth, who inquires “… Is your husband a lecher?” She denies it to protect Proctor’s reputation, causing his arrest for perjury and witchcraft instead. This proves that Proctor is trying to do good, yet his misfortunes keep coming, causing the audience to feel sorry for him, which is another quality that helps Proctor to become the tragic hero of the play.
He also shows good moral values when he is talking to Mary Warren in court in Act 3. The others tell Mary to say what they want to hear. Proctor, though, says to Mary ‘Do that which is good and no harm will come to you.’ He expresses himself in a biblical way to make it sound like a commandment which strengthens his argument. He doesn’t want Mary to lie even if the lies would have helped his own situation.
Proctor is using the strong belief Mary has in religion to get her to do what is right. Religion was very strict and important in this time so Mary feels she has to do the right thing to please God and avoid going to hell.
As the play continues, Proctor for a second time has to make a decision concerning his pride. The court presents him with an ultimatum in which he can plead guilty and live or be hanged with the others who didn’t confess. After speaking with Elizabeth, Proctor decides that he wants his life and surrenders to a confession. ‘Nothing’s spoilt by telling them this lie (that he practiced witchcraft) that were not rotten long before’. Miller’s uses the word ‘rotten’ because it means both that Proctor is morally corrupt and that he is untrustworthy, disloyal or treacherous. This shows Proctor is not as heroic, as it was suggested, but that he is tragic because of the so many things wrong with his personality. He says he should be punished, if not for witchcraft, for his other sins anyway. He sees signing his name to witchcraft as karma for his affair with Abigail.
But after he signs the confession, he tears it up ‘Proctor snatches it up, a wild terror rising in him’ signing his own death warrant because he does not want to live a lie. Millers language in this sentence ‘terror’, ‘wild’, ‘snatches’, show the angry violent side to Proctor that we saw before in Act 2. As Reverend Parris and Hale are about to object, Proctor pronounces “…for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor…” referring to his honesty. He refers to himself in third person because he is talking about the goodness of his name, which is the reason he would not sign the confession at the beginning. He would rather die for the innocent people who have already been hanged because of Abigail’s lies. Elizabeth doesn’t try to stop him knowing that he needed to do this, tearfully saying to Hale “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!” He keeps his pride and dignity and declares the truth at the same time, dying as a man with flaws yet a good man, allowing the readers to think of him as a tragic hero. The readers give Proctor their sympathy because of all the bad things that have happened to him but they like Proctors character because of his consistent wanting to put things right.
However it could be argued that John Proctor is not a tragic hero. In the beginning of Act 2 there was a great feeling of detachment and tension in the Proctor household. We see John trying to start a conversation with Elizabeth and she only gives him short answers to please him. ‘Cider?’ Proctor questions. ‘Reprimanding herself for having forgotten “Aye”.’ Elizabeth keeps to short answers because she is frightened of Proctor and because of the awkward tension in the room. Then the tide turns to her questioning him and he is the one that becomes short with her because she is requesting that he go to Salem and confess that Abigail is liar, ‘I’ll think on it’. To do that, though, he must confess his sin. During most of the scene they’re not sure of each other. She doesn’t quite trust him, but she loves him. The audience believes that if Elizabeth cannot trust John then why should they. Because of the lack of trust people have in him he cannot be seen as a hero. However, later in this scene he stands up for Elizabeth when she is summoned to court changing the audience’s view.
In addition Proctors pride would not allow him to ruin his reputation in the village ‘it is my name! I cannot have another in my life!’ and therefore allowed Abigail to continue in her plan in seeking his love. Proctor’s pride was also what caused the problem in the first place and this led to his eventual tragic downfall. Proctor believed that he was untouchable; he believed that he could have an affair, but as long as he apologised afterwards, that everything would be all right again. Which shows when first he turns it round onto Elizabeth and tells her it is her in the wrong for not forgiving him ‘You forget nothing and forgive nothing’. However, as the play unfolded he soon found out that his life with Elizabeth and life in the village would never be the same again as a result of his foolish actions. Although this may have been tragic his flaws prove that he is not a hero.
His greatest flaw, though, is his affair with Abigail. After committing adultery with her, she believed that John was deeply in love with her. When asking him to leave Elizabeth failed Abigail tried to get Elizabeth killed by accusing her of witchcraft. ‘Who charged Elizabeth?’ Proctor asks this to Mary Warren in Act 2 ‘Abigail Williams’ Mary replies.
This worked and she was arrested and sentenced to hang after the birth of her unborn child. Elizabeth’s death was all down to Proctors careless fling with Abigail. This shows no sign of Proctor being heroic. Although the audience do not straight forwardly blame Proctor, they seem to blame Abigail as she is the one who has been built up as a bad character because of her stealing, lying and witchcraft.
I think that Proctor is the tragic hero of the Crucible because order has been restored at the end of the play, but tragically, as Proctor dies. He recognized his errors and flaws and tried to correct them and overcome them. Because he didn’t deserve his punishment, pathos is formed within the audience. This shows the qualities in John Proctor that would make him a tragic hero, a good person with human flaws but that had undeserved misfortunes.