The Crucible – John Proctor

In a sense, The Crucible has the structure
of a classical tragedy, with John Proctor as the play’s tragic hero.
Honest, upright, and blunt-spoken, Proctor is a good man, but one
with a secret, fatal flaw. His lust for Abigail Williams led to
their affair (which occurs before the play begins), and created
Abigail’s jealousy of his wife, Elizabeth, which sets the entire
witch hysteria in motion. Once the trials begin, Proctor realizes
that he can stop Abigail’s rampage through Salem but only if he
confesses to his adultery. Such an admission would ruin his good
name, and Proctor is, above all, a proud man who places great emphasis
on his reputation. He eventually makes an attempt, through Mary
Warren’s testimony, to name Abigail as a fraud without revealing
the crucial information. When this attempt fails, he finally bursts
out with a confession, calling Abigail a “whore” and proclaiming
his guilt publicly. Only then does he realize that it is too late,
that matters have gone too far, and that not even the truth can
break the powerful frenzy that he has allowed Abigail to whip up.
Proctor’s confession succeeds only in leading to his arrest
and conviction as a witch, and though he lambastes the court and
its proceedings, he is also aware of his terrible role in allowing
this fervor to grow unchecked.
Proctor redeems himself and provides a final denunciation
of the witch trials in his final act. Offered the opportunity to
make a public confession of his guilt and live, he almost succumbs,
even signing a written confession. His immense pride and fear of
public opinion compelled him to withhold his adultery from the court,
but by the end of the play he is more concerned with his personal
integrity than his public reputation. He still wants to save his
name, but for personal and religious, rather than public, reasons.
Proctor’s refusal to provide a false confession is a true religious
and personal stand. Such a confession would dishonor his fellow
prisoners, who are brave enough to die as testimony to the truth.
Perhaps more relevantly, a false admission would also dishonor him,
staining not just his public reputation, but also his soul. By refusing
to give up his personal integrity Proctor implicitly proclaims his
conviction that such integrity will bring him to heaven. He goes
to the gallows redeemed for his earlier sins. As Elizabeth says
to end the play, responding to Hale’s plea that she convince Proctor
to publicly confess: “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take
it from him!”