The play The Crucible by the playwright, Arthur Miller, is set during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. As a group of young girls claiming to be possessed by satanic influences, accuse other civilians of witchcraft, John Proctor the tragic hero finds himself at the center. Many lives are at stake as the girls cry out against people they despise or who have wronged them, Proctor and his wife are accused. In the process, his past affair with Abigail comes to light, and threatens his good standings in the Puritan society. He is in fact, a well-respected voice of reason in society, and his eventual downfall is a tragic one, even by Aristotle’s standards. His error in judgement is his affair. He is unable to compromise when he is accused, and his point of enlightenment causes the audience catharsis and makes him a tragic hero.
John Proctor’s error in judgment was a slip in his moral character. He had an affair with his young servant girl named Abigail. As Proctor is talking to Judge Danforth he admits, “ I have known her in the proper place where my beasts are bedded … I wish you had some evil in you that you might know me! (Miller 102).” John Proctor, guilt-ridden, cannot handle the feeling of lying to his wife and the court but in an attempt to reclaim his good name he recalls the night of his affair with Abigail. As he desperately scrambles to make up for his mistakes the reader connects to the disorder and realism in his role as a husband. Although Proctor lowered his morals and sinned, Proctor reminds himself of what other factors he has offended, “A man may think God sleeps, but God sees everything. I know it now… I have rung the doom of my good name (Miller 104).” All of his good actions up until the affair do not matter when church and state government prosecute as one. Proctor lacks the ability to forgive himself, which resembles the action of trying to hold onto his dignity when one makes grave error.
Proctor is unable to compromise Reverend John Hale stops by the Proctor’s house to see if the devout Christians who went to church. John Proctor replied, “I look down to see my money glaring at his [Parris’] elbows, it hurt my prayer. I see no light of God in that man (Miller 62).” Proctor believes Reverend Parris is an unholy man and instead of participating in a corrupt church, Proctor would rather not risk his outward appearance to the people and keep his opinion. The reader would feel as though Proctor would did the right thing for standing up for what he believes in, and his passion for the truth filled life. The way Proctor attempts to keep the only part of himself that is unstained becomes ruined. After signing his name to a confession paper, “ His breast heavy, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury,but erect (Miller 133).” As the men talk about what has just happened in the court, Proctor is unable to sign away the only name his was given, saying that he has served the devil. The audience would sympathize with Proctor, he has been trying to keep calm while everything is falling around him, and all he has done was state his opinions.
John Proctor’s enlightenment comes towards the end of the book. As Proctor rips up the signed confession with irritation, “Because I lie and sign myself to lies. Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang (Miller 133).” He wants the prosecutors to know what they have done to him and that is was unjust. The reader would experience regret because Proctor is an honest man who got caught up in one lie and cannot get himself out. John Proctor finally realizes what has been happening, “ My honesty is broken. I am no good man, spite only keeps me silent (Miller 126).” The part of Proctor that wants to be free is taken by the court and in this fight he feels vulnerable. Meanwhile, the reader see Proctor’s guilt has overwhelmed him and this is too much for this strong man and causes him to have a breakdown.
Readers of the Crucible end up feeling just like the audience in a Greek play, who felt catharsis for the tragic heroes. John Proctor was a classic tragic hero. John Proctor fulfills his this journey as a tragic hero. Staying true to his beliefs and applying what he has learned kept him as a trusted figure in his society. When Proctor realizes that it is too late to undo the false accusations of the trials, Proctor and the readers are shocked with the potential hanging of the good man. The idea of a tragic hero is truly timeless, it can be found throughout history as a meaningful way to portray an event, emotions or ideas.
- Miller, Arthur.The Crucible.New York: The Penguin Group,2003.Print.