To first answer this question we need to determine what a tragic hero is and who John Proctor is. After these analyzations we must ask if John Proctor meets the certain criteria of this literary term, tragic hero. The first instance of the term “tragic hero” was created by the greek philosopher, Aristotle. It is a term that he described with five specific requirements: 1) Flaw of error or judgment (hamartia). 2) A reversal of fortune (peripeteia) brought about because of the hero’s error in judgment. 3) The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero’s own actions (anagnorisis). 4) Excessive pride (hubris). 5) The character’s fate must be greater than deserved. Now as for John Proctor, he is commonly considered as the tragic hero in The Crucible. Even though not being born to nobility he is a man of great reputation within Salem. A well respected Puritan, he carries one glaring flaw, his hubris- his fixation for preserving his reputable name. His hubris is the cause of his downfall and is also the primary reason for his deprivation of an anagnorisis, therefore Miller’s characterization of John Proctor as a tragic hero in invalid.
First off, Proctor’s affair showcases his egotistical tendencies to put himself above the rules he expects others to follow, which is the exact type of thinking that led him to his demise. Proctor claims to be remorseful about his affair with abigail, but his attitude towards Elizabeth confronting him about talking to abigail says something different (Miller 55),”I should have roared you down when you first told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed!” He continues to think about himself and that he is a proper Christian because he confessed even though he allows himself to continue talking to abigail, knowing it puts a strain on his marriage. Not exactly the proper Christian way. He holds Elizabeth responsible for faithfulness that he himself cannot deliver, which is confirmed when he forgets adultery in the Ten Commandments, speaking to Hale (Miller 67), “Between the two of us we do know them all.” When people are first accused of witchcraft Proctor makes no move to speak up about Abigail’s slander, as he knows that this might involve confessing his affair and tarnish his reputation. Only when Rebecca and others he regards as equal to him are accused does he care of all the others being accused. There are many examples in this play that shows his proud, self regarding attitude. His Hubris. Though another side of this may be that his attitude is only meant light-heartedly, such as when he talks to abigail, things are more deliberate. He simply believes himself to be above the law because of his reputation and takes many actions (or lack of actions) to secure his reputation in Salem. Even at the cost of his wife’s and the general lower class people of Salem’s life, because he believes to be above them.
At the climax of the play, Proctor experiences redemption, however it is a deluded redemption because he acts with an attitude of superiority to again protect his reputation. After his conversation with Elixabeth in the jail, Proctor decides he will confess in order to save his life. After he snatches his signed confession away from Danforth in a frantic moment, (Miller 143) Proctor says, “You will not use me! I am no
Sarah Good or Tituba, I am John Proctor! You will not use me!” Displaying yet again how he has this folly believing himself to be above the lower-class, thinking him above the law of a signed confession. Although Proctor claims that he takes back the confession to set a better example for his children, as confessing would be selling the Nurses and others to death, his later line denounces that as a possible intention. Proctor begs Danforth (Miller 143), “Tell them I confessed myself; say Proctor broke his knees and wept like a woman; say what you will, but my name cannot-” Proctor outright contradicted himself and rid himself of the honor of being a better example for his children for his name. He is not opposed to confessing, giving in to the continuation of these trials and others life, but the physical signed confession of his name is too weighty for him to oblige. The other side of this may be that he was thinking about his family’s name and their future reputation, but he if he stood against these trials and did not confess others could have remembered their family name as the ones who resisted the cruel trials and stood against it.
There’s a certain irony of Proctor’s hubris leading to both his demise and his redemption, because in his redemption he fails to experience the anagnorisis which deems a character heroic even after his tragic deterioration. After Proctor tears up the confession to appease his pride, he tells Danforth, Parris, and Hale (Miller 144), “You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor” He believes has changed from evil to good, believes he has experienced redemption, an anagnorisis, but he has deluded himself, it is faulty. Throughout the entire play, the entire play, John Proctor has consistently stayed the same unchanging prideful man. He is always concerned with his reputation and superiority in Salem. His last act leading to his death was not an act of heroism, but of ignorance. He was too ignorant to realize his fatal flaw of pride. Therefore lacking an anagnorisis, it being such a powerful characteristic of a tragic hero that a tragic hero can’t stand without it, John Proctor does not classify as tragic hero. Though a final counter argument could be made simply against this because of different ideas of what a tragic hero is, going with the original definition defined by Aristotle it cannot be argued.
How may John Proctor be called a tragic hero if he isn’t even a hero? He’s truly just a tragedy. Though maybe not Arthur Miller’s intention of this character, John Proctor throughout the play remains morally stagnant. Ever prideful, superior to others, and above the law he tricks himself that he had redemption in the end and perhaps he even tricked you. Without a true change in character and a realization of his hubris Proctor failed to have an anagnorisis, therefore he does not classify as a tragic hero. This one defining characteristics of Aristotle’s can’t be left out of a tragic hero, and defines many “common” characteristics of a tragic hero as we know today. With this lack of an anagnorisis and all the citations/evidence given it could easily apply for John Proctor never having the potential for greatness, him falling from great heights and realizing he’s made an irreversible mistake, and him meeting a tragic death and facing it with honor. After discerning the meaning of tragic hero and who John Proctor is, it is determined that John Proctor is not a tragic hero.