John Proctor's Decision to Prefer Honor to Life

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In the dark thunderous nights of the winter of 1692, the people of Salem’s biggest fear had risen upon them. Arthur Miller deliberately uses verbiage to make the Trials seem a little more histrionic. Abigail Williams and a group of young ladies performed dances around a fire, fully stripped out of their clothes, which sprung a rumor lasting a few months that costed people’s lives. The people of Salem credenced the rumor, that the dancing was a talisman to calling a devil to Salem. Accusations of witchcraft were being thrown from left and right causing the hectic city of Salem to begin what we call, the Salem Witch Trials. Things became so intense where people were being called to the courtroom and be questioned about their involvement with witchcraft. These accusations had the whole area fooled, besides a bright man by the name of John Proctor. Proctor states that all of this is nothing but an act that the girls have put on due to Abigail’s threats to the girls for if they speak the truth. John Proctor later gets accused of witchcraft and gets jailed for colluding with the devil and decrying Salem's court. In order to become free again, he must submit his name on a document stating he had relations with the devil. John made the proper choice by rebuffing to write his name leaving the court no choice but to hang him.

John’s decision of choosing honor over life was a tough yet proper decision due to his excessive honor and pride. The Proctors are extremely truthful and honest, so John lying about something he didn’t even do would break their personal moral code and ethics. John has self-pride to an extent where he wouldn’t lie to keep his life. He would rather say the truth and die with the truth being told so that his legacy would live on with a good reputation. Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor’s wife, is requested to persuade John to confess to witchcraft in Act IV, and John seemed to be a little convinced. After he signed his name on the paper that holds the names of the people associated with witchcraft in front of Judge Danforth and Reverend Hale, John snatches the paper and says with boundless anger rising in him, “I confess to God, and God has seen my name on this! It is enough!” (ACT IV, line 688). Judge Danforth and Reverend Hale are both astonished and surprised. Judge Danforth avidly insists on receiving the paper as he needs it in order to nail it to the church door with all the names of those who confessed to witchery. Proctor is resistant to giving it to Judge Danforth as he claims that Judge Danforth is part of the “high court” and his word is enough and is more than a confession (ACT IV, line 712). Danforth then questions Proctor’s acts with witchcraft saying he is not confessing to it, so he is guilty. Danforth is so tenacious to have John Proctor’s signature on that paper and back in his hands, but Proctor replies with a cry of his whole soul, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (Act IV, line 725). Danforth has already had enough of John and asks for the paper one last time before he puts a rope around his neck. John Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect (Act IV, line 738). This puts John in a position in which he must hang. He allowed the court to take away his soul and leave him empty, yet he held on to his name and his identity as John Proctor. Elizabeth Proctor is sentenced to hang along with John Proctor, but since she is pregnant, she will not hang. Proctor begins thinking about the future of his children and how his legacy will carry on. Proctor asks Danforth a rhetorical question regarding his children and his name: “I have three children---how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?” (Act IV, line 703). He knows if he gives up his name and lives, then his children will carry the name and legacy of a man that committed witchery according to the town. John cannot fathom what his children will grow to be like if he had given up his name to live. Therefore, John’s decision to take death and his name and leave the truth in the real world was proper.

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Unlike the justice served in Salem, it is only just and fair if we see things from both sides. John Proctor was given a choice to either lie and falsely admit to witchcraft, or instead sacrifice his own life and die the death of a man who appears to attempt to be redeeming himself for some prior wrongdoing. In this case, he must look at this future from both decisions. Having a family is every couple’s dream, and the Proctors are not an exception. Even though Elizabeth Proctor was granted one year to birth her child and take care of it before her time comes to be hung, it is better to have at least one of the parents alive to take care of it. It would be a depressive start to life for a fetus to not have his parents around him growing up. On the other hand, John Proctor cares more about when his children grow and become men to carry on the legacy of a Proctor. He will not allow his name to fall into shame and have his children carry it, but he would rather destroy his reputation and expose himself than be known as the man who was involved in witchcraft in the village. John proctor whales in ACT III in the midst of the courtroom, “She thinks to dance with me on my wife's grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore's vengeance, and you must see it” (Act III, line 379-384). In saying this, John is attempting to save his reputation by not only confessing to Judge Danforth and the rest of the village about his affair with Abigail, but also by accusing her and shifting everything around on her making Abigail the antagonist. Abigail has always been the antagonist since the beginning of the play from the reader’s point of view. Abigail has lied about everything from the incident in the woods to falsely accusing people of witchcraft. Since then, all the people of Salem have fallen into a never-ending cycle of lies, therefore, they all had to adapt and lie to stay alive. Some could argue that John Proctor’s decision was a really dull decision as he could’ve easily avoided death by lying. He could’ve stayed alive with his wife, maybe worked things out to get the court to dismiss Elizabeth from her sentenced hanging, allow her to give birth, move to another village and start a new life with his family. As clever as that sounds, that is not myopic. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around”. The story about Salem and the Witch Trials will find its way out into the world. Once the list of doom makes its way outside the small village of Salem, John Proctor will never be able to glance beyond his past. Looking more into the future, his children will grow up with that name, too, making it a very tough lifestyle. I’m sure no parent wants to see their child suffer bullying growing up because of their name, neither does John Proctor. Thus, Proctor made the right move in offering his life for his children’s sake, and for pride and honor.

Arthur Miller evinced the Salem Witch Trials in his play, ‘The Crucible’, portraying betrayal, pride, honor, and vengeance. Despite the murky and tragic ending of this play, Miller teaches everyone a lesson that cannot be forgotten. Whether that lesson is to be prideful, be honest, adaptation, or to not dance around a fire naked, ‘The Crucible’ opened up our eyes to how unjust and unfair justice was and how McCarthyism haunted governments and courtrooms and villages. It gave a good representation of how feckless you became once someone hints at your name in court in such a trial. Among them is John Proctor. In my vision, he made a marvelous choice in choosing to deny the sacrilege idea of witchcraft that roams Salem and attempt to speak the truth even if it meant his death was to come unwonted.

Work Cited

  1. Achter, Paul J. 'McCarthyism'. Brittanica, www.britannica.com/topic/McCarthyism. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.
  2. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play In Four Acts. New York : Penguin Books, 1976. Print.
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John Proctor’s Decision to Prefer Honor to Life. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 13, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/john-proctors-decision-to-prefer-honor-to-life/
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