Misleading Martyrdom of John Proctor: Analytical Essay

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“It is the cause, not the death that makes the martyr.” (Napoleon Bonaparte). The underlying truth of this axiom has been the ruler in which all protagonists’ deaths have been measured. One such instance is the execution of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In her article, Fair and Foul: The Goodness of John Proctor, the critic Susan Abbotson proposes the argument that in the 1996 film rendition of The Crucible, Proctor’s character development goes from “JP to JC”; insinuating John Proctor as a martyr with qualities similar to Jesus Christ. However, from a historical examination, one can counter-argue that John Proctor does not showcase characteristics of a martyr as proven in his own personal encounters and the lengths he goes to preserve his namesake. His lack of belief in witchcraft can also be brought up for questioning; for by definition one can not be a martyr if one does not believe in the very thing they are dying for. Furthermore, historically John Proctor was not the first to be executed for the denial of witchcraft, nor was he the last. In the end, John Proctors' refusal to accept the accusation of ‘signing the devil's book’, although influential, was not the pinnacle event that led to the dismantlement of the trials.

The notion of Proctor being a martyr can be debunked by closely observing his personal altercations. One of Proctors acts that proves he is not a martyr similar to Jesus Christ is his treatment of women specifically Elizabeth, Abigail, and Mary Warren. In the play this is actively displayed when Proctor argues “Woman [...] I’ll not have your suspicion any more[...]You will not judge me more.”p.280-281 This argument proctor has with Elizabeth proves that he is more human than divine savior. However this was not an isolated instance given that Proctor also threatened Mary Warren in “ I’ll whip the Devil out of you” p.283 this out-lash from Proctor towards Warren proves that he can be violent at times when he is angered. None the less, some may have the belief that John Proctors martyr-hood does not stem from his personal interactions, but rather in the form of his execution and its christ like connotation , however this claim lays on very little grounds, for christ is not idolized solely for his death but the actions he did leading up to it. Christ defended adulterers, while Proctor is willing to shame them in court as he shouts “How do you call Heaven! Whore! Whore!” P. 317 in reference to Abigail at the sake of saving his wife. For further reference, although Proctors personal controversies are incriminating enough to make a case against him being a martyr. Another aspect of Proctor that denies his status as a martyr is a lack of belief in the cause he is executed for.

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The most adamant rebuttal to the argument that proctor is a martyr, is that he can’t be one for he never truly believed there was witchcraft in Salem to begin with. Proctors skepticism in the girls and the trials is first seen when he questions Mary Warren and later when hearing the names of the accused. This formation of doubt in proctor is apparent when he says “ What work you do! It’s strange work for a Christian girl to hang old women!( Miller P. 283) a separate occasion where proctor disbelief is apparent is when coerced Mary Warren to testify against the other girls proving he did not fear them for he knew there was no witchcraft. While in court Proctor pleads to Danforth to realize that the girls are manipulating when he says, “Lies, lies... They’re gulling you, Mister!” (Miller P. 321-322) which is Proctor fully outright saying to Danforth that the girls are frauds and that the trials have been a rouse by the girls. Consequently, Proctor also does not mirror the acts of Jesus Christ when he shows his selfishness later in the play.

Proctor lacks the selflessness a martyr portrays as is exemplified in the lengths he goes to preserve his namesake and maneuver situations to his benefit. This is greatly seen when he regrets signing his accusations for fear of the repercussions it will have on his family and he pleads to Danforth, “ Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! P. 343. Proctors willingness to lie in order to live proves he is not a martyr for the cause. He discusses this with Elizabeth as he whispers, “ I have been thinking I would confess to them, Elizabeth...What say you? If I give them that? Elizabeth”p. 337 which exhibits proctors thought process and him considering to lie for the sake of him living whereas a true martyr would take their fate with pride. His want for forgiveness shows that he is not doing this for the salvation for others but rather his own personal growth. As he pleads, “ “I would have your forgiveness, Elizabeth... What say you?” P. 337-338 lastly John Proctor is not the first to be executed so he does not have the privilege of being called the sole martyr of the town.The first was revealed by Mary Warren as she mutters, “Goody Osburn—will hang!” Which shows that goody Osborn has more qualities of a martyr than John Proctor since she was actually the first to be executed for denying the use of witchcraft and stuck to her morals.

In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible the statement of John Proctor going from “JP to JC” and becoming a martyr for Salem can be disputed by his disrespect for women, his lack of belief in the cause of his death, and his personal motives for his death. What can be truly taken away from the Crucible, was a character that reached a point of growth and forgiveness, but far from divine Savior. Thus revealing one of the greater truths of the play, if one seeks flaws in other humans one will inevitably find them. Which carries with it a vague answer of there is no truly innocent person just individuals who are more innocent than others. I believe this is what Arthur Miller wished to convey his audience, there were no martyrs in Salem only innocent people who made a personal choice.

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Misleading Martyrdom of John Proctor: Analytical Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/misleading-martyrdom-of-john-proctor-analytical-essay/
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