In the play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the town of Salem is in pandemonium under the threat of witchcraft, which is devoid of any evidence that it truly exists. Every character is either confessing to a lie to save their own life, blaming other people of witchcraft to end others lives, or dying for not admitting a lie. One character who stands out the most among the chaotic conflagration is the tragic hero John Proctor. In Greek drama, a tragic hero is defined as “A great or virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy that is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat.” No character fits this description better than John Proctor. John Proctor is the tragic hero of the play because of his strengths and prominent traits and among these are reason and personal sacrifice. He also fits the description because of his tragic flaws such as fickleness and pride that lead to his fall from a good soul to a deceiving one.
During the turmoil of the trials, the supposedly just citizens of Salem lose sight of their morals. What sets John Proctor apart from the rest of the town of Salem is the fact that he is willing to do good, despite the personal cost it has. As he is trying to save his wife, along with himself from being prosecuted and hanged, he addresses Judge Danforth about Abigail. “I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is promise in such sweat. But it’s a whore’s vengeance, and you must see it; I set myself entirely in your hands. I know you must see it now” (Miller 189). John Proctor says this in order to get the city to doubt the accusations Abigail has said and gives up his own image for it; yet, John is somehow still the only one in the entire town of Salem to see that people might confess to what they didn’t do so that they won’t lose their life by being hanged. Arthur Miller also conveys through John Proctor that it is acceptable and right sometimes to stand up to unfair rule or authority. These traits that John Proctor possess are what enable him to fit into the definition of a tragic hero.
A tragic hero must have flaws as well, which John Proctor does not have a lack of. It is arguable that his affair with Abigail is at the heart of the witch trials. He tries to fix it by attempting to silence her. “Abby I might think of you from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I will reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby” (Miller 146). He says this in order to get Abigail to believe that he has no more feelings for her; thinking that if he does this then she will give up trying to kill and accuse his wife of witchcraft. This affair he has with Abbey is an extreme flaw. Abigail starts all of the witch paranoia because she falls in love with John and this causes her to want to kill Elizabeth. When John removes her from his home and life, she goes on a rampage targeting Elizabeth Proctor and eventually many others from the rest of Salem including Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Good, causing the entire tragedy of the witch trials. A broader point that Miller shows throughout the play is the effects the affair has on everyone and the damage that lying and unfaithfulness causes.
Another tragic flaw that John Proctor exhibits is pride. Proctor has the choice between life and death on pen and paper. To sign his name means to live, to refuse means to die. “Because it is my name! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them who hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul leave my name” (Miller 207). The begging of John Proctor to preserve his name is as prideful as it is useless. He confesses to these lies, but he lets himself be hanged because he does not want to have the community see his name on a confession paper on the church door. Pride is the exact flaw that leads to the death and downfall of John Proctor.
The title The Crucible ties in with John Proctor in many ways. A crucible is a small container which can get very hot and melts substances within it or it is a time, place, or occasion of severe test and trial. Both of these definitions can tie in with John Proctor and the title The Crucible. John was in a small town or “container” of Salem and was pushed to his melting point at the end of the play when he gave up and proclaimed, “You have made your magic now, for now, I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs” (Miller 208). This quote said by John Proctor makes it so everyone can see he is done. He is the contents inside of the crucible and it has won; John Proctor has been melted and there is no going back. On the other hand, the witch trials are an occasion of severe trial and test to everyone in the town of Salem. Whether the people of Salem will confess or if they will persecute others. They need to make a decision and John Proctor did. He showed his true colors of reason and personal sacrifice. He gave up his image in order to show the entire town that they are being unreasonable and gave them a reason to start to doubt the reasons for these trials. By admitting to lechery he stained his image, but he also stained Abigail’s image and gave reasons for others to doubt her accusations towards everyone in the town. This is why he is the true tragic hero of the play. He wanted everyone to be treated with respect and in order to do this he knew he had to give up his own life to prove a point.
John proctor fits perfectly to the definition of a tragic hero. He shows integrity through his good traits such as sacrifice and reason. He also exhibits tragic flaws such as pride, lust and unfaithfulness. Through the character John Proctor, Arthur Miller teaches the reader a valuable lesson. Unfaithfulness and pride will lead to downfall, and it is amazing if there is a voice of morality and reason in an unjust situation such as the witch trials.
Miller, Arthur. “The Crucible.” McDougal Littell Literature, McDougal Littell, 2008, pp. 130–208.