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The title of the play ‘The Crucible’ means a pot where you melt substances at high temperatures or a severe trial. This is symbolic of the play as there was tension in Salem due to hysteria and everyone was put on trial for witchcraft. A tragic hero is a noble and virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy who is ordained for downfall, misery, or defeat. In the play, all the characters have flaws and strengths; however, the most notable example is of the protagonist of the play, John Proctor. Arthur Miller portrays Proctor as a man who values his reputation and name in the society. Proctor is known for his honesty, integrity, and upright behavior. “Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud,” (Act 1). Despite this, Proctor had two fatal flaws, his affair with his sixteen-year-old maid, Abigail Williams, and his pride. These illicit acts would later lead to multitudinous effects that changed the lives of everyone in Salem.
The main character of the play, John Proctor, was a non-status-holding and inactive member of his society; however, he was a much respected man in Salem. He was a farmer in his middle thirties who had a cunning and biting way with hypocrites. Proctor was powerful of body, even tempered, and was not easily lead. In fact, ‘‘he was the kind of man who cannot refuse support to partisan without drawing their deepest resentment,’’(Act 1). Therefore, he was usually marked for calumny. Despite his strengths and steady manner, Proctor had a troubled soul. ‘‘He is a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own vision of decent conduct,’’ (Act 1). In addition to his major sin, adultery, Proctor continues to make numerous critical and irreversible mistakes that harm his reputation. The Puritan community was known for being religious and had strict laws, and they had no custom for the cleansing of sins. However, if someone performed a sin, then they would be brutally punished. Due to the fear of being exiled or hung in a society where a person’s reputation plays a major role in their daily lives, Proctor originally tries to hide his crime. Nevertheless, Proctor’s affair with Abigail Williams triggers a series of events in Salem, where uncertain accusations mount to a much larger issue.
An important fact to know is that Proctor knew that Abigail and the girls were lying to the court, and that Abigail was blaming people for performing witchcraft because she wanted revenge. However, because of fear for ruining his family’s and his reputation Proctor initially did not confess. In Act two, Elizabeth urges Proctor to go to Salem and disclose Abigail’s lies. However, Proctor refuses by saying that ‘the girl’s a saint now’ even though he knows that is not true. The guilt of his crime kept pricking him throughout the play and it was when his wife, Elizabeth, was charged for witchcraft did he decide to open up to the court. However, by then it was too late to reverse his past actions. Proctor was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death. There were also external forces beyond Proctor’s control that contributed to his downfall. The injustice and corrupted court of Salem played an important role in the hysteria that spread in the town. In Salem, once a person is convicted of witchcraft they have to go to court, and confess that they have performed witchcraft, otherwise they would be hung. Many innocent people who were falsely accused of witchcraft did not confess that they took part in this sin; therefore, they were hanged. If the court recognized that the girls were playing with the law, then it could have stopped the spread of hysteria. In this way, a noble person such as Proctor wouldn’t have been accused and sentenced to death. Nevertheless, John Proctor did have the chance to live and save his family. Proctor was obligated to confess to seeing the Devil and to sign a piece of paper, but due to his pride for his name he refused and was hanged. In addition, Proctor felt like he would not do justice for his friends that had died trying to save their reputation.
The larger messages Arthur Miller tries to convey through Proctor’s character are the role of an individual within society, the worth of one’s name and the judgement of truth and justice. Miller had derived inspiration for ‘The Crucible’ from a book he read called ‘The Devil in Massachusetts’ by Marion Starkey. He found similarities between the issues faced by people who were accused of witchcraft in Salem, and those that had to answer charges of communism or connection with Russia in any way during the McCarthyism period. The American authorities had names of people that were accused to attend communist meetings, and they were put to trial to find out the truth. In a similar way, the court in Salem had a list of names that were accused of witchcraft. In both scenarios, the authority was corrupted and innocent people were put to death. Furthermore, Miller emphasized through Proctor’s character that an individual plays an important role in their society and their name has significance. Proctor worries heavily about his name especially when it was in jeopardy. Therefore, he restrains to lie, but instead risks his life, knowing that he has done the right thing. When Proctor was asked why he can not confess in order to save himself from death, he says ‘because its is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies,’’(Act 4). When Reverend Hale asks Elizabeth to convince her husband to confess, she replies ‘‘He have his goodness now, God forbid take it from him.’’ Thus, Danforth and his followers realize that their negligence is not acceptable, and that they failed to carry out their rightful duty. Hence, Proctor led the way for a new generation of righteous authorities.
To sum up, ‘The Crucible’ revolved around the ideas of reputation, and justice. These ideas were best illustrated by John Proctor. Proctor, like most of the other characters, had strengths and weaknesses. He was known for his honesty, integrity, and good reputation in Salem. Even so, his fatal flaws led to his downfall. Proctor’s lust for Abigail Williams, and his pride for his name and reputation eventually led to his defeat. Despite this, he managed to maintain his dignity and respect in society. This illustrates that in order to be a great individual and to gain internal peace , you must be truthful.
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