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Do people still believe in witchcraft? Do the people of Salem have a good reason to convict the innocent? In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, numerous characters are convicted of witchcraft because one character, Abigail Williams, wanted John Proctor all to herself. Most of the citizens in Salem spend their time in fear wondering if they will be falsely accused of witchcraft and will be hanged if they don’t confess. The ones that were falsely convicted of the crime, were impossible to prove such witchcraft to the court, forcing them to confess something they didn’t do. The protagonist, John Proctor, went from a sinner and a normal citizen to the tragic hero in the play with a high form of morality. John Proctor is a farmer in his mid-thirties and had a sharp and biting way with hypocrites. He worried about his reputation and didn’t want to ruin his good name to the town.
In the beginning, Mr. Proctor is considered a sinner in his current time. His lust for Abigail Williams leads to an affair and jealousy from his current wife, Elizabeth Proctor. The lies that Abigail Willams induces, leads to mass hysteria to arise around town. In Act One, Miller says, “He is a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own version of decent conduct.” The author is referring to John committing the act of adultery. This is considered an immoral act. This can ruin one’s name in the village and will result in jail time. When Mr. Hale asks John if he knows the ten commandments, he misses adultery and this is a major turning point in the play. Abigail says in Act One, “I have a sense for heat, John, and yours has drawn me to my window, and I have seen you looking up, burning in your loneliness. Do you tell me you’ve never looked up at my window?” His response showed the fact that he still had feelings for her, even though he won’t admit it entirely. This can be viewed that he is not loyal to his wife and is dishonorable to the church. John says in Act One, “Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched.” Abigail attempts to remind John of the spark and passion they once had. He feels ashamed about everything and cuts off anything they ever had. Even though he thinks of her fondly, their relationship is over forever. They are to go on and pretend that it never happened.
In the middle of the play, there is a major controversy with the court and his wife Elizabeth. Despite his adulterous behavior, John Proctor serves as a voice of reason in the play. In the beginning of Act Two, there is a lot of tension between John and Elizabeth. When Reverend Hale asks John to recite the ten commandments, he cannot reaccount adultery. This scene shows that John isn’t forgetting about the sin that he committed, but it had to be triggered when Elizabeth told him that he forgot adultery as one of the commandments. “If she is innocent! Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking in Salem – vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are dangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant’s vengeance! I’ll not give my wife to vengeance!.” At this point in the play, Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft. Now John has a purpose to be directly involved in the witch trials. He knows that she is innocent, and he is willing to speak what he knows to free her, even if it costs his own life. He also makes a point that nothing has changed in Salem, except the court believing in the false accusations. “I will fall like an ocean on that court! Fear nothing Elizabeth.” He is planning to enter the court in such a way that’ll they’ll have to listen to him. In order for John to fulfill his promise to Elizabeth, he needs to prove his integrity. He does this by challenging Abigail in court and revealing his affair with her. He lost his good reputation that he held in society, but has gained trust from his wife.
Towards the end of the play, there is a big character change in John Proctor. Proctor’s decision to tell the court about his affair ironically demonstrates his goodness. In Act Three John says, “I say – I say – God is dead!” He says this because the people in Salem are the ones that are continuing the mass hysteria of the witch trials. At this point, John’s life is completely falling apart. His hysterical laugh shows his breaking point and he is losing control. He has confessed to his affair, but his wife lied for him. He tries telling the truth, but no one will listen. “You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!” Danforth has allowed Abigail to seize control of the court. The girls acting is getting people killed and his wife. He is starting to lose faith in the church and God. It’s important that Proctor said this so it’ll let them realize what they are doing to all these innocent lives. “I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church? God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough! This shows that John Proctor was willing to admit to the sins that he has committed, but is reluctant for his name to be hung up on the church door. He understands that God realizes his mistakes and that confessing should be enough for people to forgive his sins. “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! This illustrates his obsession with his good reputation and name. Proctor’s determination to preserve his good name kept him from testifying against Abigail. He has now came to an agreement on what a good reputation means. He would not be able to live knowing that other innocent people have died while he’ll be living because he confessed. He has the courage to die as a tragic hero with his goodness intact.
To sum up, Arthur Miller’s play shows that innocent people were willing to die then sell their souls for a lie. It also shows that you can’t convict someone of a crime if you don’t have hard proof. The mass hysteria of the village was a big conflict. John Proctor went from a liar that can’t confess his sins to finally admitting what he has done. His wife gave him forgiveness and was hanged because of the unlawful court system. He has gained morality and the end and this is a powerful statement of resistance.
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