Forging A Hero: A Crucible of Sacrifice

In the strict and arduous world of Puritanism, the character of a hero is obscure and difficult to depict. In times of unjust persecution and prosecution, though, a hero is a person willing to question accepted authority and fight for what is just. John Proctor is, without a doubt, imperfect and wholly human. He has broken the laws of religion, both large and small, yet is sincerely dedicated and utterly committed to publicize and expose the truth. Although Proctor was not born such a philanthropic and altruistic a man, when lies surfaced and swelled, he was adamant that they be destroyed and their creators censured. His desire to reveal the truth often was deleterious to his name and life. Proctor constantly opposed the decisions and verdicts of the court so that the twisted and obscured truth could surface. In the latter portion of the play, Proctor’s honesty is unexpected and seemingly illogical. Integrity is a trait invaluable to a hero, however courageous the process of revelation. Other characters in The Crucible recoiled from truth and its apparent futility to their self interest and resorted to lies with hopes to further their ambitions. Events in Miller’s own life indubitably had an impact on how he chose to represent a protagonist in his story. There is one more evident trait that was both heroic in the drama of Salem, Massachusetts, and the United States during the evils of McCarthyism. One who questions authority, particularly in times of pain and atrocity, is indispensable to their community and nation; they do not shy away from their duty to restore righteousness and honesty. This particular trait progressed over time. Initially, Proctor was nervous about standing up to the judges and potentially surrendering his life. Later, though, the extent of the iniquity compelled him to speak publicly about the unjust matter. In the constricting Puritan society as well as the period during the preeminence of Senator Joseph McCarthy, a hero is incontrovertibly defined by their desire to reveal the truth, their willingness to sacrifice their own lifestyle for the welfare of their community, and their capacity and inclination to challenge authority, all attributes that are present in the valiant, albeit sometimes morally flawed character of John Proctor.

John Proctor seems, after a quick perusal, an unlikely hero. In the perfectionistic Puritan society, sin and imperfection combined with a desire to help are one of the few ways in which a hero can be expressed. Every person is held to the highest standards of propriety, and therefore a hero that conformed to the society’s strict guidelines would be tedious and anticipated. Proctor, while truly imperfect, knows what is moral and virtuous. “PROCTOR: I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. I am not that man… My honesty is broke… I am no good man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before… ELIZABETH: John, it come to naught that I should forgive you, if you’ll not forgive yourself,” (126). Proctor, though the transgressor of the frowned-upon act of lechery, knows what the morally right action is. Every single time he has the opportunity to make a decision, he is fully aware of what is ethical and what is not. Sometimes, though, his doubt of his own good nature coerces him into immorality. “PROCTOR: I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor… ELIZABETH: He have his goodness now,” (133-134). John Proctor’s conscience is palpably potent. Proctor frequently cannot truly realize that he is the one who harshly judges himself; it is Elizabeth who reminds him that he knows what is right and he that must live with his own actions. The choice whether to confess is strenuous. Many are able to live steeped in guilt, but Proctor knows he will be unable to live with the guilt of having taken his life for a lie. There are times in the history of the world in which people must choose to either die honest or sacrifice what they believe. Some may argue that Proctor, because he initially ignored his conscience, is weak and inadequate as a hero. A person who acts in an unscrupulous manner but truly strives for morality may not be judged by their actions. Proctor knows what the righteous course of action is, but habitually has too low an opinion of his name and his image to choose: why act like a moral man when your name has already been besmirched? Proctor transforms from feeling this way to believing that the truth is irreplaceable, even if it entails sacrificing a life. This trait is extremely heroic alone, but the audacity of John Proctor is prompted even more by his willingness to renounce his own integrity and life for his advocacy of the truth.

When disaster arises, there are usually three groups that surround the calamity: the people who sincerely want to aid their community, the bystanders, and those who attempt to capitalize on the situation. The town of Salem is the epitome of this scenario. Assisting in times of adversity is not a task one is predisposed to undertake. John Proctor was initially unsure whether to help the town or to remain a spectator and then, when he has chosen to help, has underestimated the power of the girls. The group that chose to exploit the circumstances is perhaps more apparent: the group of girls and those who controlled them (Parris, and the Putnams). After the wives of three respectable men have been unjustly arrested, they can do nothing except protest. Name and character, attributes intrinsic and deserved for any human, are traits that Proctor neglects to relinquish: they, when everything material is gone, are the one possession a man may retain. “PROCTOR: For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud- God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!” (111). Selflessness to this extent can be defined as nothing but courageous and extremely heroic. Proctor’s arguments have progressed from deferential to ardent declarations of the truth. At first, he was reluctant to offer his life. But, where others cowered and flinched, the wall of John Proctor became adamant until wholly shattered. This evolution from fear and dread to an unflinching desire for righteousness is unquestionably heroic. “I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it… I come not to hurt the court… I cannot have another [name] in my life… 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!” (52, 86, 133). In trying to censure the lying girls and restore the truth, Proctor has relinquished all he has: his connection to his family and even his own life. But, after working so conscientiously, to have one’s name tarnished is one action that John Proctor cannot stand for. He does not require anything of monetary value except his integrity, now regarded as the most prized possession of all. Death is the only route that does not end in complete shame. As a hero, he aided his community. In any society, whether it be the mid-twentieth-century United States or the town of Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, a figure such as John Proctor is invaluable. Although his selflessness is vital, his capability to challenge authority is equally indispensable.

In times of oppression, many are exceedingly reluctant to express dissatisfaction or protest. It is as unappealing to question authority as it is to sacrifice one’s life: the former can often instigate the latter. It takes courage not to regard power as indomitable and to view morality through a wider lens than what one is taught. Both of these traits must be amalgamated for a hero to be born. In The Crucible, the townspeople’s mindset is largely obedient to the court and its officials. So, when Proctor and other men come to defend their wives, many resort to declarations that “this is a clear attack upon the court!” (87). Intrinsically, it is obvious that people do not want to question the decisions of those who govern them, no matter the evil. “PROCTOR: Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now… vengeance is walking Salem… They’re all marvelous pretenders,” (73, 98). Proctor is willing to look beyond the official decisions and not instinctively regard them as accurate. In this respect, humanity has not evolved. For political and selfish reasons, people today customarily tolerate cruelty and suffering. It requires tremendous inspiration and audacity to compel people to fight for truth and help others. At first, the character of Reverend Hale is cowardly and dissatisfying. He, by nature, is a part of the great number of people who adhere to the statements of authority. When Hale’s original authority is surpassed by that of the court, he encourages the maltreated, particularly Proctor, to submit to the jurisdiction of the court and, instead of challenging the judges, just yield and lie. “PROCTOR: [to Hale] You are a coward!… HALE: prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie,” (74, 122). But Proctor will not submit and continue to live in a world in which lies are the only route to success. To reciprocate in untruths would aid humanity’s confinement in a cage of lies. Personal success may be the result of being dishonest, but it will make the task of securing morality and equality for a community infeasible. Not immediately taking the easiest route to one’s own survival and objecting to the lies of authority is undoubtedly valiant and heroic.

In the history of the world, there have been people who manipulate the truth to advance their own ambitions as well as those who have neglected their personal aspirations to advocate for truth. These two groups are antitheses of each other. Although both perpetually will be warring, the latter earnestly fights for the good of mankind. One promotes truth while its opponent capitalizes on engrossing lies in order to gain supporters. Frequently, lies are an effective method to gain advocates and further a cause. In The Crucible, Salem consists predominantly of people who employ lies. While many of the town’s young girls initiate the rumors of witchcraft, numerous adults exploit the scandal. There is one individual, however, who resists and does not comply. John Proctor represents one who strives for truth. He, while undeniably flawed, exerts himself in his advocacy of the truth. The conscience of John Proctor is surprisingly and uncommonly strong. He is even willing to sacrifice his own freedom and later life itself for truth. Proctor realizes that the assertion of reality is more momentous than the life of one man. When untruthful authority comes to Salem, John Proctor will not be acquiescent. He ferociously questions and disputes the fallacious proclamations of authority, unafraid to expose even the vilest of secrets. In incriminating himself, however, he inspires others to help him in the process. Reverend Hale sees the greatness of John Proctor and is encouraged to change from having a meek, largely submissive attitude toward authority to a more strong and defiant one. Proctor strove to exhibit truth and was selfless in doing so. Undaunted by authority, especially in the context of Salem, he was truly heroic. During the time period in which The Crucible was written, these traits were invaluable. As the American government pointed fingers at rumored communists during the McCarthy era, people like John Proctor were necessary to restore sanity and unmask the truth. In retrospect, has humanity grown and learned? Today, the issue of witchcraft is imaginary and the initial answer yes. But, as society has progressed, so have its issues and complications, as well as partisanship and the power to demonize. Despite no immediate gratification, the only recourse left to mankind, as a whole, is to hope.

Andrew Milich
Age 15, Grade 9
The Dalton School
Persuasive Writing
Silver Key

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