In his play, The Crucible, Arthur Miller depicts John Proctor as a virtuous man. He commits adultery, but confesses to the court about his affair with Abigail, knowing that his name will be blackened in the village. Proctor is repentant and willing to cope with any punishment that the court, or God, believes to be just. When he realizes that Danforth is acting corruptly, however, he has the courage to stand up for himself and uphold his beliefs. Proctor is a good man, ultimately pious, because he defends his wife in court, repents for his sins, and is willing to give his life for what he believes is just.
Proctor, although mortified by his affair, confesses to adultery in order to save his wife’s life. Even after the court exposes Elizabeth’s dishonesty, Proctor supports her, stating that she would have spoken truthfully if she had not been concerned about his reputation. After Elizabeth has lied, he defends her by saying “She only thought to save my name!” (113) Even Hale acknowledges Elizabeth’s difficult choice and says “it is a natural lie to tell” (114). Unknowingly, Elizabeth’s perjury ruined their case, yet her husband speaks up for her and tries to deflect the blame onto himself. He confesses to his shameful and licentious behavior so his wife does not need to choose between her husband and the truth. Although his reputation is very important to him, Proctor sacrifices his dignity for his wife’s well-being, resulting in calamity for both of them. While his punishment may be extreme, Proctor bravely accepts this fate, regardless of whether he believes it to be just.
Proctor heroically undertakes one of the most shameful circumstances by publicly confessing to his sins. He takes responsibility for his transgressions and is prepared to accept punishment. After his affair, Proctor spends seven long months attempting to make peace not only with his wife but also with himself. Even after she forgives him for his lechery, he still does not believe that his deserved penance has been fulfilled and continues to chastise himself about the error of his ways. When Elizabeth visits him in jail she says, “I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery” (137). Although she has claimed partial responsibility, he does not allow her to blame herself and says, “I will not hear it! I know you” (137). He states that even though she wants to ameliorate his burden, he will not allow her to be culpable for his actions. Proctor’s determination to take full responsiblity for his wrongdoings as well as his intolerance of letting innocent people suffer, makes him a noble person.
Proctor’s honor is best demonstrated when he confesses to crimes of which he is innocent. He claims to be guilty of witchcraft, falsely thought to be his iniquity, in order to protect his family. After much persuasion from Elizabeth, Proctor originally agrees to confess. Realizing that he is being used as an example, however, Proctor learns that he cannot allow himself to follow through with a dishonest admission of guilt. It is difficult for him to choose between living immorally with his family or dying an honest man, but when the moment of confession arrives, Proctor decides that he would rather be hung than bear the weight of a lie. Proctor exclaims, “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!” (143) When Danforth requires Proctor to sign his confession, he realizes that in doing so he may keep his life but will have to carry the burden of a lie. He begs of Danforth to set him free without signing, that if he and God both heard him confess of dealings with the Devil that it shall be enough. Danforth is unwilling to compromise, and forces Proctor to sign a formal deposition. These actions cause Proctor to lose his life, but keep his dignity. Proctor faces his death as a righteous man willing to stand up for his beliefs.
Through his penitence for his sins, courage towards his wife, and refusal to submit to Danforth’s corrupt court, Proctor is an example of a good man. In a town of liars, Proctor is the only person brave and strong enough to take responsibility for his actions instead of using the unfortunate events as a key to revenge. Miller uses Proctor to symbolize the difficulty that righteousness entails. Whereas scheming and lying may be an easier path, Proctor chooses honesty though it is at great cost to himself. The crucible of the Salem Witch Trials demonstrate true morality through the journey of John Proctor, from sin to selfless integrity.
Alexandra Milich, Age 14, Grade 8, The Dalton School, Silver Key