The Crucible (essay on John Proctor) | Teen Ink

The Crucible (essay on John Proctor)

February 24, 2021
By Anonymous

In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor is a flawed, conflicted character. Proctor is a man whose mistakes lead him to a place of self-doubt. Throughout the novel, he teteers on an inner scale of self-confidence and self-worth vs. self-hatred and self-deprecation. It is only at the end of the novel that he decides that his identity is worth clinging onto, although, paradoxically, this means being hanged. It is an important realization for Proctor that he would rather die as himself, with at least a shred of dignity and self-worth, than live feeling confined, oppressed, and used by Danforth and the church. Proctor is both a failure and an ultimate hero because his fatal mistake, his moral sin, leads him to acknowledge his flaws, forgive himself, and realize his personal worth and integrity.

Prior to the events in the story, John Proctor has a short-lived affair with Abigail Williams, who was the servant of Proctor and his wife Elizabeth. Out of some place of desperation or loneliness, and discontentedness with himself, Proctor lusted for this young, charming girl. He regrets his decision immensely and falls into a place of despair and self-hatred, convinced he can never right his wrong and is now forever dishonorable and sinful. Great stress is put on his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth, whom he still loves. There is a feeling of separation between them, a cold distance that discomforts them both. At the end of the play, Danforth and the others allow Elizabeth to see John before he is set to be hanged, his punishment for refusing to admit to witchcraft. John looks to his wife to help him justify his actions. Elizabeth tells her husband, “John, it come naught that I should forgive you, if you’ll not forgive yourself” (136). Elizabeth understands that John feels as though she must forgive him before he can forgive himself. But she also knows that ultimately, he must come to terms with his actions and that he can only set himself free from his burdensome guilt—she can’t do that for him. Throughout Proctor’s conversation with Elizabeth, he demonstrates that he is wrangling with his notions of morality, self-worth, and self-forgiveness. His determination to redeem himself and willingness to own up to what he did prove that despite making an appalling moral error, he is still a moral hero.

Proctor ultimately decides to deny allegations of witchcraft. He refuses to live under the false pretense of committing and admitting to witchcraft, appeasing the church, and being used as another name in the storm of accusations and anxiety occurring in Salem. By letting himself be hurled into the pool of the accused, Proctor feels that the church is taking his soul and using him, an important name in town, to make their cause look legitimate. He says, “God knows how black my sins are!” (142) and in spite of this, God doesn’t need his name nailed up on the church doors for the world to see—this matter is between him and God. Proctor’s inner strength and sense of self-worth are demonstrated when he declares to Danforth and Parris, “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” (144). Proctor strives to come to terms with his past sins and acknowledge that he is more than his shortcomings—they needn’t forever weight him down. Similar to how Proctor’s decision to be hanged or confess changes back and forth, his belief in himself wavers, but he finally decides to forgive himself: in an ultimate inner battle for self-worth, Proctor prevails. He dies as himself, cognizant of his righteousness as well as of his flaws.

Throughout the play, John Proctor’s mistakes weigh him down and lead him to a place of self-doubt. Ultimately, he is able to forgive himself and learns to view himself as no less of a person than anyone else despite moral wrongs he has committed in the past. Ironically, by fully believing in himself and deciding that his identity is worth not giving up to the merciless Danforth and Parris, he is hanged. However, Proctor’s life ends when he is truly himself, flaws included, rather than continuing to live feeling used and oppressed by the church. Realizing that he would rather die as himself demonstrates Proctor’s growth and courage, making him worthy of the title moral hero. A man who has done no wrong is surely moral, but a man who has done wrong, recognizes it, finds a way to forgive himself, and learns deeper meaning from this emotional trauma is a moral hero.

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