Discuss John Proctor, the protagonist and Abigail Williams, the antagonist in The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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John Proctor is a tragic hero. He is a flawed human being.  The drama The Crucible by Arthur Miller serves as a platform for Proctor to forgive himself, save his pregnant wife’s life, and stop the foolishness of the Salem court.  This is the protagonist Proctor’s story.

Proctor is married to Elizabeth and has two sons.  Elizabeth is pregnant again.  Before the play begins, Abigail Williams and Proctor have a brief affair.  He now works to save his marriage.

The crucible for John Proctor is the circumstances that he finds himself in and the test that he must face.  He refuses to lie and sign a false confession to save himself from hanging.  If Proctor lied and said that he was involved in witchcraft, he believed that he would have lost his reputation and good name. 

In each act, Proctor faces a challenge that tests his integrity and honesty.

Act 1- Proctor finds out that Abigail is causing a furor in Salem about witches and witchcraft. Abigail admits that it is all a sham.

Act 2- Proctor works to save his wife from the court and the charges of being a witch.  He is himself arrested and jailed as a witch. Proctor will die if he does not sign a false confession.  

Act 3-Elizabeth actually forgives Proctor and tells him that she is sorry that she has been cold to him. Proctor now can forgive himself.  From this, he is able to stand his ground and not confess.  He goes to his execution heroically and with his integrity intact.

There are several things that work against the protagonist.  Yet, the most important has to be Abigail Williams, who works to have Elizabeth Proctor hanged for witchcraft. As the antagonist, Abigail is a pitiable character; however, her insanity prevents the audience from understanding her cruel behavior toward innocent victim.  Abigail seems willing to do anything to achieve her goals.  These words are the reason that both Elizabeth and John Proctor are accused and taken to the jail charged with witchcraft.

ABIGAIL: Gah! I'd almost forgot how strong you are, John Proctor!
PROCTOR: What's this mischief here?
ABIGAIL: Oh, she's [Betty Parris]  only gone silly somehow.
PROCTOR: The road past my house is a pilgrimage to Salem all morning. The town's mumbling witchcraft.
ABIGAIL: Oh, posh! We were dancin' in the woods last night, and my uncle leaped in on us. She took fright, is all.
PROCTOR: Ah, you're wicked yet, aren't y'! You'll be clapped in the stocks before you're twenty.
He takes a step to go, and she springs into his path.
ABIGAIL: Give me a word, John. A soft word. (Her concentrated desire destroys his smile)
PROCTOR: No, no, Abby. That's done with.

Abigail's life has not been good.  She is under age and had an affair with a much older man.  But Abigail does everything she can to ruin the lives of the Proctors.  She is called a harlot and a whore by Proctor. Her vicious attack includes several immoral acts:

  •  She lures the other young girls to go to the woods and   dance
  •  She uses a poppet, voodoo, doll, to try to lure Proctor back to her
  • Her acting skills convince the court that she is demonically possessed.
  •  Abigail convinces Mary Warren to plant a voodoo doll in Elizabeth Proctor’s house. 
  • She denies that she ever had an affair with Proctor and the court believes her rather than Proctor. 

Her final act is to steal money from the preacher and runs away after destroying many people’s life.

Without question, it is Abigail Williams who sends the heroic Proctor to the gallows. 





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