Why does John Proctor choose to hang and what does he thereby accomplish?
Throughout the play, John Proctor struggles with his self-image. In act 2, he gets very defensive when his wife, Elizabeth, seems to suspect him, still, of some wrongdoing as concerns Abigail Williams, the girl with whom he'd had an affair. He wants Elizabeth to "look sometimes for the goodness" in him, and she claims that she does not judge him. She says, "The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you." She insists, then, that he judges himself, and it is he who must forgive himself.
After Elizabeth is arrested, he speaks "with deep hatred of himself." He seems to feel as though he is terrible and worthless, as he tells Mary Warren, "My wife will never die for me! . . . that goodness will not die for me!" He calls Elizabeth "goodness," implying that he is not.
In act 4, as John and Elizabeth speak together, he conveys the same sort of opinion of himself. He considers confessing to witchcraft, only to save his life. He justifies this decision, saying, "I am no saint. Let Rebecca go like a saint; for me it is fraud!" John feels that dying as an innocent person would be a form of lying: others with whom he will be hanged are truly innocent, good people in his eyes, and he feels dishonest by dying with them and putting himself on a level with them. However, after he confesses and the magistrates try to force him to provide the names of other supposed witches, he tears up his signed confession. John says,
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.
In the end, John finds the goodness in himself again. He realizes that it is possible to be redeemed and that he can die with his integrity still intact. His wife understands this, and she tells Reverend Hale, "He have his goodness now." In this way, with his loyalty to his friends and his death, he regains his self-respect and sense of his own goodness.
John Proctor suffers internal conflict throughout the play. Attracted physically to Abigail, he violates his vows to his wife and consequently suffers pangs of conscience. He knows that he has dishonored himself and hurt his wife. When he is accused of witchcraft and brought before the court, he is given the chance to the confess to being a witch and name others who also might be witches, thereby avoiding execution. All he has to do is sign a confession and allow it to be posted on the church door. Initially, he is tempted to do so, for that will allow him to be able to see hear about his family and remain a presence in their lives. Elizabeth urges him to consider this option. However, if Proctor knows that if he confesses to a something that is untrue, he loses even more of his self-respect and personal honor. By the end of the play, he has little left: he has hurt his wife and Abigail and has jeopardized the well being of his family. In refusing to confess solely to save his own life, John Proctor restores his honor and self-respect and leaves that legacy for his family. He redeems himself at his execution--his life is no longer a lie.
John Proctor refuses to save his life by confessing and naming names. Hale tries to get those imprisoned to save their lives because the court is allowing them to live if they confess.
At first, Proctor agrees, and this is done to please Elizabeth. But, his soul is already tortured because of the affair with Abigail, and he wants his good name and dignity back. He decides it is better to die than to lie any further. He has been scornful of the proceedings all along, and does not want to be hypocritical anymore.
In choosing to hang, he regains his dignity and self-respect. For Proctor, this was a better choice.