Act IV: Why does Proctor confess? Why will he not name names? Why will he not let Danforth have his signed paper?
In act 4, John Proctor reluctantly confesses for two significant reasons. The first reason Proctor confesses is to save his own life so that he can provide for his family. The second reason he decides to confess is because he doesn't feel righteous enough to die as a martyr like Rebecca Nurse or Martha Corey. Proctor tells his wife,
"I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. I am not that man." (Miller, 137)
When Danforth begins to question Proctor about whether other citizens were involved in witchcraft, Proctor refuses to accuse them because he knows they are innocent. Proctor is aware that the court is corrupt and refuses to accuse innocent Christians, as this will only support the same court he is challenging. Proctor does not want to have Rebecca or Martha's blood on his hands and already feels overwhelmed with guilt. He is also friends with Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey and refuses to falsely accuse them. He tells Danforth,
"I have three children - how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?" (143)
John Proctor refuses to sign his name to his confession because he would be publicly tarnishing his reputation. In the community of Salem, a person's reputation is significant, and Proctor tells Danforth,
"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)
In Act Four of The Crucible, Proctor decides to confess to engaging in witchcraft in order to protect his family and to avoid dying like a martyr. Confessing will enable him to go on living, to raise children with Elizabeth, and to start anew in their marriage.
However, when Proctor is asked to testify that others in the community have engaged in witchcraft, he refuses to do so, knowing that falsely naming names will only further spread the paranoia and reinforce the witch hunt. This is the first sign that Proctor is regaining his sense of integrity; he is unwilling to crush the lives of others in order to save himself.
Proctor ultimately signs his confession but refuses to give the paper to Danforth, ripping it up and choosing to accept his execution instead. Proctor does not wish for his family to endure the stigma attached to a witchcraft confession. He realizes that all that remains is his good name and that he cannot live without that, claiming:
...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.
Refusing to give into the "pleasure" of the courts, Proctor stands strong in the truth--that he has not engaged in witchcraft--and goes to the gallows with his integrity intact.
John Proctor initially confesses to protect his wife. Just as she lied to try to save his, neither is successful. Proctor does not want to leave his wife and make her unhappy again, but in the end he cannot go through with it.
Proctor refuses to name names to help take the heat off of him. He has had scorn for those who have done this, and he refuses to participate in any further harm to innocent people, even to save his own life.
Proctor cannot give the paper to Danforth because all he has left is his name, or reputation. He has spent most of the play as a lost soul because of his infidelity with Abigail, but he has a chance at redemption by not giving in to the temptation to save his life.
Proctor makes the choice that will end his life, but will save his soul.