Is John Proctor stubborn and arrogant, or wise and virtuous?
John Proctor's Character Traits
Is John Proctor stubborn and arrogant or wise and virtuous?
John Proctor is a very complicated man. I think he is all of these in various ways at various times. He is stubborn in refusing to accept all the cultural values of Salem. He does not respect Rev. Parris, for example, even though he is a minister. John does not support Parris in his leadership of the church.
John is arrogant in that he thinks he can reverse the hysteria in Salem by simply telling the truth about his affair with Abigail. John does not understand the power of the forces against which he aligns himself.
At the conclusion of the play, John has gained a great deal of wisdom. He understands that if he stands by his confession to spare his own life at the expense of his good friends' reputations, it will empower the court and their lives will have been lost to ignorance and the egotism of those who condemned them. John also understands that if he lies to save his own life, his life won't be worth living because he will have dishonored his name, the one thing of value he can leave to Elizabeth and his sons.
Finally, John dies a virtuous man by holding fast to his integrity. He chooses to die with honor instead of living in shame.
Like the other educators here, it seems to me that John Proctor displays each of the traits in question. He is at times wise and virtuous and at times stubborn and arrogant and occasionally he demonstrates each of these qualities simultaneously (as he does when he goes to court and maintains his claims that Abigail is lying to the town and has falsely accused Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft).
If we are asking which traits best describe John Proctor, the temptation is to choose the more positive set of traits. While Proctor is often driven to action by an animated or even enraged sense of (emotional) justice, he also almost always acts out of a deep sense of fairness.
As fairness is certainly a virtue and Proctor's clear-sighted view of what is happening to Salem can be seen as a kind of wisdom, we can argue that if Proctor displays stubbornness is acting out his more positive traits, he is at least not acting arrogantly when doing so.
He is stubborn and arrogant when he refuses to go to church because he considers Parris to be vain and greedy. This comes back to bite him since they use this fact against him (he plows on Sunday instead of attending services and he did not get his youngest baptised by Parris) when he is accused of witchcraft.
He and Elizabeth also are a little stubborn when they are trying to get past the affair that John and Abigail had.
John Proctor can be considered wise and virtuous when he refuses to confess to witchcraft or to sign his name on the fake confession before his death in an attempt to save his children from being ashamed of his actions. Rebecca Nurse, also a well-respected member of this community, also refuses to confess to her trumped-up crime.
I agree with other editors - certainly John Proctor displays all of those characteristics. Yet, by the end of the play, and perhaps because of his many failings, his decision to save his name gives him a nobility and an authority that makes his sacrifice linger in our mind for a long time. His character also stands out against the hypocrisy of so many other characters and judges them severely. Like the tragic heroes of many plays, it is his failings that make John Proctor a character we can identify with, respect and admire.
Like all of us, John Proctor is a flawed human being who does, ultimately want to do the right thing. He has a conscience, despite his sins, which is in tune with God and a faith to which, though sorely tested by the arrogant Rev. Parris, he holds to his death. That's why I like him so much as a literary character--he's flawed and he's failed, but he is redeemed. That should give the rest of us flawed and failed sinners some hope.
I don't think that John Proctor fits any of these descriptions. I think that John Proctor is a deeply flawed man who makes bad decisions and wise decisions. He is also arrogant and virtuous. The reason that Proctor is such a great round character is because he cannot be pigeonholed into a formulaic or standard character. He is much more profound than that.