What causes John Proctor's personal and inner conflict in The Crucible?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Proctor is a man of inner turmoil.  He is described as being a man who hates hypocrisy, yet he has committed adultery with the village mean girl, Abigail Williams.  His soft spot for Abilgail ultimately leads to his wife, Elizabeth being accused, arrested, jailed, and sentenced to death.  John Proctor is one of the few characters in the play with common sense, and the failure of John to not act sooner to discredit Abilgail and the other girls when the hysteria began leads to the continuation of the accusations and executions of innocent people.

At the end of the play, Elizabeth and Rev. Hale convince John to give a false confession in order to save himself from the gallows.  (Elizabeth is safe because of her pregnancy).  As the confession process continues, and John realizes that he is required to sign his name to a false confession, while others have refused to give in to the pressure (such as Rebecca Nurse) he realizes that he cannot in good conscience do it.  He instead goes to the gallows as well.  He sees it as a chance to finally stop the hypocrisy during the past few months and do the right thing.  Elizabeth understands, and it is evident that the love between the two has not been lost, but is stronger than ever.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Proctor is one of my favorite characters in literature because he is a good man who wrestles with his sins yet eventually finds freedom and forgiveness through his faith.  In the meantime, though, he is a conflicted man.

The most obvious conflict, of course, is his broken covenant with his wife Elizabeth.  He has had an illicit relationship with Abigail, someone he clearly never loved.  His feelings of guilt and shame torment him, for he knows he has broken faith with someone he does love.

He's also been untrue to God.  He is, despite his protestations and stubborn resistance to Reverand Parris, a godly man who is concerned about the condition of his soul.  Proctor's covenant with Elizabeth was made before God, and he is aware of the sullied condition of his soul.

Another conflict Proctor has is with the town of Salem.  He is a practical man, and the town seems to have gone down a path of religious fervor unconnected to true faith.  He has no patience for fancy candlesticks or scare tactics to intimidate sinners out of hell.  Despite that, he understands he should be connected to a church body on a regular basis and is struggling to find a way to do that.

Proctor is conflicted about confessing to something he isn't guilty of, to someone (the court) he has no respect for, in order to save his life and stay with the family he loves.  It's true he has done nothing to warrant this specific sentence and punishment; however, he has committed the sin/crime of adultery and feels as if he should be punished for that.  Therein lies the conflict: I didn't commit this sin, he reasons, but I did commit the other; so I'm not innocent.  He really tries to compromise, but he understands his good name (his honor and character, his very soul)) will be restored only if he accepts this fate.  It's a crisis of the soul, and he is able to find redemption through maintaining his integrity in the face of injustice.

John Proctor is a flawed character, fighting many serious inner conflicts; however, he finds peace as he asks forgiveness of his wife, his God, and himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that you can find a variety of conflicts that Proctor endures throughout the play and their impacts on him help to shape the direction of the drama.  I also believe that different people will focus on different conflicts present.  I do believe that one such conflict is how to reconcile his respect for the community of Salem and how the trials are degrading it.  Like others of good character and nobility, Proctor has a difficult time seeing Abigail's lies and deception devolve the bonds of community in Salem into ones where individuals betray one another for the sake of comfort and ensuring that "they are not next."  It is this conflict between protecting his family and his name that drives at Proctor, a character that appears ambivalent at the start of the play about himself, his motives, and his marriage.  He wrestles with this conflict and emerges from it more convinced that at any other point that his name is the most important element to which loyalty must be present: 

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!

In the end, it is this conflict that provides the greatest moral stature to Proctor, who stands true to his words of representing his name despite the protestations of his wife and others.  This conflict results in his death, but the acquisition of moral superiority over many others in Salem.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial