Discuss the character development of Reverend John Hale in The Crucible.

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hale initially appears as an eager and erudite young man keen to use his religious learning to benefit the community. He is anxious to do things literally by the book, to call upon the powers of good against evil as instructed in the religious manuals that he brings along with him.

Hale comes across as a conformist at first, anxious to root out all disorderly elements in Salem, and convinced that malign supernatural forces are at work there. However, in Act II he shows that he does not blindly follow the hysteria that grips the town. He comes to visit the Proctors of his own accord, to give them warning that the court is on their trail. This shows how he can act independently and out of concern for individuals rather than condemning those accused out of hand. Indeed, as the play wears on he becomes increasingly dissociated from the court and all the official business that he took so much pride in at first; and he explicitly 'denounces' the court after seeing good people like Proctor and Giles condemned (Act III)

By the end of the play, Hale has become distrustful of the authorities. He is now said to be 'more direct than he ever was' (Act IV). All he wants now is to save lives from the scaffold, and he is deeply overcome with remorse over the people he has already helped to condemn:'Cannot you see the blood on my head!!' (Act IV).To this end, he pleads with Elizabeth to persuade Proctor to lie in order to save himself. He seems to abandon his former scruples, arguing unconvincingly that 'it may be that God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride'.

Hale, then, misrepresents Proctor's refusal to lie as a sign of pride rather than of integrity, and he appears rather weak and inconsistent in this, but it really springs from his growing sense of compassion - he does not want any more innocent people hanged. In the end, it is his humanistic concerns that prevail; he is no longer the dogmatically religious figure that he was at the beginning of the play.