In "The Crucible" does John Proctor deserve to die?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Let's expand this question and ask, did anyone who died in the Salem witch trials deserve to die?  The people that died were innocent of the charge that they were murdered for--they were not witches, and even though I'm sure all of them had their faults, none of those faults warranted a cruel and painful death at the end of a noose.   John had more faults than many others--he had committed what was considered to be an awful sin in the Puritan community, adultery.  However, confession and excommunication would have been the worst that he would have had to suffer if he was punished for that crime.  So, what did John do that warranted his death?  Nothing.  In fact, the people that did die could be said to be even more honest and god-fearing people than those that confessed to witchcraft to save their necks.  The people that confessed betrayed their integrity by lying, while those that died did not lie.

John's death was not deserved, nor were the deaths of the other 18 people that ended up getting hanged.  Eventually, all of the people of Salem realized that these were unjust killings, and did what they could to care for the impoverished families.  Descendents of the victims were even compensated by the state many years later in an attempt to recompense them for the damage that was done.  To say that John's death was deserved is to say that anyone who has ever done anything wrong should be killed, and at the hands of an unfair and suspicious court, at that.  John died as an unusual hero, who cared more about living honestly and maintaining his reputation than giving in to lies and a deceitful court.  I hope that helps--good luck!

janellechiorello | Student

Firstly, Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" was written as an allegorical piece that reflected the current state of the American society and government. From 1950-1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a campaign against communism, and plagued the whole of the United States government, investigating those he "believed" to be communists or members of the Communist Party. Because of the government and country's relationship with Russia, at this time, many people within the United States Government and Hollywood were blacklisted from practicing their rightful careers. This was, quite frankly, an era of "Witch Hunts."

That said, Miller wrote the play to reflect these governmental and societal witch hunts, with those that occurred in Salem, Massachusetts. The protagonist, John Proctor in "The Crucible" symbolizes reputation, religion, and forgiveness. In the Puritan society, Christianity encompassed all of the actions and decisions made for the town of Salem. John Proctor might not have specifically "deserved" to die, because, literally he did not commit the crime of " practicing witchcraft" or Pagan like rituals; however his actions of infidelity and sacrificing are worth noting and delving deeply into, for his death becomes symbolic of not only, Jesus Christ, but of the McCarthy Era.

For example, in Act Two, as John, and his wife, Elizabeth discuss the current undertakings of the town, concerning Abigail and her group of girls, John says: "No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed! Some dream I had must have mistaken you for God that day. But you’re not, you’re not, and let you remember it! Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not." This textual evidence demonstrates how John confesses to his wife of his infidelity, and how he pleads with Elizabeth that he is still good at heart. This sentiment echoes Romans 10:9-10, which says, "Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Thus, John Proctor's confession will, through Puritan teachings, lead him on a path of salvation and redemption. In this regard, Miller sets his protagonist to begin to mirror, or become an analog of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, John Proctor's selfless death reflects that of Jesus Christ, and the selfless individuals who fought against McCarthy during his own "witch hunts."John 3: 16-17 says, "“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." In this regard, Jesus died selflessly for the sins of the people, and although, he committed no wrongdoings, he would not deny God or his teachings; thus, he suffered an imaginable death at the hands of the Cross.

Similarly, John Proctor could not confess, on paper, to the lies of the town. In Act 4, John says: 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!" This evidence emphasizes how John remains adamant that his name is his life. It is his reputation, the life he has built for himself and his family. Why sign that way and sin by treason? Therefore, John Proctor submits to death, to selflessly save "his people;" the people of Salem, who were wrongly convicted and jailed for a nonexistent crime. Miller makes it so John Proctor's death begins to shed light on the wrongdoings of Salem, and puts the town in question of their own morality.Drawing comparisons beyond a biblicial lens and through a historical lens, John Proctor symbolizes the people that fought against McCarthy, such as Miller, with his allegorical work, and Joseph N. Welch, the lawyer who fought against McCarthy's unethical practices. Thus, although John Proctor, did not deserve to die, in the literal sense, Miller created his death as a larger allegorical picture toward McCarthyism, and the ties of religion in the Purtian society and the United States.