How does John Proctor’s great dilemma change during the course of The Crucible?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One could look at John Proctor's change of dilemma when examining Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

In the beginning, John's dilemma (if speaking to the fact that he did not wish to divulge his adulterous affair with Abigail) was  admitting in court that the court could not trust Abigail based upon the fact that she is a whore (as stated by Proctor during his testimony).

ELIZABETH: (Quietly, fearing to anger him by prodding. A step L.) God forbid you keep that from the court, John; I think they must be told.
PROCTOR: Ay, they must, they must….It is a wonder that they do believe her.
ELIZABETH: I would go to Salem now, John… let you go tonight.
PROCTOR: I’ll think on it.
ELIZABETH: (With her courage now.) You cannot keep it, John.
PROCTOR: (Angering.) I know I cannot keep it. I say I will think on it!
ELIZABETH: (Hurt, and very coldly.) Good then, let you think on it.
PROCTOR: (Defensively.) I am only wondering how I may prove what she told me, Elizabeth. If the girl’s a saint now, I think it is not easy to prove she’s fraud, and the town gone so silly. She told it to me in a room alone—I have no proof for it.

Later, John goes on to tell the courts about the affair.

PROCTOR: I have known her, sir. I have… known her.

Here, John has decided to face the dilemma of admitting to the adultery. John realizes that by admitting to the affair that he can raise questions about Abigail's nature and people who have been accused of witchcraft may be released.

At the end of the play, John refuses to sign his name to the documents stating his sins. He is worried about his name.

PROCTOR: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life. 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!

Therefore, John's dilemma has changed from admitting his adulterous affair to the soiling of his name.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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