Why is Proctor a viable hero in The Crucible by Arthur Miller?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Proctor was not only a character in The Crucible but a real person who was hanged in August of 1692.  In writing his play, Arthur Miller combined real people and factual accounts from the Salem witch trials.  

The real John Proctor was a wealthy farmer who criticized the trials and spoke against the girls who created the problem.  When Rebecca Nurse was charged, Proctor came to the proceedings and spoke against them. It was after this that he was charged and found guilty.  

In writing his play, Arthur Miller combined real people and factual accounts from the Salem witch trials.  Miller chose Proctor to serve as the protagonist and tragic hero. 

Why has John Proctor’s character stood the test of time as a viable and accepted tragic hero? Probably for two reasons: He was an actual character who gave up his life to make a stand against the witch trials.  Secondly, even though at times he is an unsympathetic character, Proctor comes to the forefront when he faces the court and speaks honestly and from his heart about the foolishness of listening to the silly girls.  This fact sends him to the gallows. 

As the main character,   John Proctor is a good man who actually loves his family.  His tragic flaw is the affair that he had when he lusted after Abigail Williams.  All of this occurs before the play begins.  After he turns Abigail out, he creates a jealousy that dooms him and eighteen other people.  

Proctor has many good qualities.  His honesty comes out in the trial when he admits that he had the affair with Abigail.  He hoped that Abigail would be stopped by his admission.  However, Abigail quickly leaves Salem and is never heard from again.

Proctor does nothing for the first two acts of the play.  This changes in the third act.  He becomes a “man of action.” His decency is displayed when he is outraged when good women like Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey are charged and found guilty.  

His pride will not allow him to admit to witchery which leads to his execution.  Even with his friends and family begging him to save himself, Proctor will not give in and ruin his reputation.  His final act of denouncing the trials does lead to the eventual cessation of the trials.

For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you  quail now when you know in all you black hearts that this be fraud.  God damns our kind especially, and we will burn together!

It is too late for Proctor and the other good women who were hanged. 

Probably, Proctor's greatest quality issues forth when he refuses to provide the false confession.  He signs the confession but refuses to hand it over to be given out publicly.  He is shamed by Rebecca Nurse’s staunch stand against admitting to these ridiculous charges. 

His integrity and personal and religious reasons send him to the gallows.  Proctor feels that he will find forgiveness for his affair and hurting of Elizabeth only in heaven.  Because of this, Elizabeth gives him up to God. 

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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