How and why does John Proctor change in The Crucible?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By the end of The Crucible, John Proctor is a man who is firm in his convictions instead of a man living a selfish life without regard for others or his community. 

John's affair with Abigail in the beginning of the play is contrasted with his desire to be a moral man whose name is respected. Even though he knows it's wrong -- Abigail is young enough to be his daughter -- he still continues the affair. John believes the affair will follow him for all time, saying "But I'll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free."

His character is weak in other ways, too. He physically punishes a young servant. He's rude to his wife. He refuses to go to church and uses the excuse that Parris gives sermons of "only hellfire and bloody damnation." He's an outcast from the religious community, too, because he will not allow his son to be baptized. 

His change comes when his wife is accused of being a witch by Abigail, the woman John was having an affair with -- who was also their employee.

In order to save his wife, John has to become a man of honesty and morals. He convinces one of the accusers to turn against the others. When that causes their veracity to be questioned, they deny that the accusations are lies. John is finally honest and admits before all in court that he and Abagail had an affair in the hopes that it will reveal her moral character and keep the court from believing her. 

The final clue that John has changed comes when he refuses to give his confession to the court. He signs it to save himself from a death sentence but then won't hand it over. He knows it will be used against others. Instead of personal self-interest, he acts in favor of the community as a whole. He dies without confessing, knowing that his death won't condemn others.

writergal06 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the play, John Proctor is already attempting to change. This is due to his recent affair, and desire to be a man of morality and integrity. Proctor is still very unsure of himself, though, in the beginning of the play. He knows what is right, but doesn't trust himself to do right (or be believed if he does, as in the situation of calling out Abigail for lying). The first event that causes great change in Proctor is Elizabeth's arrest. Knowing that Elizabeth is the innocent one, Proctor is incited to act on his wife's behalf. He shows his change by calling out Abigail Williams as an adulterer and liar. The second cause of Proctor's change is when he faces the gallows in Act 4. He considers signing his name to a false confession. Since he is already a sinner, he tries to convince himself it isn't really a lie. This scene shows the biggest transformation in Proctor -- he realizes that he can't sign himself to a lie and live as a man of integrity. He tears the confession and is hanged. The reason that this shows the biggest transformation is because Proctor acknowledges his ability to be a man of integrity and desire to protect his name and his family. As Elizabeth states, "he has his goodness now." Even though he dies, we still see Proctor as stronger and more noble in the end than in the beginning.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John confesses about his illicit affair with Abigail because he still loves and cares for his wife. In the story, it states that Elizabeth confronts John, and he opens up about the affair. John could have denied the allegations, but he decides to stand with the truth. At some point in the story, he wonders if it was the right choice.

John goes a step further and confesses the affair in open court. He feels he has no choice but to come out clean on the matter and affirm the rumors going around about him and Abigail. He does this in the hope of saving Elizabeth and other innocent people charged with witchcraft. He sets aside his pride and hopes to arrest the situation.

John changes throughout the story because he is trying to earn back his wife’s trust and, at the same time, he is also trying to save her life. He eventually reclaims his honor, and in the end, he sees some goodness in himself.

"I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor"