In "The Crucible," why did John Proctor decide to tear up his signed confession?  

John Proctor decided to tear his signed confession to atone for his past sins, preserve his name and reputation, and undermine Salem's corrupt court in hopes of saving innocent lives and putting an end to the witchcraft hysteria.

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Initially, John Proctor decides to offer a false confession and sign the document in hopes of saving his life. Proctor recognizes that he is a sinner and refuses to "mount the gibbet like a saint." He considers himself a fraud for pretending to be as righteous as Rebecca Nurse or Martha Corey and simply does not want to die. Despite Proctor's valid reasons for offering a false confession, he refuses to implicate other innocent citizens or hand his signed confession to Danforth, who will display it on the church doors for everyone to see. When Danforth asks why John will not give him the signed confession, Proctor 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!" (Miller, 145).

John Proctor is aware that his false confession will support Salem's corrupt court, doom Rebecca and Martha, and his name will be tarnished as a result of this selfish action. Proctor is also motivated to atone for his past sins by undermining the corrupt court and tearing his confession. After Proctor listens to Danforth's threats, he makes the bold decision to tear his signed confession and says,

"You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs" (Miller, 146).

Proctor's quote depicts his primary motivation for tearing his confession, which is to redeem himself and undermine Salem's court. By tearing his confession, Proctor becomes a martyr and hopes that Salem's community will disband the court, which will save innocent lives and end the witchcraft hysteria once and for all.

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All throughout the play, John Proctor has thought of himself as a "fraud," a word he uses to describe himself in the fourth act when he is considering whether or not to confess to witchcraft and save his life. He cheated on his wife with their household help, a seventeen year-old girl named Abigail Williams, and then he failed to tell the court what he knew about her deception until after it was too late and hysteria had taken hold of Salem. In one sense, it is absolutely possible to consider him at least partially responsible for the tragedies that take place in the text.

In the end, John asks his wife, Elizabeth, to forgive him for what he's done. He wants her to absolve him, but she sagely says that her forgiveness would not matter "if [he'll] not forgive [him]self." She confesses that she, herself, feels guilty for her behavior within their marriage, and they have such a beautiful moment of truthfulness and love that John wants to stay alive to be with her, and he says that he will confess to save his life. However, he must first lie, and do so in front of Rebecca Nurse, whose conscience would not permit her to lie. Then he is asked to name other witches, but he refuses. Next he is forced to sign the document on which his untrue confession has been recorded. He learns it will be made public, and he wonders how he can teach his sons to be men if he "sold [his] friends." Suddenly, in tears, he crumples the confession and tears it up, telling his persecutors,

You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs.

He has finally learned to see himself as a good man, someone who can be redeemed by keeping his integrity, but he can only do so by refusing to lie now. Therefore, he tears up his confession.

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Proctor goes through a transformation of character, retrieving his dignity back from the scandal of his adulterous affair with Abigail.  More than that, he is renewed in his faith, realizing that the only way to save himself from true evil is to resist the temptation to lie to save his life.  He surrenders his life to save his soul. 

He literally reclaims his soul when he decides to tear up the confession.  This is evidenced by his wife's final comments in the play.

"Elizabeth: He have his goodness now, God forbid I take it from him!" (Miller)

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John confessed in order to save his life. His wife was expecting, and he thought it best to lie in order to be around for his family. After his confession, he is urged to sign. At this request, he begins to have reservations, and he responds, "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!" Despite his reservations, he signs the confession.

Then, he hears that Giles Corey refused to answer the charge and died by being pressed to death. The straw that broke the camel's back is when Rebecca is brought in. She also refused to confess and will be hanged as a witch. John realizes that honor is more important. He also decides to stop living a sinful life of lies and become a better person.  He refuses to play the evil game by naming others and tears up his false confession. Elizabeth is urged to try to persuade him, but she refuses and understands his need for redemption.

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In Act IV of "The Crucible", John decides to rip up his signed confession for two reasons.  First, after the confession is signed, Danforth tells one of his court marshals to hang it on the church door so that john can be used as an example to the people who refuse to confess to witchcraft.  Once John realizes this he decides that John Proctor will not be used as an example of someone who lies to save his life and, therefore, takes his confession back.  The second reason is that John realizes that signing this confession will ruin his name for his three sons.  His reasoning is, "Because it is my name." He takes back the confession for those two reasons. 

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