Is John Proctor a classic tragic hero?

Asked on by ljm3515

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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A classic tragic hero often ends up sacrificing his life due to a situation that was the result of his own weakness.  In this most basic sense, Proctor is a tragic hero.  To pinpoint why, you must first identify the weakness that caused the trial; in John's case, it was his attraction to Abigail that resulted in an affair.  Because of their affair, Abby was enamored with John and craved to be with him.  However, John ended the affair, firmly, declaring to her even months later that "I will cut off my hand before I'll ever reach for you again."

John's weakness and resulting affair with Abigail spurred Abigail's jealousy and accusation of Elizabeth Proctor.  Abby thought she could be with John only if Elizabeth was out of the way.  And once Elizabeth was accused, John had to try to save her.  His journey to the courts to save his wife (from the consequences of his affair with Abby) ended up being fatal; the end result was his own accusation and death.

In the end, John died defending his honor; he sacrificed his life for an atonement for his sins of weakness.  So, in that sense, John Proctor is a classic tragic hero.  I hope that helps; good luck!

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poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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A tragic hero is an Aristotelian description of a character who experiences a major downfall as the result of a personal mistake or the workings of fate. Tragic heroes usually suffer from a "hamartia" — a tragic flaw which leads to the aforementioned downfall. Functionally, such characters are meant to invoke a sense of catharsis in an audience.

Thus, it can certainly be said that John Proctor is a classic tragic hero. Proctor's hamartia winds up being his weakness of character, a feebleness which leads him to break his marriage vows and violate the moral convictions of the community by engaging in an adulterous affair with Abigail. Even after Proctor has ended his relationship with Abigail, his sense of personal integrity has been permanently tarnished. It is this colossal mistake which sets off Abigail's vindictive lies and which result in the imprisonment of Proctor's wife, Elizabeth, and John's own eventual charge of witchcraft. 

Proctor maintains his status as a fallen hero, however, by going to the grave with a renewed sense of respect for the truth. In refusing to falsely testify that others have participated in witchcraft and by tearing up his own false confession, Proctor regains his integrity. In sacrificing himself, he has — as Elizabeth so poignantly puts it — found his "goodness" again. 

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