John Proctor's death in The Crucible was NOT all for nothing. Why?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Proctor's death was not in vain.  Simply put, this is proven with his stance at the end of the play that brings about his execution represents ascending to the level of extraordinary human being at a moment when there was only ordinary, or less than, around him.  When Proctor refuses to acquiesce to the banality of what others are doing, when he takes the stand that will seal his fate, and when he ascends to an almost transcendent figure it is because he stands up for what is right.  Proctor's death is not all for nothing because it is a moment when a human being represents being right and doing right simultaneously.  This is a difficult thing to do and Proctor accomplishes it.  Other moments in the play from Proctor, Elizabeth, and Giles Corey can prove this.   He is passionate about his refusal to confess to something that he knows is not true. He is passionate about his mere name:  "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!"  I think you can find other lines to echo such thoughts, as well.  With these words, I think Proctor's death is the moment when others realize the insanity of Salem's governing body in believing Abigail's accusations and how all the forced confessions and silence while neighbors and friends suffered represents a moral wrong in its own right.  It is at this moment, when Proctor is willing to die for his beliefs, that the synthesis of theory and action come together as one.  It is a moment that was not all for nothing for it stood for everything.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Proctor's death was anything but wasted.  Through his death he saved not only his own soul, he saved the others who were in prison or accused from suffering the same fate.

As the post above says, Proctor is a man to whom both name and character are worth something.  He has sinned, and no one realizes that more than he does.  He sees his heart as being black and tainted, unworthy of what he knows to be true and good and of God.  In this final scene, he even considers giving them a lie since he's already such a tainted sinner.  Instead, he comes to realize--just in time--that by standing up to the accusations and telling the truth, he has redeemed, at least in part, his good name.  He has forgiven himself and can now accept God's forgiveness.  It's the only thing he has left, and he protects it--for Elizabeth, for his sons, and for posterity--even though it costs him his life.  His death buys him eternity in heaven.

The second thing his death achieves is the end of the witch-hunting hysteria in Salem.  When he--along with Martha and Rebecca--is accused, sentenced, and hanged, the town and even the court recognize that something has gone awry.  Unlike some of the others who were more on the fringes of society, these good, God-fearing people being hanged caused everyone to reflect and reconsider what was happening in their town. 

Proctor was determined to save his wife from the gallows and convince the court that the girls--especially Abigail--were lying.  He had to die to accomplish that goal, but he did it.

jmgores | Student

John Proctor is easily seen in the end of this play as a "hero" who stands up to the corruption of a society that chooses to uphold the church for reasons other than those that are in the interest of the pure Christian belief. Remember that Miller wrote this play in response to the blacklisting that occurred in the McCarthy era. Freedom of expression artistically and politically was being robbed under the premise that such personal freedoms were a threat to American society.

If we dig deeper into the character, we also recognize that John represents the frailty of man. He fed his desires to have a young woman despite his family reputation in the community.  Did he think he would never be discovered? Did he then go against the church to justify his illicit actions? Did his wife blame herself for turning from him because he had control over her? Does he ever take responsibility for his actions regarding Abigail?

Many argue that Abigail is the evildoer; however, could she represent the loss of innocence in a society overwrought with fear of its own sense of freedom? A freedom that refuses to provide equity for all its citizens. Could she represent the outcome of a future generation when a free society struggles with these fears?

She like Mary Warren and Elizabeth, has no control over her future-she, as a woman, is the drone of the colonial societal structure. Abigail chooses to fight back, and Mary gives in. Elizabeth blames herself. Contrary to Mary and Elizabeth's devotion to God, religion has not given Abigail any comfort. The notion of providence further complicates their relationships.

Does Abigail fight because she has few options?  Does belief in God guarantee the protection of innocence? Not for Abigail.  Abigail's parents were killed while she slept in her bed; her uncle is resentful and unloving.  No one is protecting her. Abigail’s only sense of control is gained from voodoo chants in the forest.   John is seen as the golden ring of opportunity—she pursues him and, in her naiveté, interprets his actions to be "love". His ego allows her to proceed. Does he accept the affair because he knows she has no recourse if it is discovered? Can he justify the offering because he is a man with sexual needs?

Could John's death perhaps represent the death of selfishness in us all?  It takes the near hanging of the mother of his sons before he realizes the impact of his indulgence. It takes the epic scale of witch-hunts and death before he realizes that his self-righteousness is an integral piece of the very thing he despises--gross self-indulgence as a privileged member of a not-so-free society.   To the bitter end he blames Abigail--someone much younger in years and who has markedly less options in society-- for his decisions. Perhaps John dies because we all need to have that aspect of ourselves die.

Freedom for all is an ideal, but rarely real. Abigail disappears-- as mysteriously as she enters. When innocence is so easily taken can it be restored? What does John Proctor's death teach us about the cost of freedom and selfishness?