What is the conflict between John Proctor and Reverend Parris in The Crucible?
Throughout the play, both characters challenge each other, as Proctor ends up fighting for his life and Reverend Parris does his best to remain in his important position. Initially, John Proctor disagrees with Reverend Parris's decision to send for Reverend Hale to investigate the use of witchcraft. Reverend Parris believes that John Proctor is part of a faction attempting to usurp his power and immediately challenges him by mentioning his unflattering Sunday service attendance. John Proctor then begins to discuss why he doesn't support Reverend Parris and mentions that Parris only preaches...
(The entire section contains 2 answers and 414 words.)
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
Long before anyone in Salem is accused of witchcraft, conflict has developed between Reverend Samuel Parris and John Proctor, a local farmer. The central conflict between these two characters is that Reverend Parris wants his power in the community to be recognized and appreciated by all, while John Proctor adamantly refuses to recognize such authority because he believes Parris is a fraud. Parris, the weak, beleaguered minister of his community, is often at odds with the Salem community, which he leads. He has been their leader for three years, but he still feels like a newcomer who continually must prove his value to others; he senses that they do not respect him, and as evidence, he points to his salary, decrying the meager amount as not fitting for someone in his position and with his credentials. He feels persecuted by a “faction” which he believes is intent on standing against him, and he feels that this faction is led by John Proctor.
John Proctor, the protagonist of The Crucible by Arthur Miller, is direct and powerful in his critical evaluation of Parris. Unlike Parris, he is well-respected by many in his community. People listen to him, and so his criticisms are keenly felt by Parris. Proctor does not hide his disdain for the reverend and his ways. He believes Parris is a hypocrite, demanding material things, not only more money for a salary, but also golden candlesticks and other financial desires. Proctor does not recognize Parris’s authority and thus, he has stopped going to church and has not had his child baptized by Parris.
This is shocking and arrogant behavior to Parris, who feels that a congregation should obey and follow its leader. He believes he is God’s representative on earth; only he knows what is right and others must defer to his greater understanding and experience. Resisting his power is tantamount to resisting God’s will; he tells his congregation that they are in danger of the devil’s grasp if they continue similar heretical behavior. But Parris is mainly motivated, not so much by his fears for his community, as his fears for his own status in Salem society.
However, Reverend Parris soon gains the prestige he's always wanted at the start of the witch trials. Although the “devil’s work” seems to originate in his own home with his own daughter, once blame for the contagion has shifted to others such as Tituba and other lower-class women in the play, Reverend Parris greatly enjoys his newfound power in the community. And when his biggest critic, John Proctor, is also consumed by the hysteria of the trials, he rejoices in his own firm grasp of power. But by the end of the play, he has lost all of this power. Not only is his job in jeopardy, but so is his own life. Ironically, the one person who can save him is John Proctor. If John Proctor will sign a confession stating he has dealt with the devil, this will exonerate Parris’s own actions in Salem. It will prove that the threat of the Devil was real and thus, Parris was heroic for everything he did in Salem to save the community from the devil. And it looks as if Proctor might very well sign the confession. He has been weakened greatly from his former position of power. John Proctor has had to wrestle with his own feelings of hypocrisy that have been haunting him throughout the play. He feels that he is a fraud, a worse fraud than Parris; he is overcome with guilt over his affair with Abigail. When he loses everything—his home, his family, his good name—and is jailed, he doesn’t try to fight for his innocence. He feels he deserves to be punished for his infidelity. But in the climax of the play he tears up his false confession. Although he will be led to his death for such actions, he goes to his death in triumph, marveling at how he has finally found goodness in himself and can become the man he always was, John Proctor, a man who knows the truth and will act on it. By rediscovering his own integrity, he regains his power over the hypocrisy and lies of others, including Parris.
Reverend Parris has no such transforming moment. Parris is destroyed in the end. Although he has helped to condemn innocent people to death, there is no evidence in this play that he feels guilty for his actions as others (such as Reverend Hale) do. He does not suffer internal conflict as John Proctor has. He worries only about himself and how he can hold on to his reputation in society. The reputation he cared so deeply about is rapidly slipping through his grasp as people are expressing their anger over the trials. In the end, Proctor refuses to give the confession that Parris so desperately wants. The final image of Parris, running after Proctor, begging him to change his mind, symbolizes the conflict between these two men. Throughout the entire play, Parris is chasing power and prestige. But by the end of the play, power and prestige are completely out of reach. Parris’s self-centered actions not only contributed to the deaths of innocent people like John Proctor, but also contributed to the demise of his own dream of power. He is left with nothing. In fact, his last words in the play are of him begging John Proctor to change his mind. “Proctor! Proctor!” are the only words left for him to say.