What dilemma does John Proctor face at the end of The Crucible and why does he make the choice he does?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Proctor has to decide whether to confess to witchcraft or refuse to confess and be hanged.  He decides he would rather have his good name, and not lie, and is willing to be hanged.

Elizabeth tells John that the Deputy Governnor is hanging people accused of witchcraft that do not confess, and she says "the town’s gone wild, I think" (Act 2).

Reverand Hale pleads with him, telling him he can’t hang.  Proctor “his eyes full of tears,” replies that he can.

I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can.

You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. (Act 4, scene 4)

Proctor has always been against the witch trials.  He confessed in order to please Elizabeth, or so he thought.

No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed!

Proctor seems concerned with his soul, his name, and his goodness.  He is interested in who he really is, and in making up for the sin of his affair.  He wants to do better, even if all he can do is take his soul with him.

In the end, Proctor is happier to die with his name than to live a lie.  Like the others who refused to confess, he is taking a stand.  He refuses to succumb to the madness that overtook Salem. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the end of the play, John Proctor makes the difficult decision to sign his confession or die as a martyr for refusing to admit to being involved in witchcraft. While John initially signs his name on the confession because he wants to live, he does not want his reputation and legacy to be ruined. Proctor also knows that confessing to witchcraft will damage the perception of the other innocent citizens, who are currently challenging the court by refusing to confess. While John wishes to live so that he can raise his sons and carry on with his life, he also wants to find redemption and atone for his past sins. By refusing to hand his confession over to Deputy Governor Danforth, John Proctor challenges the corrupt court and clears his conscience. John finally finds redemption by deciding to tear his confession and die a martyr. In the end, John dies with integrity by challenging the corrupt court.