In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, what do you think John Proctor comes to symbolize by the end of the play?
I find that in literature, symbols often support specific themes. There are several themes in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. One of them deals with morals and morality. The eNotes summary of themes describes the situation surrounding moral behavior in the play.
...wrong-headed actions—such as the witch trials—are often motivated by a lack of personal responsibility rather than based upon deliberate cruelty or malice.
This seems an accurate appraisal of what has happened in Salem, a Puritan community that acts primarily (but not totally) out of a misguided sense of morality rather than "cruelty or malice." However, becoming so caught up in the hysteria and the manipulations and drama presented by the young girls with Abigail as their guide, the leaders in Salem fail to assume responsibility—by failing to stop the unfounded accusations of witchcraft against the staunchest and most moral members of the community. And so, the witch trials "gallop off," complete out of control.
John Proctor is an outspoken member of the Salem community. Like all the others, he is not perfect, however his failings (an adulterous affair with Abigail) are eventually aired in public like dirty laundry. Whatever the sins of the others, John's publicized situation robs him of his credibility. John is still a good man: he loves his wife, is sorry for what he has done and is working to make things right with Elizabeth, the woman he married and who now carries his child.
Knowing Abigail for what she is, John tries to expose her true character to the members of the court, while fighting off her attempted seduction. Abigail, however, is malicious, and would like nothing better than to see Elizabeth disposed of and John Proctor available to her without marital impediments.
Nearing the end of the play, John is ready to confess his own dealings with the devil, even though he would be lying. John, however, is also aware that others of the community without the weight of sin such as his (i.e., Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey) are ready to stand by their denunciation of the unfounded charges against them. They refuse to sacrifice their immortal souls by admitting to conspiracy with the devil simply to save their lives. John is shamed by their dedication—compared to his willingness to protect himself.
I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!
John decides that his integrity is all that is left to him, the only thing that will endure after he is dead. He recants his confession and calmly prepares to go to his execution.
Man, you will hang! You cannot!
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. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs.
Rev. Hale tries to talk him out of this, and when that fails, looks to Elizabeth to convince her husband to change his mind. She is agonizing over John's impending death, but refuses to be a part of driving him away from the peace he has found in doing the right thing:
ELIZABETH, supporting herself against collapse, grips the bars of the window, and with a cry:
He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him.
John assumed responsibility for himself and his own actions. He defies the court and chooses to die rather than to lie. He is symbolic of maintaining one's personal integrity—one's morality—even in the face of disaster—in this case, his death.