What is the importance of John Proctor's last speech in act 3 of The Crucible?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Proctor's final speech, he comes to accept himself. This has been his struggle throughout the play. In addition to striving against the corruption of the court, he has had to fight against the sense that he has been irrevocably tainted by his affair with Abigail. 

In his last speech,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In Proctor's final speech, he comes to accept himself. This has been his struggle throughout the play. In addition to striving against the corruption of the court, he has had to fight against the sense that he has been irrevocably tainted by his affair with Abigail. 

In his last speech, Proctor says that he now sees "some shred of goodness" in himself. This is all he needs to feel capable of honorable sacrifice and he chooses to go to the gallows instead of signing a false confession. 

Up to this point, he had wondered if he was morally qualified to make a meaningful sacrifice, thinking that he was too weak and compromised to do so. Hale and Elizabeth convince him otherwise and in this final speech, Proctor acknowledges that he has not been defeated - morally or spiritually - by the witch trials. Against the mob, he has struggled but maintained (or even regained) some integrity and honor.

This speech is important because it gives expression to the nature of the conflict involved in the trials. Though on one level the trials were about conformity and hysteria, on another level they were about individual responsibility. 

...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.

John Proctor speaks out against the trials and also takes responsibility for his mistakes with Abigail. He refuses to falsely condemn others with a signed confession. His last speech solidifies the meaning of this choice - the individual's relation to his soul remains the responsibility of the individual, no matter what the group says or does.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Proctor's final speech, in Act IV serves to restore his integrity and allows him to die with dignity.  Up until the time he decides to retract his confession and refuses to sign the written version preventing Danforth and Reverend Parris posting it on the church door, Proctor was a man who was without integrity. He willingly agrees to be used by the court, for the purpose of lending his credibility to the witch hysteria. 

When someone of Proctor's status in the community confesses, it proves the legitimacy of the whole court proceeding.  This way no one can question the court's authority.  They have already hung 12 people. 

He publicly confessed to adultery with Abigail Williams, a crime serious enough in itself, but then he decides to confess to witchcraft, at the urging of Reverend Hale, because he longs to live and return home with his wife Elizabeth.

However, after careful consideration, Proctor realizes that he would be a man without a name if he chose to confess and live.  He could not bear the burden of guilt and the shame that he would thrust upon his family, his sons.  

In order to save his immortal soul, his family and restore his dignity, Proctor makes a passionate speech at the end of the play just before he is hung for witchcraft.  His wife, Elizabeth, realizes that he has turned to God, to truth and saved his soul. Therefore, she cannot condemn him for his choice to die.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team