What is John Proctor's inner conflict in The Crucible?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the play The Crucible, John Proctor faces several inner conflicts. Proctor's internal turmoil is created by the actual events of the story, but much of the play's drama springs directly from Proctor's moral anguish and in his conflicted spiritual state:

...a central theme of the play is certainly Proctor’s search for his soul.

The most important conflict for Proctor, in the end, is the choice between life and death. This choice is identical to his choice between maintaining his integrity or succumbing to the prosecution and offering a confession that would damn the others who were accused of witchcraft. 

If Proctor chooses to falsely (and publically) confess to witchcraft, he will be allowed to live and to see his children grow up. If he chooses not to confess, placing his moral integrity above the value of his own life, he will be put to death. 

He makes the choice that costs him his life but restores his soul.

The moment of this decision is the climax of the play. 

Proctor's other inner conflicts relate to Abby and Elizabeth as he must decide how to deal with each of them. His feelings for both of them have led him to a state of conflict, though during the play this conflict is largely one of self-restraint wherein Proctor is challenged to determine how much patience he must have with Elizabeth and whether or not he can publically admit to his affair with Abigail

These are significant conflicts in the play, but they are not as central as the final decision that will determine Proctor's ultimate moral standing. 

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Proctor's internal conflict throughout the play concerns his decision to reveal his infidelity in order to undermine Abigail's psychological hold on the court and community. In the austere community of Salem, one's reputation is everything. John Proctor has a good reputation as a morally upright, successful farmer who is held in high regard by his neighbors. When Abigail Williams begins falsely accusing innocent citizens of witchcraft, Proctor understands that she is simply lying to the court officials and community. Instead of immediately attempting to silence Abigail, Proctor hesitates to get involved until his wife is arrested. Proctor struggles with the decision to ruin his good reputation throughout the community but eventually travels to Salem and admits that he had an affair with Abigail. Unfortunately, Proctor's wife lies to the court officials in an attempt to protect her husband's reputation, which ironically dooms him.

While in Salem's jail, Proctor experiences another internal conflict. Proctor struggles with his decision to either falsely confess to witchcraft in order to save his life or remain obstinate in order to prove the court is corrupted. Valiantly, Proctor makes the difficult decision to tear up his confession and die in front of the community.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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