What is the main theme Miller develops through John Proctor in The Crucible?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Proctor is a wonderful character.  He makes the entire play.  If you haven't seen the movie version of this drama with Daniel Day-Lewis, you owe it to yourself to see it.  Lewis nails the character and brings Proctor to life in a way that is awe inspiring.  

What makes Proctor such a great character is that he is so dynamic.  He's an incredibly multifaceted and relatable character.  He has made a huge mistake by cheating on his wife with Abigail, and he feels incredibly guilty over it.  He's also bound and determined to make it right.  He's a man of deep religious convictions, but he also is a critical thinker when it comes to his religious beliefs.  He's a strong, moral character that is looked up to by many people in the town of Salem.  Despite his flaws, John Proctor is a very good man.  

I really can't pick the theme associated with Proctor, because I don't think there is only one.  He's too dynamic of a character.  One theme that I do think he embodies is the theme of self-respect and/or dignity.  He knows that he made a mistake with Abigail, and he is going to do everything possible to make sure that it never happens again.  

Proctor: Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I'll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.

Furthering the theme of self-respect are Proctor's actions at the end of the play.  He is given the chance to save himself by confessing to a lie, but he is unwilling to do it.  He can't bear the thought of living while other accused held firm in their convictions.  

Proctor: Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence!

Proctor knows that in addition to the guilt he will feel at having confessed a lie to save his own life, he will feel incredibly two faced while trying to raise his own children. 

Proctor: I have three children - how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?

To Proctor, the importance of keeping his good name, to himself and to his friends and family, is of the utmost importance.  

Proctor, with a cry of his whole soul: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

Proctor shows the theme of self-respect and personal dignity throughout the play, but it is the fact that he is willing to die for his convictions that really sells the theme to the audience.  Even Elizabeth Proctor further emphasizes the theme by telling the audience that John's sacrifice is critical, necessary, and right as the play closes. 

Elizabeth, supporting herself against collapse, grips the bars. of the window, and with a cry: He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!

favoritethings | Student

One theme that Miller develops through John Proctor's character is that self-respect is more important than reputation.  Despite the fact that reputation is so crucial in this community (Elizabeth Proctor's reputation as a woman who doesn't lie is considered proof enough that she won't lie in court), in the end, it is John's self-respect that he most values; he will not confess to save his life because he would not be able to respect himself if he did.  He says to the judges, "You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor."  

Likewise, Proctor's transformation from a guilty adulterer to a man capable of seeing the goodness himself leads to the theme that the sinner can be redeemed.  Integrity, honesty, and innocence appear, then, to be renewable.  These are not qualities Proctor believed himself to possess earlier in the play, as his guilt over sinning against his wife with Abigail Williams trumped any sense he had of his own goodness.  By the end, he has reacquired these qualities - even in his own eyes - and his wife says in the plays final lines, "He have his goodness now.  God forbid I take it from him!"  We could also read into this transformation the idea that one mustn't be perfect in order to do good, to be good.  

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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