In The Crucible, how does what Proctor’s perception of a morally righteous person affect his decision to tear up the confession?
In The Crucible, John Proctor's character is pivotal to the underlying purpose and central theme of Arthur Miller's play: the importance of a good name.
A hypocrite himself, Proctor, nevertheless, stands out from the others because he has the moral courage and intelligence to recognize the circular logic and ulterior motives behind the accusations and prosecutions in Salem. Proctor knows that the destruction of others as involved in witchcraft advances the gains of those who want the control of property or people. So, Proctor refuses to comply with the controlling authority of the Reverend Parris, who is himself corrupted by self-interest. Moreover, Proctor knows that he has sinned grievously, and he realizes that his wife Elizabeth is worthy of a better man than he. With his death, Proctor seeks to correct the wrong that he has committed and prevent the good and reasonable Rebecca Nurse from harm, as well. Proctor's act also defies the control that the Puritan church exerts over individual thought. He tells the court,
How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
Proctor's wife Elizabeth speaks after her husband dies, saying,
He have his goodness now. God forgive I take it from him!
For Proctor it is more noble to die with integrity than it is to compromise his principles so that he can live.
Proctor's perception of a morally righteous person is one who is "right with God". He achieves this is the play because he is not rules by the rules of religion like the other Puritans. The objectives of the pastor and the magistrates and other ritualistic Puritans are to go to church, obey the rules, and say a certain number of prayers a day. Proctor is more concerned about relationship with God that religion for the sake of religion.
This affects his decision to tear up the confession because the confession was a lie. The only being who absolutely knew it was a lie was God. Proctor would not have his relationship with God stained any further. He longed for God's grace and forgiveness for his other sin and this moment of truth demonstrated a pure heart condition on Proctor's part. The magistrates were asking him to sin, thinking that what they were doing was right, but it wasn't.
Rebecca Nurse is similar to Proctor. I do believe her words were influential to him because she was holding him accountable when she heard he had signed a confession. She knew that wasn't in his character or perception of a morally righteous person. Her surprise helped motivate Proctor to tear up the confession.
In Act Four, John Proctor wrestles with the decision to either save his life by giving his signed confession to Deputy Governor Danforth or to tear it up and become a martyr. In regards to Proctor's perception of what constitutes a morally-upright person, his decision to tear up his confession indicates that he believes a morally-upright individual is selfless, courageous, and possesses integrity. Proctor is aware that his signed confession will essentially doom Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey, as well as support the corrupt court. By tearing up his confession, Proctor demonstrates his selfless, courageous personality and atones for his past sins. He is willing to die to damage the perception of Salem's court and refuses to harm Rebecca and Martha's reputations by confessing to witchcraft. Overall, one can assume that Proctor defines a morally-upright person as someone who is willing to risk their life for a worthy cause. In order for Proctor to find redemption and die a morally-upright man, he feels that he must tear up his confession and sacrifice his life.