What types of conflicts are present in The Crucible? (man vs. society, man vs. man, man vs. self)

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In The Crucible, Arthur Miller explores a variety of classic literary conflicts through the character of John Proctor.

The reader encounters man vs. man early in the play when we see Proctor’s discomfort with Reverend Parris. He has stopped attending church regularly because he finds Parris too enamored with the trappings of wealth. He justifies his decision to avoid church by explaining:

Parris came, and for twenty week he preach nothin’ but golden candlesticks until he had them ... I think, sometimes, the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meetin’ houses ... I see no light of God in that man. I’ll not conceal it.

Proctor confronts Parris directly, admitting his opposition to Parris’s leadership of the church.

Parris (now he’s out with it): There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party.

Proctor: Against you?

Putnam: Against him and all authority!

Proctor: Why, then I must find it and join it.

The hostility between Proctor and Parris escalates to involve the entire town of Salem, which is an example of a man vs. society conflict. The town of Salem is controlled by the court under the leadership of Judge Danforth. Citizens are being pressured to subscribe to the court’s view of good and evil, right and wrong. Proctor, in an effort to save his wife who is accused, escalates from disapproval into an explosive conflict with the Puritanical viewpoint.

Proctor: I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together! ... You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!

Proctor initially fights the court to save his wife, but he is eventually accused of witchcraft and faces execution himself. When offered the chance to avoid hanging if he will confess to consorting with the devil, he entertains the option. In a man vs. self conflict, he struggles with this choice, weighing a desire to survive against his honesty.

I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. ... I am not that man. (She is silent.) My honesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before.

Proctor tries to rationalize his lie by claiming that because of his past sins, he has already forfeited any claim to being described as a good man. Accepting execution like a martyr would only make him a hypocrite. But when faced with signing the confession, he cannot go against his honor.

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!

John Proctor chooses to die rather than to betray his values.

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Another, minor, conflict exists between John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth, in act 2. The tension between them is almost palpable, especially when she learns that he spoke to Abigail, the girl with whom he's had an affair, alone, with no one else present. When Elizabeth tells him that he hadn't told her he and Abigail had been alone, "his anger ris[es]" and he declares, "I'll not have your suspicion any more." Elizabeth feels that John hesitates to tell the court the truth about what he heard from Abigail because he doesn't want to get his former lover in trouble. John feels that Elizabeth continues to blame and judge him despite his efforts and his honesty with her. This character vs. character conflict produces a great deal of tension in act 2.

John Proctor has yet another minor conflict with Abigail Williams, another character vs. character conflict. In act 1, we witness their argument about Elizabeth and their future as a couple. Abigail insists that John "loves [her] yet," but John swears that he'll "cut off [his] hand before [he] touch[es] her again." Later, at the end of act 2, after Abigail has accused Elizabeth of witchcraft, John declares that Abigail's "saintliness is done with. We will slide together into our pit . . ." His sympathy and wariness have turned to hatred, raw and pure. In act 3, then, he declares that she is "a whore," and he confesses to their affair in an attempt to discredit her. Further, he forces Mary Warren to testify against Abigail, though Mary eventually returns to Abigail's cohort of liars.

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Man vs. Society: This conflict is most significantly portrayed by John Proctor's decision to challenge the court of Salem after his wife is arrested. John must battle the hysteria surrounding the witch trials by attempting to prove that Abigail and her cohorts are liars. The community and court officials favor Abigail and John attempts to overthrow the court by exposing the most popular citizen in Salem as an immoral liar.

Man vs. Man: This conflict is illustrated by Proctor's battle against the austere, revered Deputy Governor Danforth. In Act Three and Act Four, John faces off against Deputy Governor Danforth and Judge Hathorne as he attempts to challenge their authority. Danforth wields his authority by challenging John and views Proctor as a threat to the stability of court. Although Proctor is sentenced to death, he wins a personal victory by tearing up his confession.

Man vs. Self: This conflict is portrayed in Proctor's difficult decision to publicly confess his infidelity with Abigail and ruin his reputation, as well as his decision to sign his confession. Proctor struggles with the decision to save his life or falsely confess. In the end, Proctor chooses death and dies with integrity. 

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The Crucible presents two central conflicts, one an internal conflict (Man vs. self) and the other an external conflict (Man vs Society). 

John Proctor is critical to each conflict in the play. His relationships with Elizabeth and Abigail lead him to a personal conflict which ultimately leads him to a public confession of his affair with Abigail. The confession is the final act and the resolution of Proctor's internal conflict. Posed with the problem of saving his pride or saving his wife from the witch trials. By sacrificing his pride, he chooses to save his wife. 

The external conflict in The Crucible pits John Proctor against the majority of Salem as he attempts to expose the witch trials as a fraudulent enterprise. In doing this, Proctor must stand alone, effectively, against the authorities behind the trials and against many of his neighbors.  

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