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.