Why does John ultimately mount the scaffold in The Crucible in act 4, scene 4?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

By the time that John Proctor is facing the hangman's noose, he has recovered his integrity and feels that he has cleansed his soul, in addition to protecting himself from being tempted to engage in an even more evil act than his adultery.  Proctor decides that the court, the judges, are trying to force him to surrender his name so that it can be used to justify their actions.  

Their actions included the execution of innocent people, at least 12 by the time Proctor is set to be hung.  The court pleads with Proctor to sign a written confession that Reverend Parris intends on posting on the church door.  This document, singed by John Proctor, who is a respected member of the community, will carry a great weight in convincing the people of Salem that a witchcraft epidemic really did exist and that the court, the judges, the legal authorities, actually got rid of it.

The court officials are afraid that there is going to be a revolt in the town because it has happened in another town.  

"During a similar situation in Andover, the town banded together and threw out the court, saying they wanted no part of witchcraft. While the hangings in Salem have gone smoothly so far, Parris fears that the hanging of Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor the next morning will change public sentiment. Unlike the others who have hung, these two are good people who hold great weight in Salem."

Proctor decides that he is better off dying than participating in the phony sham of helping to justify the Salem witch trials, he holds onto his dignity, his name and goes to his death feeling like a faithful Christian. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout the entire play it is clear that John Proctor must live down the horrible sin of adultery that he has committed against his wife with Abigail.  He feels that he is less than all of the other church abiding citizens of Salem, particularly his wife.  At the end of the play, he has a conversation with Elizabeth in which he asks her opinion of what he should do.  Elizabeth’s response basically tells John that he must do what he thinks is right for him to do and that she can not tell him what is right.  After this conversation, he does at first decide that he will confess to being a witch and will save himself but when faced with the fact that everyone in Salem and elsewhere will be able to see his written confession hanging on the church door, he decides that the only right thing for him to do is to die a Christian and save his family and sons the shame and embarrassment of him signing his name away in a lie.  Therefore, John mounts that scaffold at the end of the play to make up for all of the wrong that he feels he has done to his family by committing adultery and wants his sons to be able to be proud of their father and themselves for being Proctors.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team