Why does John Proctor refuse to turn in his name in the final scene of The Crucible?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A textbook version of Arthur Miller's heroes, John Proctor struggles to reconcile his actions with his self-image in the final acts of The Crucible. That is, he struggles to regain his integrity which he has lost through his sinful actions of adultery and lechery, since his partner in sin has been the seventeen-year-old Abigail Williams. After Abigail, along with some other girls, is caught dancing naked in the forest primeval dancing and the girls claim to have been under a spell cast upon them by other women, she vindictively accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being one of the witches who put her and the other girls under their spell. So, John Proctor feels compelled to do what he can to defend his wife who has been accused unjustly of a mortal crime; he also perceives this defense as an opportunity for him to regain his self-respect.

However, in his efforts to save Elizabeth and regain his self-respect, John Proctor becomes the main enemy of the mass hysteria of the witch-hunt; for, it becomes apparent with his own admission that he does not believe that there are witches. Since he poses a threat to the proceedings, Proctor must be eliminated; therefore, he is charged with witchcraft himself and asked to sign a confession. In the final scene of Act IV, Proctor wrestles again with his conscience. For, if he confesses, that will again be a lie, just as he lied to the community in his actions of concealing his sin with Abigail. On the other hand, Proctor feels he is not worthy to die the death of a martyr since he has been such a hypocrite, "It is a pretense for me, a vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the sin." So, in confessing he could continue living for Elizabeth and the child and,perhaps, do some good, but he tells his wife, "I'd have you see some honesty," and asks Elizabeth what he should do. She tells him,  whatever you will do, it is a good man does it....It is not my soul, John, it is yours.” When he replies, "I will have my life," she tells her husband "I cannot judge you, John. I cannot!"

John Proctor signs the confession to witchcraft; however, when it comes to his mind that his signature will be posted and used to force the confession of others, Proctor grabs the paper away from Danforth and with "a wild terror...and a boundless anger" he exclaims, 

"I have confessed myself!...God does not need my name nailed upon the church!...God knows how black my sins are! It is enough!"...how may I teach them [his children] to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?"

Proctor will not turn in his name because he will not betray others. While it was one thing to save his own life, it is a greater sin to cost others theirs. In his refusal to cost others their lives, John Proctor has restored his own soul. His wife Elizabeth declares in the final lines of the play, "He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!" by asking him to turn in the paper and save his mortal life.

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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