At a Glance
- John Proctor, an innocent man accused of witchcraft by his former lover Abigail.
- Elizabeth Proctor, John's wife, who is convicted of witchcraft but spared by the court when it's found that she's pregnant.
- Abigail Williams, Reverend Parris' niece, who accuses John and Elizabeth of witchcraft as revenge for being fired.
- Mary Warren, one of Abigail's friends, who tries to tell the truth.
- Reverend Parris, who finds the group of girls dancing naked in the forest.
- Tituba, a slave found dancing with the girls.
John Proctor, a farmer, is the protagonist of the story. He is a well-respected man in Salem, but it is revealed that he conducted an illicit affair with the young Abigail Williams prior to the events of the play. This crucial mistake comes back to haunt him when his wife, Elizabeth, is named a witch by the girls (who are led by Abigail). John is aware—from conversations with both Abigail and his servant Mary Warren—that the girls have fabricated their accusations. Though he despises the trials, he is initially reluctant to challenge the girls for fear of having his indiscretion with Abigail exposed and losing his good name. After Elizabeth is arrested, however, he confronts the court with evidence—including depositions and a signed petition vouching for the character of one of the accused witches. His actions are viewed as attempts to undermine the court, and his own character and Christianity are questioned. Eventually, he too is imprisoned and accused as a witch. John initially decides to falsely confess to witchcraft in an attempt to spare his life, but in the end, he refuses to lie and chooses to be executed rather than sacrifice his good name. One of the central conflicts of the play concerns John's internal struggles in the wake of his immoral affair. Ultimately, he redeems his good name and his soul by refusing to surrender his integrity.
Abigail Williams is the young woman with whom John Proctor had an affair while she was a servant in his household. Abigail becomes very attached to John and hopes he will start a real relationship with her—despite the fact that he already has a wife. It is suggested by Betty that this is precisely what Abigail hopes to achieve when she takes part in Tituba's ritual at the start of the play, where she allegedly drinks blood as part of a charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor. When the girls are discovered, they, led by Abigail, deflect their own guilt onto others in the town, accusing them of being witches. Throughout the play, Abigail is shown to be cunning and manipulative. She exerts great power over the other girls, and at times, she even seems to get caught up in the hysteria she has created (and must know to be false).
Elizabeth Proctor is John Proctor's wife. She knows of John's affair with Abigail and is trying to forgive her husband—though she clearly struggles to trust him. Elizabeth is seen as a model citizen, but her reputation does not protect her from the accusations of witchcraft, and she is eventually jailed. Shortly after being imprisoned, Elizabeth announces that she is pregnant, and her trial (and potential execution) is temporarily stayed. Elizabeth possesses a strong sense of honor and morality, and though she wants her husband, John to live, she ultimately respects his decision to die rather than lie and be freed.
Mary Warren is one of Abigail's friends and a servant in the Proctor home. A poppet belonging to her is found in Elizabeth Proctor's possession; this results in Elizabeth's arrest for witchcraft (there is a needle in the poppet, so it looks like a voodoo doll). Although she is weak and easily influenced by Abigail, Mary does eventually try to put things right by telling the court that the girls made up their accusations of witchcraft. When the girls turn on her, however, Mary is too afraid to stand by the truth and rejoins the girls, helping them point the finger at John Proctor.
(The entire section is 2,755 words.)