John Proctor: A Tragic Hero Essay, Research Paper
Arthur Miller’s “Th e Crucible” is clearly a representation of the true meaning of tragedy. John Proctor was the medium, in which Miller utilized to convey a universal depiction of tragedy. A broad definition of a tragic hero is a protagonist who, through faults and flaws of his own and in the society in which he exists, falters in the grand scheme of things. This mistake leads to suffering, which ultimately leads to a self-realization. Miller, himself, explained, “Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly,” (Miller, Tragedy and the Common Man) leading us to believe that a greater theme encompasses this downfall. In Miller s article he conveys that tragedy revolves around two universal aspects: fear and freedom. “The Crucible” is a direct parallel to the multiple ideals of tragedy and thus centers on John Proctor’s fear, freedom, and pride while he exists as a tragic hero.
The first stage in the process of establishing the tragic hero for Miller was relaying the characteristics of John Proctor. It was essential that Proctor be viewed as the “good guy” in the plot, one who stands out or the audience can relate to. By describing the tragic hero as a “strong, steady, farmer” the dramatic effect is even greater. (pg. 1044) Thus, John’s physical description is an apparent parallel to the changes he emotionally undergoes making him a dynamic character. Miller also establishes Proctor as the protagonist by giving him qualities the audience found favor with. John went against the normality and conceptions of the townsfolk. Proctor’s practical nature is indicated when he often does not attend Church in order to plow his fields and provide for his family. He does not agree with Parris’ talk of hell, exclaiming, “Can you speak one minute without we land in Hell again?” and thus turns away from the Church. (p.1049)
The second step in creating the tragic hero is emphasizing the mistake or flaw which brings upon the character’s descent. It is in this stage that fear and freedom enter as a major part of John Proctor’s actions.
And if society alone is responsible for the cramping of our
lives then the protagonist must needs be so pure and faultless
as to force us to deny his validity as a character. From neither
of these views can tragedy derive, simply because neither
represents a balanced concept of life. (Miller, Tragedy of the Common Man)
It is this balance between the internal and external that opens the door for fear and freedom to enter. Fear is society’s tool. In Puritan New England paranoia and fear were a common aspects of life. The people lived in fear of the devil, a physical devil that existed and walked among them. When word spread, speaking of witchcraft in Salem, that fear, that paranoia, emerged ever so imminently and thus began the tragedy. With the people’s fear came rumors. Mrs. Putnam asked, “How high did she fly, how high?” of Betty clearly exhibiting that rumors of witchcraft were surfacing and spreading.(p.1040) Subsequently, from such rumors came the accusations. It was the accusations that proved most costly. People turned against each other saving themselves by accusing their neighbors. All of these consequences sprouted from fear in the hearts and minds of the people of Salem. Fear, however, only contributed to this tragedy.
John Proctor’s freedom within was the other half that completes the equation. It was this freedom that resulted in his mistakes, his flaws. Proctor chose to have relations, outside of his marriage to Elizabeth with Abigail. Like all men Proctor had his temptations yet his freedom allowed him to give in to them. Freedom also existed in John’s choice not to sign his confession and live. It was this choice and the freedom given to him that was the reason for his death. The fear in society and the freedom of John Proctor both complement each other in that balance that Miller spoke of. Tragedy comes from what the protagonist can, as well as cannot control. This evidence clearly holds true to Miller’s definition of tragedy.
Proctor learns something about himself and the world around him in his final realization before his execution. This is the concluding step in the tragic plot.
I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud, I am
not that man. My honesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good
man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not
rotten long before… I want my life… I will have my life…
Then who will judge me? God in Heaven, what is John Proctor,
what is John Proctor? I think it is honest, I think so; I am
no saint. (pp. 1114)
These passages indicate that Proctor has come to see the truth. He has the freedom now, to not give in to them, to let God judge him. “I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be-to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity.”(Miller, Tragedy of the Common Man) Miller’s definition of tragedy is a clear-cut example of Proctor’s actions in “The Crucible.” Proctor realizes that his confession to these people violated his freedom. He learned that we need to answer to God and God only for forgiveness. The confession revoked Proctor’s dignity and his freedom. Miller says, “Tragedy enlightens… in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man’s freedom.”(Miller, Tragedy of the Common Man) Proctor sees this and points a heroic finger at those people who tried to take his freedom in making him sign a false confession.