, Research Paper
“I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
Do you consider John Procter to be heroic?
John Proctor was a farmer in Salem, Massachusetts in America and, because he had a lot of land, he was a well respected in the village. He was married to Elizabeth and they had three children together. He was involved in the 1692 Salem witch trials, which provoked mass hysteria amongst the people of the village. At the end of the trials, twenty people innocent of witchcraft were hanged. John Proctor was an ordinary farmer – how could he possibly be considered heroic?
Although Proctor was respected, he was also somewhat feared. People reacted to his air of authority. For example, Mary Warren, the Proctors’ servant, begs: “Pray, pray, hurt me not,” which, to me, suggests she is afraid of her master. On a previous occasion, Mary is said to have leapt up in fright when Proctor enters the room.
Proctor is strong willed and he has an inner belief in his own views and morals. He is a principled man, not a hypocrite. He generally will not do something he doesn’t believe in. This point is illustrated by the fact that he will not go to church regularly because he does not respect the minister, Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris wants to replace the current church candles with fancy new gold ones. To Proctor, this seems like a very materialistic attitude to take – especially for a man of the church. It seems to me ironic that Proctor is the one objecting to Parris’s desire for the candlesticks because typically the minister is meant to set an example for his parishioners to follow. Proctor is not easily led and so he will not ‘bow down’ before Parris as he does not respect him and so he thinks it is not right to go to church if he does not approve of the minister.
Also, he does not suffer fools gladly. He finds even the mere suggestion of witchcraft completely ludicrous. He is not afraid to speak his mind. The fact that he is not afraid to openly ridicule this backs up the point that he is an independent man who is not easily led. He refuses to get involved in the hysteria, which has engulfed the village.
Although an honest man, he is capable of dishonest acts as the affair with Abigail demonstrates. The principled side of him breaks off the relationship but he cannot stop himself being emotionally drawn to Abigail. He sees these continuing feelings for her as a weakness in his character. A cowardly side of him comes through. When he is talking to his wife, Elizabeth, he hides behind trivial and polite conversation. The atmosphere is tense and awkward between them, as Elizabeth is aware of the affair. They seem to ’skate’ around the subject as they are trying to avoid talking about it. Proctor refuses to go to the court and testify against Abigail, as he does not want their affair to become common knowledge among the people of the village. The bond between Abigail and him still exists and I think Elizabeth realises and resents this. I think Proctor is ashamed of his affair and he tells his wife: “I mean to please you, Elizabeth.”
However, as soon as Elizabeth and his other friends are accused by Abigail of being involved with the devil Proctor’s attitudes change. He has a loyal nature and when people he cares about are in trouble he does not think twice about trying to help them. He becomes determined and acts quickly because his friends are in jeopardy. By going to court, and publicly admitting his affair, Proctor demonstrates staunch courage – he is willing to blacken his name in order that his friends’ names are cleared. When threatened with death if he doesn’t own up to doing the devil’s work, Proctor defies the court by maintaining his own, and everyone else’s, innocence.
He demonstrates self-sacrifice. After being imprisoned for a few weeks, just before his is due to be hanged, Proctor is given the opportunity to admit witchcraft yet again. He does own up to begin with because by confessing he would be allowed to live. He changes his mind after signing the confession. “I have three children – how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends.” Proctor does not want to blacken his own and his friends’ names. He defies the court again when he rips up the confession because he is too principled a man to ruin his name by signing himself to an untruthful confession and then having it nailed to the church door – “Because it is my name! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul: leave me my name!”
Proctor demonstrates immense self-sacrifice and courage. There is a sense of humility in him just before he is due to hang. He is resigned to the fact and accepts it. He sees it as a punishment for his sins and so he doesn’t want to be thought of as a saint like Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse. By accepting his death Elizabeth says, “He have his goodness now.” Proctor kept his name.
I believe that in order to be a hero one has to be heroic but I do not believe that all heroic people are heroes. There is no doubt in my mind that John Proctor was heroic. He lost his life wrongfully because he would not confess to something that had never happened. He could have taken the easy way out by signing his name to a confession but his conscience knew that this was wrong. He was not a weak man who lied easily and the thought of blackening his name filled him with horror because by doing so he would also blacken his family and friends. Throughout the course of the Salem witch trials, Proctor changes from a slightly selfish man who had a quiet life as a farmer to a selfless man willing to give up his life because he remained honest. This nobility is, to me, very heroic. However, when it comes down to it, he did not achieve some feat of great strength or intelligence. He did not save little children from a burning house. He was an adulterer, and he broke several of the Ten Commandments. He was not a hero – he was a man who had to do the right thing.