The Crucible Essay, Research Paper
The typical classical hero is high ranking, has admirable traits and dies as a result of some fatal flaw. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller presents John Proctor, as a character who is worthy of being praised as a hero. Though Proctor is not elevated in rank, he does meet the rest of the hero criteria, for he is a very respectable and admirable character whose flaw contributes to his downfall. John Proctor evolves as a hero through several stages. We see him throughout the play surprising the reader with his growth. Through the play we see him change from a self-pitying man to an honest and open man. Though he is a good-hearted character, his overwhelming self-pitying nature and his episode of adultery flaws him. Through his relationship with Elizabeth (his wife) and others of the witch trial, we see how John Proctor grows into a classical hero. The witch trials in Salem spread like wildfire, and it soon becomes obvious that the trials are carried away when honorable people of the town are brought to death. John Proctor dies, because unlike the others of Salem he will not lie; he will not denounce himself or others by signing the pardon, which would grant him his life, but not his name. Though Proctor is just a common person who has only one small flaw, he emerges as a great hero in this tragic play. Proctor?s heroic death at the end of the play occurs because achieves goodness in himself.
Proctor feels deeply ashamed of his affair. He is very sensitive to the fact that Elizabeth knows about the incident. They love each other, but he has broken a sacred trust. As a result, they tiptoe around each other insecurely. Proctor wants to make her feel good but he resents ?? [her] suspicion??(p.55 Proctor). In the Act II Proctor says:
Spare me! You forget nothin? and forgive nothin?. Learn charity woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all the seven month since she is gone. I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still everlasting funeral marches round your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house! (p.54 Proctor)
Here, Proctor has gone wild with rage, for he wants to forget his deed, and he wants Elizabeth to forget as well. It seems that just as his wife cannot let go of his deed he cannot let go of this wrongdoing either, even though it occurred so long ago. Though he has committed adultery, he loves his wife. Through a series of dramatically ironic events in the court scene of Act III, he shows how much he loves and cares for her. This part of the play begins when Proctor swears Elizabeth?s goodness and says that he will ??not give [his] wife to vengeance?? (p.77 Proctor). Moreover, Proctor shows how much he loves his wife when he openly admits of his affair with Abigail in the courtroom. He admits this sin because he knows that he is the source of Abigail?s allegations regarding Elizabeth:
I have made a bell of my honor! I have rung the doom of my good name ?you will believe me, Mr. Danforth! My wife is innocent, except she knew a whore when she saw one. (p.111 Proctor)
Proctor shows his true and honest nature. He says that Abigail was fired from their house because Elizabeth ??knew a whore when she saw one?? (Pg. 111 Proctor). To him, his wife?s good name and well being is more important than his. While his intentions were good when he confessed to lechery in court, his results were other than he had anticipated. When he claimed that his wife knew about his act of adultery, the high court ordered her to come testify to this affair. Though when Elizabeth comes before the court, she lies pretending that she does not know of this act of adultery, thinking that she is saving her husbands name, not realizing that he is trying to save her. This emotional and ironically dramatic scene show how close they are despite Proctor?s act. Through these events, Proctor and Elizabeth heal together, and begin to forgive each other inside their hearts. They are both willing to do anything to save each other. The events in this scene show how sacrificial he is of himself.
From Act I to the end of Act II John?s changes begin to show a pattern of heroic growth. Evidence in support his heroic growth is visible in the end of the play as well. It is perhaps because he begins to realize that he does contain goodness that he slowly grows throughout the play. In the last act of the play we see more evidence of Proctor?s changes through his heroic act of self-sacrifice. His heroism truly begins to evolve when in the last scene he dies because he realizes that it is what he is must do to protect his name, self-honor, and goodness. The possessed nature of Salem has overwhelmed Proctor, and after he fails to sign a confession, he is hung. His death occurs because he wants to save his name and because he realizes that he is not a person who can give such a fraudulent confession:
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! p.143 Proctor)
His most precious asset is his name; he knows that he is not like the others of Salem who denounce themselves and others to save themselves. He is special and different. Towards the end of the last act of the play, Parris and Danforth plead with him to confess, but he cannot because he knows that he cannot ??feed a lie to dogs??(p. 136 Proctor). In the beginning of the play he cannot admit he contains goodness, though he soon realizes that he does contain goodness:
I can. And there?s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but enough to keep it from such dogs? (p.144 Proctor)
John states that he has found his goodness, and he knows that he must now die, for it is prescribed in the achievement of his goodness. If he were to live, he would loose the goodness of his name. Another contributing element that lies in support of Proctor?s death is the scene in which Elizabeth states that she believes that ??whatever [he] will do, it is as a good man does??(pg. 137 Elizabeth):
John, it came to naught that I should forgive, if you?ll not forgive yourself. It is not my soul, John, it is yours. Only be sure of this, for I know it now: Whatever you will do, it is a good man does it. I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery. (Pg. 137 Elizabeth)
These statements Elizabeth makes now show that she realizes that they were both at fault. These lines set Proctor free to die, they show him that she has forgiven him in her heart, and in a certain way asks for forgiveness from him. This powerful confession of hers allows Proctor to free his soul of his deed, and allows him to see the goodness that he has. With this clarity, Proctor feels a freedom to die, for he knows that he will now die with goodness.
This play strikes the reader with an eerie controversy. The witch trials were nearly the same as the McCarthy trials of the mid 20th century. The reader is overwhelmed by the fact that even good people like Proctor are killed. Proctor is a truly powerful character because he has the most soul afflicting element of human nature: Fault. Indeed Proctor is at fault when he commits lechery, though he saves himself. He is a good person, and he is indeed a hero. For he allows himself to refuse the confession which would allow him life, but not a good name. He associates goodness with his name, and he knows that if he were to let himself live he would not have goodness. But one can derive much more from proctor?s death and realize that Proctor made the greatest sacrifice of all time. For he not only saved his name and honor, he set an example for the people who were involved in these horrendous trials.