The Evolution of John Proctor in ‘The Crucible’
John Proctor is the protagonist of the novel The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Throughout the play, he is at the heart of the plot, the protagonist of the story. In fact, Proctor is involved in the Salem Witch trial in which his wife is accused of being a witch. This leads to an important change of his personality: John Proctor changes from a normal citizen and a sinner to a tragic hero, a person of high sense of morality. This evolution of his character is due to many situations he is faced with and which aroused strong feelings and beliefs.
John Proctor has experienced many changes in The Crucible. At the beginning, he is not presented as a good man. In Acts 1 and 2, he commits adultery with Abigail. The play is set in a village where the religious community is very strict. This gives us a bad image of him as a man who commits adultery isn’t believed to really respect his wife. Even though Abigail can be considered as a whore, he stills abuses of his power of employer and takes advantage of the trust Elizabeth puts on him. It is also shocking because Abigail is much younger than John Proctor. Therefore it is immoral to have sexual relations with a girl who could be your daughter. Proctor seems concerned only by his name which is likely to be affected by his sin. He feels guilt but yet the reader thinks that he is just deceived by the fact that he cannot wash his sin. He knows that it will follow him for the rest of his life. This can be illustrated in this quote: “But I’ll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free” (60).
John Proctor in the first act is a weak man. He cannot criticize people as he is an example of a sinner. It would be very hypocritical to talk about others while lacking morality.
In addition, we see him whipping his servant who is still a young girl with such violence. There is a great disparity between this physical punishment and the principles of goodness and decency.
John Proctor also accuses Elizabeth of being too much cold with him. He always is nervous when he talks to her. He talks angrily with Mary when she returns home after having gone Salem: “I’ll whip you if you dare leave this house again” (46). He acts like a bad-tempered man who gets angry quickly. Then, he shows curiosity to get more information about things going on in the court. Curiosity is a bad character trait.
Furthermore, John Proctor is very arrogant when he refuses to go to the church because he dislikes Parris and his sermons. “I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation” (p28). He doesn’t get baptized his young son and can’t see the importance of doing it. He sees Parris as an ordinary man, not as a preacher and religious man: “I like it not that Mr. Parris should lay his hand upon my baby. I see no light of God in that man. I’ll not conceal it”.
John can really act with extremity sometimes in the novel. He clearly defies his religion and says that God doesn’t exist anymore: “I say, I say, God is dead!” (Pg. 119), Saying that God is dead is really insulting and shocking for people.
He can’t stand Parris and doesn’t take into consideration the fact that Parris is the leader of the church and his role isn’t easy. Proctor doesn’t seem to respect the religious values of Salem Village at all. The community doesn’t really matter for him. He breaks many commandments.
At the beginning of the book, John Proctor is globally presented as a stubborn man who doesn’t care about his society and her values. He doesn’t show respect to Elizabeth by having an affair with his servant Abigail. Proctor doesn’t attend church services and isn’t ready to do anything just because the people in the town want him to do it. He lives by himself and only does things that go with his own principles and beliefs.
Since the commencement, the reader can already guess that John Proctor is going to have problems because in the Salem society, people that do not conform to the moral and religious ethics are considered as an obstacle. John proctor disobeys all the rules so the reader can easily predict that he will soon get in trouble.
Nevertheless, even though John Proctor acts like an outsider in the Salem community, he is not all bad. He refuses Abigail’s tricks and ends definitively his relation with her. He starts to show great attention to Elizabeth and regrets a lot his sin. He also proposes to buy her a heifer. Proctor is very angry with Abigail when she insults his wife: “Oh, I marvel how such a strong man may let such a sickly wife be”. This proves that John Proctor now wants to show to his wife how much he loves her and that his relation with Abigail is just an error. He doesn’t give into pleasures anymore with Abigail even though she still provokes him. He does his best to be loyal with her as he knows that Elizabeth has heard of his affair and now is really cold with him. In the quote “I have gone tip toe in this house all seven months she’s been gone, I have not moved to somewhere where I don’t think to please you” (54), the reader can see how much John is making efforts to compensate his sin. John wants to be forgiven and show her that he can be a really good husband.
Moreover, he defends him with bravery when Cheever comes to take his wife and is really angry that people believe that Elizabeth is a witch. He does his best to defend her and therefore prove that Elizabeth has nothing to do with the Devil. John Proctor refuses that Elizabeth is charged and doesn’t want her to go. He is very angry and at the same time desperate that his wife is going to be accused unfairly. He becomes really violent when he shakes Mary because he wants her to tell the truth about the puppet and the needle. At a moment, he loses all his hope: “A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer! I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud – God damns out kind especially, and we will burn together!” (119). When he understands that Mary’s testimony cannot save Elizabeth, he takes the risk to confess his adultery so as to take an advantage on Abigail, who is really the person at the origin of all the trouble. This shows how much he cares about his wife, change that was really unexpected. Elizabeth now knows that her husband is a good man. She says: “Do what you will. But let none be your judge. There be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is! Forgive me, forgive me, John–I never knew such goodness in the world! She covers her face, weeping”
John Proctor fits the definition of a modern tragic hero. He fights for what he believes. He is against the hysteria and the injustice in the court and is ready to support all the consequences of his acts. He thinks that all this is only a vengeance of Abigail: “She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore’s vengeance, and you must see” (110). Proctor is really rebelled against the judges and the witchcraft affair in which many of his family members and friends are implicated. Like a hero, he defends all of them and makes sure that everybody realizes how stupid and unfair the witchcraft affair is. No matter what happens, John Proctor courageously continues his battle.
In addition, John Proctor has developed a great sense of solidarity throughout the novel. Even though he knows that Elizabeth is saved because of her pregnancy, he still continues to fight for the other women that are charged with the witchcraft issue. He definitely supports fairness. All his actions were made so as to save many people from the witch-hunt. He pays it with his own life, symbol of goodness.
John Proctor’s decision to die is very important. If he had signed the paper, the with-hunt would have continued for a long time and persecutions would be more stressing for everybody in Salem Village. He had to choose between dying and saving a whole society. He absolutely took the right decision as it also allowed him to compensate his sin with Abigail. Suddenly, he becomes the one punished and he certainly does not deserve his sufferings. For the first time in the novel, the reader feels compassion for him. He could rescue himself and get away with his wife who has been discharged but he didn’t do it. This shows that John Proctor has done very good actions in his life even though he was really an outsider and cold man. He says: “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!” (115). John Proctor wants to protect the truth, even if he has to pay with his own life. He always wanted to keep his name clean.
Besides, it is important to note that John Proctor now cares about morality. He says: “I have three children, how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, when I sold my friends.” (114). This suggests that he has to give a good example to his children and that he has the duty to teach them how to stand up for your beliefs. He doesn’t want his children to have an immoral father and he is conscious that his actions won’t tear out his sins but will save his name: “It is a pretense for me, a vanity that will not blind god nor keep my children out of the wind”(109).
By choosing to die, John Proctor proved to everybody that he has his principles and respects them. He will not sacrifice his family’s name because he strongly believes that you are nobody without a name.
In the two last acts, John Proctor has changed a lot. He is now a good husband devoted to his wife and who takes great care of her. He bravely takes enormous risks in this trial to save other people’s wives while he could rescue himself and live peacefully with his family. John is responsible and courageous. He assumes the consequences of his acts and behaves well with the other people of the society as he is ready to die for them. John cannot be considered anymore as an outsider at the end of the book. Even though he was very arrogant and always managed to be apart, he really transformed himself into a good and altruistic man.
At the end of The Crucible, John Proctor is a different man. He shows motivation, bravery and takes good decisions. He passes from a selfish man and a certified outsider to a hero. In the dictionary, the word crucible is defined as a difficult moral test. This is interesting in the way that it proves that John Proctor has changed during this test and learnt many experiences that made of him a good man, a tragic hero. He dies with honor and positively surprises the reader by his great actions at the end.