Why Does John Proctor Choose to Die in ‘The Crucible’
John Proctor was a husband, a farmer and village commoner. All of this was represented by his name. The name of John proctor could be considered his most prized possession. It was his most priceless asset. This is understandable because reputation was tremendously important in Salem, where public and private moralities were one and the same. However, throughout the play Proctor also suffered from incredible inner turmoil, which may have led to his decision to die at the end.
Early on in the play, the audience comes to understand that Proctor had an affair with Abigail Williams, while she was working in his home. Proctor believed that his affair with Abigail irreparably damaged him in the eyes of God, his wife Elizabeth and himself. Although he did succumb to sin and commit adultery, Proctor lacked the capacity to forgive himself. He resented his wife Elizabeth because she couldn’t forgive him and trust him again, but he was guilty of the same thing. His own inability to forgive himself just intensified his reactions to Elizabeth’s lack of forgiveness. In addition to struggling with the weight of his sin, the fact that he had to one day reveal his shameful act to his wife further tormented Proctor. His best possession was his good name and the respect and integrity associated with it, and he didn’t want to lose it. Once he had acknowledged his affair with Abigail, Proctor effectively branded himself as an adulterer and lost his good name in his own eyes. He dreaded ever having to reveal his sin as he was already overwhelmed with guilt and regret. He also believed that a public display of his wrongdoing would only intensify the extent of his sin, therefore multiplying his guilt. It was for this desire to preserve his good name that Proctor chose not to testify against Abigail during the trials. Although he knew it was the right thing to do, he didn’t want to hurt and embarrass his beloved wife by exposing his shameful affair in public. Therefore, he chose not to testify against Abigail. This is also partly why he was willing to die at the end of the play. Proctor felt that he couldn’t have carried on living when he had this sin looming over him every day. This makes the audience perceive Proctor as a good and noble man.
Another reason why Proctor chooses to die is because he couldn’t double-cross his friends. He felt that by selling out his friends, he would be committing an additional sin which would then blacken his name further. He would have then had to live everyday hating himself for what he did. He wouldn’t have been able to live with himself knowing that other innocents had died while he had escaped death by lying. The fact that he had three sons also influenced his decision. Proctor couldn’t raise his sons to walk like men in the world if he himself wasn’t a true man. Family life and friendship were very important to John Proctor and he felt that if he had lived, he couldn’t possibly have raised his children to be men in the world knowing that he himself was a sinner who chose to sell out his friends. He wanted to teach his children that they should stand up for what they believed in and not give in to unjust courts or to any other injustices in life. By dying, he thought that he would teach his children that he wasn’t a sell out and also that he had paid for the sins that he had committed. He wanted his sons to know that their father had died with honour and integrity.
Proctor had a very strong belief that if his name was blackened, there was no reason to live. This was the major influence in his decision to die at the end of the play. In Act IV, Proctor wrestled with his conscience over whether to confess to witchcraft and save himself from the gallows. The judges and Hale had almost convinced him to do so, but Proctor couldn’t bring himself to hand in the confession. Partly, this unwillingness reflected his desire not to dishonour his fellow prisoners, but more importantly it also illustrated his obsession with his good name. Proctor believed that people would look down on him with disdain, and that it would forever blacken his name if he signed the confession, as it would have been put up on the church door for public view. His obsession with his good name was further shown when he raged, “I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” This strong desire to defend his name enabled Proctor to muster the courage to die heroically, with his goodness intact. This courage, along with Elizabeth’s forgiveness, enabled Proctor to forgive himself and to finally regain his good name and self-respect in his own eyes. At this point in the play, Proctor had come to a true understanding of what a good reputation meant and what course of action it necessitated. He understood that he had to tell the truth and that he shouldn’t lie to save himself. Although he very much wanted to live, escaping death was not worth basing the remainder of his life on a lie. What was most important to Proctor was to make a stand against the insanity of the town, for himself and for God. He used this as a last resort to make people aware of the corrupt happenings and false accusations during the trials. This last stand for righteousness was an example of Proctor’s great character and rationale. Proctor felt strongly about having a good name and about taking it to his grave. He weighed both sides of his internal conflict and realized that he couldn’t make another mistake. Therefore, he sentenced himself to death. Throughout Act IV, Proctor learned about the strength of his will and about the power of his name. He knew that it was important above all to preserve his good name and the integrity of his family. At the end of the play, as the court officials led him to the gallows, Proctor finally found peace for the first time in the play.
One of the most effective uses of language in the play was Miller’s creation of believable dialogue. He used language to effectively set the period and the tone for the play but he also successfully managed to ensure that it was typical of the language used by 17th century puritans. The dialogue constantly used words such as “aye” or “nay”, which although were old-fashioned words, were easy to understand. Miller ensured that he used words that although were dated, didn’t faze the audience. Other examples of this were “hearty” and “bid”. Miller also used biblical and religious references such as “Lord”, which confirmed the nature of the religious society and it ensured that the society’s religious culture was maintained throughout.
Another way, in which Miller used language effectively, was by dropping the final “g” from words. This is clearly portrayed when John Proctor says “You’ll speak nothin’ of Elizabeth!” By dropping the final “g” from words, Miller created a rustic and colloquial feel to the language. Another way in which Miller effectively used language was when he used the verbs “It were” instead of ‘It was’, and when he used “There be” instead of ‘There is’. This dialogue seems alien to the ears of a modern audience and therefore it ensures that the period and context of the play is kept. Miller used language in this way to help create a believable society, which in turn helped keep the play’s essential realism.
Miller had written “The Crucible” using four acts. However, within each of the four acts, Miller kept the action continuous. This allowed Miller to create tension and suspense gradually. The continuous style also helps the audience to identify with the different characters, and particularly John Proctor. By building up his character throughout Act IV, the audience can easily relate to and understand Proctor’s actions in ripping up the warrant. If the action had been broken, the audience wouldn’t have fully perceived his actions and the reasons behind them. Miller had also written the play chronologically. This helps the audience follow the production and ensures that tension is not lost.
Furthermore, the use of the rising of action through the accusations helps the plot to build up to the inevitable climax at the end of Act III where John Proctor is accused. These techniques arouse the interest of the audience and also provide an easy structure for the audience to follow. They also help the audience to understand all the hysteria.
The end of the play also brought the drama to a climax. By Act IV, the audience become strongly engaged with Proctor’s fate. He had become the central character in the play and the audience become so involved in whether or not he will falsely confess and save himself. However, this matter seemed to be settled when he told Elizabeth, “I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. I am not that man.” But as Danforth applied the pressure of the law, Proctor found himself less and less able to escape. Firstly he was required to give the names of other witches that he saw and he simply refused to incriminate others. This is shown when he says, “I speak my own sins. I cannot judge another.” Hale and Parris urged Danforth to accept this, which he grudgingly did. But then he required Proctor to sign a written confession. This was the breaking point and Proctor couldn’t bring himself to sign it. Then play then reached its terrifying conclusion as a complex but noble individual was killed.
Miller also used pace as a technique to create tension. The pace is kept almost constant throughout all four of the acts to ensure that tension isn’t lost. Through the use of this technique, Miller made the Crucible is easy to follow for the audience. He also uses dialogue and pace to aid the building of tension up to the ultimate climax at the end of the play.
An audience today would have a different experience to the traditional audience because a modern audience would read the background information that Arthur Miller had included, which will affect how the character’s and the play’s event are interpreted.
Finally, regarding the historical context of the play, “The Crucible” was written during the Red Scare of the 1950s, which was a time of great fear in the United States about the spread of communism. Although Miller’s play is about the Salem Witch Trials, he intended his audience to see parallels between the treatment of witches in early American societies and the treatment of communists in his own time.
In conclusion, relating back to the question “Why does John Proctor choose to die rather than to lose his “name”?”, John Proctor was a good man who considered his name and his reputation to be his most priceless assets. He knew he had sinned when he committed adultery and he believed that he should serve a punishment for his sin. He chose to die, rather than to admit to crimes he had never committed and he believed that he should die with honour, whilst preserving his own good name and the integrity of his family, rather than having to living his life in shame and forever regretting the sin that he had committed.