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John Proctor Was Never Defeated English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1814 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ernest Hemingway says, “Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated” (http://www.englishforums.com). In Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, the court cannot defeat John Proctor. Although they take his life, they can’t take his pride. John Proctor is a well-respected husband and citizen, but everything takes a turn in Proctor’s life when he commits a secret sin with Abigail Williams. His hamartia, or affair with Abigail, leads to his downfall. Proctor is seen as a tragic hero because he is well respected in Salem, he possesses a flaw, and he finds a way to overcome his flaw. As the trials begin in Salem, Proctor realizes he can put a stop to them. In fear of ruining his name and reputation, he keeps his adultery with Abigail to himself. His tragic flaw, or pride in his name, underscores his inability to let go. He makes an effort to bring down Abigail, but when he fails, Proctor reveals the sin he committed with Abigail publicly. The story’s peripeteia comes when Proctor is arrested. Proctor changes, realizing that the witch trials are his fault. In the last act, Proctor has a chance to confess that he is a witch in order to live. Instead, Proctor chooses to refuse the confession in hopes of saving his name. This is Proctor’s biggest turning point of the play. His catharsis is achieved because he dies being freed from his earlier sins. A proud and respected man, John Proctor possesses a flaw that changes him throughout the course of the story, but it is John’s ability to overcome his flaw that distinguishes him as the tragic hero of The Crucible.

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In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, John Proctor is viewed as a highly appreciated individual. Proctor’s high authority, influence in the town, and good deeds demonstrate his respected position in society. Arthur Miller describes John Proctor as a farmer in his middle thirties who is “respected and feared in Salem”(19). He is respected and feared because of his large amount of land. When Proctor speaks to Mr. Putnam and Giles Corey in the beginning of Act I, Proctor asks Giles to help him carry the lumber to his home. When Mr. Putnam asks what lumber he is speaking of, Proctor says, “My lumber. From out my forest by the riverside…. I bought that tract from Good Nurse’s husband five months ago”(30). Proctor’s wealth and position in society is proven when he describes his land to be a forest. It exemplifies his respect in the town, because, in the time of the Salem witch trials, a person with a large amount of land is regarded as a man with a high status in town. Proctor’s high opinion is also shown through his influence on Salem. In Act IV Reverend Parris expresses his fear towards the riot that is occurring in Andover and heading towards Salem. In the midst of his terror, Parris realizes the influence that John Proctor has in the town. He says, “John Proctor is not Isaac Ward that drank his family to ruin. I would to God it were not so, Excellency, but these people have great weight yet in town”(118). Parris explains how Proctor’s influence in Salem is so immense that Proctor’s death would cause Salem to collapse. Parris suggests that if Proctor is hanged, people will start a rebellion in Salem. The people of high authority act as a basis in Salem, and their death would only cause more confusion. With this confusion the villagers will riot and overthrow the court. Proctor’s respect and influence is a result of his good deeds shown in Salem. As Hale is questioning Proctor, Proctor describes his kindness with a good deed he committed. He states, “I nailed the roof upon the church, I hung the door-“(62). This small deed shows that Proctor cares about the community, and not only himself. Proctor is respected by the townspeople because of his charitable actions in Salem. Although Proctor illustrates the characteristics of a well-rounded individual, his tragic flaw prevents him from forgetting his adultery with Abigail.

Throughout The Crucible John Proctor’s flaw is portrayed when his reputation is jeopardized. Proctor’s flaw is first shown on page 52 when he is speaking to Elizabeth about the conversation he had alone with Abigail. Elizabeth believes that Proctor’s feelings for Abigail prevent him from going to the court and proving that the court is a fraud. Proctor then judges Elizabeth stating that she will not forget about the incident that happened with Abigail. Elizabeth responds by saying, “The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man John…” (52). Elizabeth introduces John’s flaw. His pride in his name is restricting him from entering the court and proclaiming that the court is corrupt. If it means he would have to confess about his adultery with Abigail and ruin his reputation, then he would not do it. As Reverend Hale is questioning the Proctors, he asks them if they believe in witches. When Hale asks if Elizabeth believes in the Gospel, Proctor says, “She do not mean to doubt the Gospel, sir, you cannot think it. This be a Christian house, sir, a Christian house” (66). Proctor tries to save his name by saying that Elizabeth believes in the Gospel. He is afraid that Hale will get the wrong impression from Elizabeth. This will put a mark on their family’s name. Proctor’s pride in his name causes him to answer Hale and turn away any suspicion that Hale has against the Proctors. Reverend Hale shows another example of Proctor’s flaw. While Hale convinces Elizabeth to talk Proctor into confessing, he tells Elizabeth that Proctor’s life is worth more than his pride. He says, “Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it…. Let him give his lie…. [F]or it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws away his life for pride” (122). Hale explicitly points out Proctor’s flaw. He proves that Proctor is viewed as a prideful man, and Hale believes that Proctor is ruining his life for the goodness of his name. Hale believes that life is more important than one’s reputation. Proctor, however, is more inclined towards his reputation than his life. On page 133 Proctor throws his life away to keep his name and save the lives of those that were accused. After signing the testimony that claims his witchery, Proctor asks that it remain private. When Danforth disagrees Proctor snatches the paper and 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” (133). Proctor’s flaw once again leads to his downfall. His pride in his name for both his family and people of Salem lead to his hanging; however, Proctor reaches a self-realization and discovers a way to overcome his flaw.

As the play comes to an end, Proctor shows his ability to surpass his tragic flaw and distinguish himself as a tragic hero. Proctor’s first moment of self-realization appears on pages 72 to 73. When Elizabeth is being arrested, Proctor realizes that the witch trials are his fault. He understands that Abigail wants to destroy Elizabeth in hopes of getting back in bed with him. Proctor rips the warrant of Elizabeth’s arrest and says, “I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem-vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom and common vengeance writes the law…. I’ll not give my wife to vengeance” (73). John blames Abigail by saying that vengeance is walking Salem. Abigail is the vengeance. Proctor realizes that his pride has put others in danger. Because of the danger he has put on others, he decides to act against the court. Another moment of self-realization occurs when John publicly announces his adultery with Abigail. He declares Abigail a whore and states that she must be stopped. He says, “Excellency, forgive me, forgive me. 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 it” (102). Proctor realizes that Abigail continues to gain power in the court. When all else fails, Proctor confesses to his adultery with Abigail. He destroys his reputation, not for his own sake, but for the sake of others. Proctor’s last lines show his final self-realization. Before his death, Proctor is able to overcome his flaw. He snatches the paper that includes his confession and crumples it. He says, “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 white enough to keep it from such dogs” (133). Although Proctor has a chance of living, he understands that the rest of his life would continue as a lie. By denying that the confession be nailed to the church door, Proctor gives his life up in place of his name. He understands the importance of his name, but he sentences himself for the sake of others. By sacrificing himself, Proctor is able to achieve peace and to free himself of his past sins.

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Ultimately, John Proctor was never defeated. He died a man of strength and power to his name. Although his soul was taken, his legacy remained. Through all of Proctor’s struggles he was able to retain his name and die in peace. In the beginning of the play, Proctor is a dishonest character trying to rid himself of his past, but his self-pride makes it difficult for him to let things go. However, as the play comes to an end, Proctor realizes the evil in the witch trials, and he dies with a renewed goodness. John Proctor is seen as the protagonist of this tragedy because he demonstrates the characteristics of a typical tragic hero. Well respected in Salem, Proctor shows good traits of a common man. Eventually, Proctor’s hamartia and tragic flaw lead to his death. However, Proctor also undergoes a moment of self-realization. Proctor reaches his catharsis in the last few pages of the play when he realizes the goodness in what he has accomplished. Proctor decides to surrender himself to death, rather than live a life of lies. He realizes that a public confession will offend the accused that have risked their lives for their reputation. Although Proctor’s tragic flaw leads to his death, Arthur Miller ultimately concludes Proctor as a man who pertains to goodness rather than guilt.


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