Explain John Proctor's Struggle with his Conscience
Length: 1725 words (4.9 double-spaced pages)
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The conscience, the knowledge of right and wrong that affects actions
and behaviour; the senses of guilt or virtue indeed by actions,
behaviour etc. An innermost thought. (PH English dictionary)
John Proctor has a terrible struggle with his conscience, particularly
towards the end of the play. John proctors conscience is tell him that
he shouldn't give into the pressure of the court, that he should stand
proud and not tell the court lies. His conscience is telling him he
shouldn't lie or defy the court and then his death, hanging from the
noose, can be a proud one, accepted with honour after making his love
and more importantly his peace with God.
However his natural instinct, given to him upon his birth is telling
him to lie. That he should lose his good name, confess to dealing with
witchcraft. Telling him to lose some, perhaps all the respect people
have for him but to keep his life. To lose his dignity but to keep his
life. To live to see his children grow up, to see his unborn child be
born, to watch his wife grow old with him. But most importantly to
live, and to be free, and not to experience death till he is older.
Live and lie, losing your dignity and all the respect you've earned,
or die, but keep your good name, and let your children grow up with a
good name. Leaving your life with an unblemished name.
John chose death, although before he chose death he was prepared to
choose life, he wanted to live, yet more than this he wanted an
unblemished name. More importantly than this he wanted his children,
and their children, and their children's children to have a name to be
proud of. Proctor. He did not want them to be left with the name of a
Because it is my name (The Crucible, Act 4)
John Proctor says the above quote, which simply reinforces everything
I wrote earlier. John does not want to give up his name; he cannot
have another in this life. Better to have one unblemished name. Than
to have hundreds of names all tainted in one way or another. John does
not want to give up his good name; he would rather give up his life,
which we see in the rather gruesome and sudden ending of the play.
This shows John Proctors personal struggle with himself. He wanted to
live, yet he also wanted to keep his good name. He couldn't do both
and in the end he chose his name. He was fighting with himself right
up to the last minute, trying to understand the right thing to do.
Live or Die?
It is evil is it not, It is evil (The crucible, Act 4)
John Proctor said this to his wife, Elizabeth. He at the time was
speaking about the Salem witch trials and confessing himself to the
court. He knew it was the wrong thing to do. Evil as he so aptly put.
It was an evil thing to do, yet he made amends by refusing to give
another name, and in the end not signing his name. However despite
this he was still prepared to do this in order to live with his wife
His natural instinct was telling him to run, to confess, yet he knew
in his conscience that it was the wrong, indeed evil thing to do.
Almost everyone would choose life, don't you think? So why didn't he?
I have come to believe that John Proctor chose death because he isn't
like you or me, John' special. We might be able to live our life being
shunned and whispered about, but John couldn't. He was an honest
person, and couldn't live the rest of his life as a lie; he would
rather die than live his life as a lie. John didn't deserve to die yet
he died because the court was corrupted by Abby's lies.
Damn The Village, I confess to God (The Crucible Act 4)
John Proctor, once more however this time he was considering signing
his name, yet he didn't. John didn't sign his name again because it
was his name. He didn't want his name to be blackened in the village.
Not just for his sake but also for his children's sake. He was not
confessing to the village but confessing to God. As it was to him the
confession was going, not the court. The court wanted to take his name
and put it on the church door. Yet John believed that his confession
was going to God, therefore he thought he could do both, confess and
keep his name, yet the court said that he had to sign his name. In
which John believed he would be losing his good name.
Therefore John decided to go against the village, damning them, and
sent his confession straight to God. This in turn caused Johns death,
yet he died with honour and pride, as deep down inside, where it
counts, he knew he had done the right thing. Died, yet kept his name
and he'd done it without lying.
I say-I say-God is Dead (The crucible Act 3)
John Proctors very nearly cracked here. He knows quite well that there
is a God and he is alive, yet he shouts out this lie anyway, as he
knows now that he will have to die, this proves that John Proctor is
only a man, as he here loses his temper, you can imagine him, arms
waving, nostrils flaring, shouting the words at the members of the
court in anger. Despite the fact that he resists the witchcraft scam
for longer than the others, all he is is a man.
God is a pivotal character in the play, the fact that we don't
actually see him lessens the fact not at all, because the entire play
is run on the theme of God, and how loyal the people are to God. The
'witches' hate God, they detest him and work for the evil devil, yet
any who were accused of being a witch and denied it, were put to
death, this system cannot work.
This play also has a lot of biblical illusions inside its words, to
name one the gallows at the end, when the most important person (John
Proctor, Jesus) and on either side of him are two others, in this play
Martha Corey and Francis Nurse, in Jesus' time two robbers. Yet the
set up was the same. With the central person in the middle, as well as
this at the end of the film, which Arthur Miller helped to produce,
the people on the gallows began saying the 'Our Father', this again is
a symbol of faith, showing once more Gods influence in the play.
(With a cry of his whole soul)
Because it is my name! (The Crucible Act 4)
This quote is now being used for its stage directions, in the play,
when being read, this line can easily be read normally, yet it should
really be screamed to the mountain tops, with all the air in the
readers lungs, as he is spending all his effort in just getting the
point across that is his name it belongs to him, and the council have
no right to drag it through the mud. This shows just how much John
Proctor valued his name, it was his and the one thing no-one could
take from him. No-one could take his name. This is what his conscience
was telling him; don't give up your name its yours. No-one can take it
from you. This is but one of the reasons he died rather than lived,
John Proctor would not, could not live a lie.
During the time when Arthur Miller was writing this play, America had
gone crazy with the attempt of trying to hunt out communists. This was
the same kind of craziness shown in 1692 during the hunting of the
witches in Salem. It was a case of mass hysteria, everybody was scared
for their lives, so began blaming others, these people in turn blamed
others, and thereby a large majority of the population were at risk.
This play was a way for Arthur Miller to get across to his readers
what he believed, I believe he was trying to show that if one person,
one brave person refused to be pulled into the trap, and said no! They
wouldn't name any others then the wave would quickly pass, yet as it
was it took many years for the hysteria to pass over America.
It was Senator Joseph McCarthy, who began by proclaiming that he had a
list of 205 names of people in America who were communists. This list
was later reduced to 57, yet that is still a large amount of people to
be charged with 'shaping policy in the state department.' Like the
Salem judges he continued to extend and repeat these charges even
after they had failed. Refusal to give other names was seen as
contempt of the committee and could be punished. Very few of
McCarthy's victims had the strength and courage shown by John Proctor
in the play.
I wish to conclude by saying John Proctor's conscience was telling him
to die, to keep his name, yet at the same time it was telling him to
live, and grow up with his children. He was having a real struggle,
trying to decide which to do. Most people would choose life and not
look back at what they were loosing, yet today you can move to another
country, and start a new life, in those days if you moved you would be
followed with suspicion wherever you went. Even a city further away
would be suspicious of a traveller moving for no reason, especially
after hearing about the witch trials.
I believe that John Proctor did the right thing in refusing to give in
to the court, even though he was going to give in his conscience kept
him in check, so he eventually did what was best for him and for the
entire community of Salem, as if he hadn't who can say what would have
happened, the community of Salem might have being totally destroyed.