John Proctor’s Moral Dilemma in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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In The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, the madness of the Salem witch trials is explored in great detail. Arthur Miller was an American playwright, who was born in 1915. He grew up in a Jewish family in New York City. While attending the University of Michigan in the mid 1930’s, he began to characterize himself as a distinguished writer. His first plays were Honors at Dawn and No Villain. The Death of a Salesman, which he wrote in 1949, won him the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Another important work Miller wrote, The Crucible, takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, during the 17th century. It is a time when jealousy and suspicion poisoned the thinking of an entire town. Neighbor turned against neighbor when events happened that could not be explained. Accusations turned into a mad hunt for witches who did not exist. One of the main characters of the play is John Proctor, a well-respected man with a good name in the town. As the play develops, John Proctor’s moral dilemma becomes evident: he must decide whether to lie and confess to witchcraft in order to save his life, or to die an honest man, true to his beliefs. John Proctor faces many decisions in response to his moral dilemma to try to save his life. One of the difficult decisions John makes is to reveal that he had an affair with Abigail Williams and thereby has committed adultery. If the local court convicts him of this crime, he faces being jailed. Also by admitting this crime, John reveals a weakness in his character. This flaw in his personality will make it harder for him to stand up in the community as an honorable and believable person. In trying to convince others that witchcraft does not exist John’s dishonesty with his wife will make him less convincing to the community. To further complicate matters, John decides not to reveal to the court that Abigail has admitted to him in private that they were just sporting in the woods. Abigail spreads additional accusations and false rumors about her neighbors. These accusations have no basis in truth and their only purpose is for Abigail’s own benefit. Furthermore, Abigail is jealous of John’s wife, Elizabeth, and she schemes to get rid of her in order to take her place. Abigail’s plot is to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft. Abigail’s false accusation regarding his wife makes John so angry that in a fit of frustration he publicly shouts some atheist remarks.

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