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Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible" illustrates a powerful drama based on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. A very strict theocracy rules Salem; a place where the bible is law and anyone who does follow the rules to the letter, must have dealings with the devil. The accusations of witchcraft in Salem start off by a group of girls who were caught dancing in the woods. Dancing is forbidden and out of fear of being punished or even accused themselves of witchcraft, the girls begin to accuse others for having been seen with the devil. In an attempt to prove that they were lying John Proctor sacrifices his own life to protect others. (LEAD IN SENTENCE). John Proctor portrays the classic tragic hero, in where his tragic error and overcoming of evil, becomes the cause of his untimely death.
Proctor, a farmer, has an affair with Abigail Williams, which ultimately leads to his downfall. Abigail mistakes the affair for true love and being the leader of the group of girls that are accusing others of witchcraft; she uses this to accuse his wife, Elizabeth. The affair also causes Elizabeth to distrust John, who for seven months has been trying to get into her good graces and is tired of her suspicion. He bluntly tells her “...I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you...I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies...”(52). This illustrates John's perseverance in attempting to redeem himself for his sin, but because of John's inability to control his desire and resist temptation, his life is being turned upside down by the jealousy and need for revenge of Abigail. This event marks Proctor’s downfall and path to becoming a tragic hero.
As any tragic hero, Proctor is overcome by Abigail, a true symbol of evil. Proctor faces defeat when the court officials come to take Elizabeth away. Proctor is so infuriated by this assault on his house that he rips the warrant and tells them to leave rather forcefully saying, “Damn the Deputy Governor! Out of my house!”(77), demonstrating his intense love for his wife. Proctor shows signs of being a tragic hero when he attempts to go into court to save his wife and prove the girls liars. However, he ends up being accused himself. Mary Warren is in court testifying when she suddenly breaks down “hysterically, pointing at Proctor, fearful of him: My name, he want my name.
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Proctor comes to the realization that he must die in order to make peace with himself. Proctor denies being a witch until the day of his death. He confesses to witchcraft but realizes that it disgraces his good name and it’s all that he will leave his children: I have three children—how may I teach them to walk like men in the world” when he has sold his friends and his good name (143). Proctor also explains to the judge “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”(143)! With this plea Proctor dashes all hopes of living and has established himself as a tragic hero.
John Proctor: A Tragic Hero
Over the years, literary devices have changed as writers continually come up with new ones. One device that is has been used many times throughout the generations is the appearance of the tragic hero. Since the days of Shakespeare, tragic heroes have been used to enhance the meaning of a literary work. Any character cannot be described as tragic hero. Several key characteristics are necessary for the tragic hero to possess in order to be characterized as such. He must be high-ranked or have a high standing in the community. He must have a weakness or a tragic flaw and be involved in a struggle. In the end, that struggle will lead to his downfall. Arthur Miller purposely incorporates these characteristics into John Proctor, one of the main figures in The Crucible. He masterfully portrays Proctor as a tragic hero even though he is a common man.
A tragic hero is usually a member of the upper class or royalty. However, Miller believes that a common man is just as capable of being a tragic hero. Fear is the underlying element of tragedies according to Miller. In The Crucible, there are many instances of fear. The witchcraft hysteria strikes fear into the heart of the Salem townspeople. Miller realizes this, and this is the main reason for the presence of Proctor as a hero. The Crucible is definitely a tragedy as stated in Miller’s definition of a tragedy because there is a tremendous amount of fear throughout the play. Using a common man as the hero is something that has never been done before. A common man has the exact same abilities to know fear. Therefore, Miller is easily able to convincingly show Proctor as a tragic hero.
John Proctor is a good example of a tragic hero in Miller’s play, The Crucible. He demonstrates all of a hero’s characteristics in some way or another. Although not upper class, he is still an upstanding member of the community. He is well respected and looked up to by those around him. As Miller describes him, “Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud.” (1098) He believes himself to be a fraud because of his tragic flaw: the affair with Abigail Williams. That affair is Proctor’s one weakness, and no one knows about it besides John, his wife, Elizabeth, and Abby. Another characteristic of a tragic hero is that he must be involved in some kind of struggle. Proctor is involved in two different struggles. One is the personal struggle between him and his wife. Elizabeth knows of his lechery and has a hard time forgiving him. Proctor tries to convince her of his love and faithfulness, but it is almost impossible. The other struggle Proctor faces is the social struggle that is going on throughout the whole town. The witchcraft hysteria has overtaken Salem, and Proctor struggles to stand out as an honest resistor of the hangings even though it may lead to his own downfall.
John Proctor’s last characteristic that makes him a tragic hero is that his struggles eventually end in his downfall. His courage to stand strong in his beliefs leads him to death at the gallows. His personal struggle with Elizabeth is resolved as he makes his decision to refuse to confess to witchcraft. Elizabeth sees his inner goodness shine when he refuses to lie, and she realizes how unfair she has been. Proctor saves the lives of the others who are accused when he unselfishly declines to save his own. He acts as a martyr when he places others before himself. He would rather die an honorable death than live a dishonorable life.
Miller succeeds in making a common man a tragic hero as he does John Proctor in The Crucible. Proctor is truly a hero in the play. He exhibits all of the characteristics, and he acts as a martyr in his death.