John Proctor, Sinner or Saint
No person can completely steer clear of the trials and tribulations of his or her society. He who does may be vulnerable to serious allegations. If a man is to work well in his surroundings, he must partake in all aspects of his society or he is leaving himself open to unfavorable charges. In Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible, John Proctor’s lack of involvement in the Salem witch trials ultimately leads to his execution.
John Proctor tries to avoid any involvement in the Salem witch trials. His reason for this attempt is motivated by his past fault of committing adultery with Abigail Williams. The guilt connected with his lechery makes Proctor hesitant to speak openly because he would condemn himself as an adulterer. Basically, then, in the first act he attempts to isolate himself from the primary proceedings, saying to Reverend Hale “I’ve heard you to be a sensible man, Mr. Hale. I hope you’ll leave some of it in Salem” (Miller; 1106). Proctor tries to wash his hands of the entire affair, than to instead deal with his own personal problems. His wife Elizabeth constantly badgers him about his adulterous affair and he retorts with “Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not” (1117). Rather than interfering in the witch trials he is still trying to defend himself in the dangerous love triangle.
In Act I, Proctor attempts to retire to the private world of his farm and remain completely oblivious to the events arising in Salem. This refusal to become involved is brought to an end when his servant, Mary Warren, announces that she is an official of the court and that Elizabeth Proctor has been “somewhat mentioned”(1119) by the woman who with whom he had copulated. Proctor still wishes to dismiss the hearings, but his wife uses his guilt about infidelity to extract a covenant that he will expose Abigail as being an impostor. Proctor is being coerced by his wife to become involved, it is not his free and open decision. Indirect characterization can be surmised in the aforesaid situation that Elizabeth is very influential upon Proctors character. This demonstrates that “Proctor’s sense of guilt is central to any understanding of him as a dramatic character” (Bloom; 26).
Before Proctor is forced to take the next step, Reverend Hale arrives and then, Herrick with a warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest. In anger over his wife’s conviction and arrest, Proctor accuses Hale of being a “Pontius Pilate”(1127) and later tells him that he is a coward by saying: “though you be ordained in God’s own tears, you are a coward now!”(1128). What Proctor fails to see is that he too has been acting as a Pontius Pilate and as a coward because he has been attempting to escape any type of involvement. These events force an involvement upon John Proctor, since the trials he has tried to ignore what have now invaded his private haven. His first step is still to avoid commitment. Proctor still refuses to go into the court and accuse Abigail openly, but instead tries to coerce Mary to go to the court. When reminded that Abigail will accuse him of lechery, however, he realizes how wicked Abigail is, and finally resolves to go with Mary Warren to the court where he takes his final step and denounces Abigail as a whore.
As a result of his involvement, John finds himself accused of being a witch. After being tried and condemned to death, John refuses to confess because of his pride and stubbornness. However, he does not want to die for such an absurd reason. He is therefore faced with the predicament of being completely against the other condemned witches, and by his confession, becoming partly responsible for the deaths of his fellow prisoners. The other route open to him is to align himself completely with the condemned witches. There is finally no middle ground open to John Proctor. He must commit himself to one side or the other. His choice is to commit himself to his friends and die an honest man.
The significant self-laceration which John Proctor undergoes while struggling to make his choice is finally convincing because it is perfectly in character, “Miller uses Proctor as a vehicle for the play’s major moral questions” (Bloom;23). Proctor is weak, like most men, but he has the potential for greatness likewise common to all men. When John Proctor shouted I am no saint” (1163), he asserted his human frailty and vulnerability. As the tragic hero of Miller’s drama, Proctor faces his downfall due to his lack of commitment to humanity.