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To What Extent Does John Proctor Conform to the Ideal Tragic Hero in “the Crucible”

To what extent does John Proctor conform to the ideal tragic hero in “The Crucible”? The most well known definition of a tragic hero comes from the philosopher, Aristotle. When explaining a tragic hero, Aristotle states “The change in the hero’s fortunes be not from misery to happiness, but on the contrary, from happiness to misery, and the cause of it must not lie in any depravity but in some great error on his part. ” Also, he explains the four essential qualities that a tragic hero should possess, which are goodness, appropriateness, lifelike, and consistency.

All of these factors help to categorize John Proctor as a tragic hero in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. ‘The Crucible’ was written by Arthur Miller during the McCarthy era and it was based on the research he did in Salem, Massachusetts about the witch trials. He discovered records of the trials in which nineteen men and women and two dogs were hanged for witchcraft; one man pressed to death for choosing not to give evidence to the court, 55 people having confessed to witchcraft and 150 people awaiting trial in jail. The McCarthy era was a time when thousands of people were accused of being communists or communist supporters.

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Just like the Massachusetts witch trials, the committee meetings were based solely on prejudice, self-gain, hearsay and rumors. When the play begins we soon come to realise that Proctor is keeping a dark secret to himself. His old servant girl, Abigail Williams, fell in love with him whilst working for him. In the first scene we come to understand that Abigail and John once had a sexual relationship and that he committed adultery against his wife, Elizabeth Proctor. A tragic hero, through some flaw in character or error in judgment passes from great happiness to great sorrow.

His relationship with Abigail was his big error in judgment which led to his great sorrow. Every tragic hero has a weakness; his was choosing to keep silent and not tell anyone about it. Some may argue that his affair should not make him a hero in anyway, as he brought it upon himself. John’s affair not only affected him, but also everybody else in Salem. His affair was the reason why the witch trials began because Abigail wanted to have John to herself. She believed that by accusing his wife, Elizabeth, of witchcraft, Elizabeth would be sentenced to death and John would become hers.

His foolish mistake leads to the deaths of many people. Arguably, Giles Corey was the tragic hero of the story as he refused to give names to the court and he died for this reason, this is similar to America in the 1950’s as anyone who was investigated and refused to give names was imprisoned. Unlike Proctor, Corey didn’t put anyone’s life in danger. Proctor’s wife’s distrust of him is the beginning of the path to his downfall. If they had spoken about it, it would have solved a lot of problems, instead it was an obvious truth, ignored and unaddressed so neither party knew where they stood.

After his hamartia, he came to acknowledge his mistake (anagorisis). Proctor accepting that he made an error is another reason why he is considered to be a tragic hero. John Proctor’s pride was another factor which leads to his great downfall. He could not allow himself to ruin his name which meant that Abigail was able to continue with her lies. We see this when he says “I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough! Proctor died unprepared to lie to the court, he’d rather die with a free conscience then have to live with the guilt of lying to the court. “You will not use me! I am no Sarah Good or Tituba, I am John Proctor! You will not use me! It is no part of salvation that you should use me! ” this, once again shows that he had morals and principles. This moment clinched the play. The way in which the author portrays John Proctor is similar to the way the author perceives himself, because had it been necessary Arthur Miller would have died for his beliefs.

Miller creates John to be a strong man who will stand up for his beliefs similar to himself as during the McCarthy period, Miller would not sacrifice his name of his beliefs. Miller himself said “Nobody wants to be a hero … but in every man there is something he cannot give up and still remain himself – a core an identity, a thing that is summed up for him by the sound of his own name on his own ears. If he gives that up, becomes a different man, not himself” this quote summarises Millers beliefs and in turn explains Proctors actions.

John is a hero as his sacrifice saves others. He takes the charge against Elizabeth as an opportunity to prove his love to her after he damaged it somewhat with his affair. John Proctor’s death was a result of his own free will, but it was not entirely deserved. Though, his death was not a pure loss because it leads to greater knowledge. Yes, John has flaws, but it is his flaws which make him human, and in fact he would not be a tragic hero without them. John Proctor is most definitely a tragic hero as he fit’s Aristotle’s description perfectly.


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