John Proctor as Tragic Hero
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Post on 21-Apr-2015
The Crucible: John Proctor as Tragic Hero Proctor is portrayed as a good family man, a straightforward and straight-speaking man, powerful of body, even-tempered, who does not tolerate hypocrisy. He is a devoted Christian, but is not afraid to speak openly against the non-Christian qualities he sees within the towns religious leaders. Proctor will not allow Reverend Parris to baptize his youngest son, declaring that he can "see no light of God in that man". But instantly we are introduced to the guilty secret which makes him feel a sinner against his own vision of decent conduct- his past affair with Abigail Williams. His guilt over his affair with Abigail makes his position problematic because he is guilty of the very hypocrisy that he despises in others. After the affair with Abigail, Proctor feels shamed by his wife Elizabeth's self-control, as well as a huge feeling of guilt. At the dinner table, as he and Elizabeth discuss the arrest of the women who have been accused of witchcraft by Abigail and the other girls, it is clear that Proctor is struggling with both a guilty conscience and a low sense of self-worth. Elizabeth hints at this problem when she says "I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. Although Proctor protests to his wife that he feels her constant suspicion has led him to tiptoe around her for the last seven months, it is clear that his own guilt is the cause of his inner turmoil and lack of peace. It is not Elizabeth who is punishing him for his sin but himself. When Elizabeth urges him to tell the court that Abigail is making the whole thing up he doubts his own standing because the girls a saint now in the eyes of the town. It would be his word against hers. Abigail does not want to accept that the affair is over and foolishly believes that if Elizabeth was out of the way Proctor would come back to her. Driven by her jealousy, Abigail denounces Elizabeth Proctor as a witch and in order to protect his wife, Proctor is finally forced to admit to his adultery to expose Abigail as a liar. Therefore, the audience perceives that the affair between Proctor and Abigail is the instigator of his final tragedy, signifying the consequences of a small human error. In Aristotles definition of the tragic hero, the hero's misfortune is not brought about "by vice and depravity but by some error of judgment." Proctors sin of adultery isn't the greatest flaw that he possesses; it is in fact his pride and fear of damaging his reputation. His desire to protect his honour and good name is what keeps him from confessing to adultery earlier, which would most likely have put a stop to the witch trails. After his arrest, Proctor is presented with a very difficult moral choice. This is when we witness the greatest alteration in his character. Proctor needs to decide whether he prefers to lie and live or tell the truth and die. Because of his low self esteem and damaged public image he initially believes that the best decision is to confess and live as his honesty is already broke and nothings spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before. This means that he would have to live a lie for the rest of his life. He comes close to confessing to witchcraft but realizes at the last minute, that putting his signature to the confession disgraces his good name, dishonours his family and betrays his friends who were brave enough to stand up for the truth and die for it. He tears up the confession with the words Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself tolies! 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. With this plea Proctor dashes all hopes of living and establishes himself as a tragic hero. At the end, he would not lie to save his own life; he would rather die than live in sin and shame; not to protect his public image but for personal, moral and religious reasons. To be seen as a tragic hero, the character must have a redeeming feature which excites sympathy or pathos within the audience so that, ultimately, his fate is seen as excessive or undeserved. By refusing to give up his personal integrity Proctor implicitly proclaims his conviction that such integrity will bring him redemption from his earlier sins. With the words He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!, Elizabeth signifies not only that she has forgiven him for his adultery but that Proctor has made the right moral decision which has restored his goodness and sent him to heaven. Thus he dies a tragic hero.
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