Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, is a very powerful statement about Puritan ethics in the 17 th century. The play depicts a character, John Proctor, against both his inner conscience to do what is right, and against the courts of Salem, where he is involved in a crucible to rid the city of witches. These circumstances arise for Proctor because of his affair with Abigail Williams, the leader of the girls who have started the witch hysteria, . Throughout the play, Proctor is depicted with a character flaw, his passiveness.
Because of this character flaw and his tragic ending to his life, Proctor can be regarded as a tragic hero. A tragic hero is an individual, usually the protagonist, who the audience recognizes as a 'good guy,' but who possesses a 'character flaw' leading to his or her downfall. In the case of The Crucible, John Proctor fits this model of a tragic hero. He is the protagonist of the novel, and is seen as a good all-around person. But his character flaw, his passiveness, led to his downfall, which is his hanging.
Proctor's passiveness, or unwillingness to involve himself, is evident in many aspects in the play. In the first Act, it is seen that Proctor wishes to distance himself as much as possible from what is happening in Salem -- the bewitching of the young girls. He has many reasons for doing so. First and foremost, Proctor is afraid of being seen as a lecher, because he thinks that his affair with Abigail may become public.
Throughout the first act, Proctor stays away from the witch trials of Salem; he hopes that Reverend Hale will be able to solve the witch problems so that he may continue to keep his affair a secret. In a dialogue between Proctor and his wife Elizabeth, he says to her, on the subject of his not returning to Salem in eight days, 'I have no business in Salem.' She replies, 'You did speak of going, earlier in the week.' He comes back saying, 'I thought better of it since.' (p. 51) With this statement, Proctor is implying that his affair may be uncovered if he went and involved himself in Salem; it clearly shows that Proctor wishes to stay away from Salem at all costs. Later on in the play, Proctor's passiveness is seen again, this time when his wife must convince him to get involved in the trial. He, until this point, had been unwilling to involve himself at all. It is the guilt Proctor's wife makes him feel over his affair that finally drives him to get involved in the proceedings.
Elizabeth Proctor wants her husband to go to the courts and expose Abigail Williams as the fraud that she is, and if not for his wife, Proctor may never have gone. Another episode illustrating Proctor's passiveness occurs when Hale arrives with a warrant for his wife's arrest. His wife is then taken, and Proctor goes to court to present his argument to the officials. But instead of giving his own argument, because of his passive nature, Proctor uses Mary Warren to appeal to the court. In just getting Mary Warren to agree to go before the court, Proctor has to try very hard to convince her to do; this shows his unwillingness to go before the court himself. After insisting over and over that she cannot testify against Abigail, Proctor says to Mary Warren, 'Make your peace with it! Now Hell and Heaven grapple on our backs, and all our old pretense is ripped away-make your peace!' (p 80) This is one of the many powerful speeches that Proctor gives to convince Mary Warren that she needs to testify.
While in court at first, Proctor himself doesn't speak, but instead, in a sense, he hides behind Mary Warren. Only when this fails does Proctor finally speak up. As a result of his speaking out in court, Proctor finds himself accused of being a witch. After his trial where he has been sentenced to death by hanging, he refuses to confess to being a witch, which would allow him to live. As Proctor gets more and more involved with his confession, he must face a new moral dilemma: Confess to a lie and live, but become responsible for the deaths of his fellow prisoners, or go without confession, and hang. Proctor illustrates his dilemma in his final conversation with his wife, (p 138) 'Would you give them such a lie? Say it.
Would you ever give them this? You would not; if tongs of fire were singeing you you would not! It is evil. Good, then-it is evil, and I do it!' Proctor realizes here that by giving a false confession he is doing an evil deed, by 'selling out' his friends and neighbors for the sake of his own life. After beginning to confess, Proctor has to face another dilemma, having his confession posted on the Church for all to see. This is too much for him to face, overwhelmed by the fact that his testimony may ruin the lives of others; as a result, he tears up his confession and is sent to hang.
In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, John Proctor, with his tragic flaw of passiveness, is a tragic hero. His passiveness-at first when he kept distance from the proceedings, when he needed to be convinced by his wife to get involved in the trial, when he used Mary Warren to testify instead of himself, and when accused of being a witch-led to his ultimate downfall. Proctor's final dilemma, choosing between living a lie or dying for the truth, further illustrates the type of person that Proctor is, and the type of hero that he is: a tragic hero.