It was with ardent horror that the prehistoric man first witnessed a solar eclipse—the sun swallowed by the predator moon until all light ceased and darkness fell on to the land. We, the more enlightened descendants, have also suffered eclipses. One such eclipse was the darkness of evil that fell upon Salem in 1692, when many men and women were accused of compacting with the Devil. These charges were what snowballed into the huge misfortune known as the ?Salem Witch Trials.? The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, is a play based upon these witch trials, in which John Proctor, a prominent member of their Puritan community, falls into the hurricane of the accusations. Not willing to blacken his name, John hangs for not confessing to compacting with the Devil. When John destroys his untruthful confession, he condemns himself to die and by doing so becomes a true symbol of tragedy.
John Proctor, a respected and followed Puritan, although an adulterer, became one of the most afflicted men in Salem when vengeance was sought upon his wife. Elizabeth, John?s beloved wife, became envied by Abagail Williams, when John ended their affair. Abagail accused Elizabeth of sending her spirit out to stab her with a needle so that Elizabeth would be either hung or jailed. By pushing Elizabeth out of John?s life, Abagail thought that John would rediscover his love for her. In an attempt to save his wife?s life, he pressures his maidservant, Mary Warren, to confess that the group of girls crying ?witchery? were faking. When Abagail breaks Mary?s confession by scaring her publicly, Mary turns and accuses John of coming to her in the night and threatening her for her life if she didn?t save Elizabeth. John, being accused of witchery, had no choice but to be jailed and hung in order to further cleanse the country of evil. On the day of John?s hanging, Minister Hale and Judge Danforth came to him to plead with him to sign the confession. John had to make the decision to either, live a lie and disgrace his family, or die with pride and a clean name. To John, it was a choice of the lesser of evils. To his religion, God damns all liars and as Hale says,
?Life, ?is God?s most precious gift; no principal however glorious, may justify the taking of it? Quail not before God?s judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he throws his life away for pride.? (pg. 132
However, John Proctor was not just rebelling against their power to spite them, he was becoming an example for his children and neighbors. John knew that the whirling accusations of witchery and contact with the Devil was not the moralistic, pure way of living a Christian life. John Proctor also knew that God saw his sins, and that it shouldn?t matter what others believe of him, since God was the only true ruler of their world.
By giving up his life for the truth in God?s eyes and in his societies? eyes, John was taking on more tragic outcomes. He was willing to die for his pride, his family?s dignity, and his love for God. In doing so, he is keeping his sense of personal dignity so that he can gain his rightful place in society. He also can die knowing that his family name is preserved with pride and his children can grow up with a deeper love and respect for their father.
When John was looking for forgiveness and guidance from Elizabeth, she would tell him that she couldn?t judge him, for it is not her place to do so. She tells him that he has to make the decisions for himself, then whatever they may be, they are from a good man?s heart.
?John, it come to naught that I should forgive you, if you?ll not forgive yourself. It is not my soul, John, it is yours. Only be sure of this, for I know it now: Whatever you will do, it is a good man that does it.? (pg. 137)
By telling him this, she puts the decision entirely in his hands, so that his decision is completely his, it is only his. Therefore, when he is evaluating himself and the resolution that he has to come about, the tragedy that concludes from it is purely his own doing.
By choosing to abolish his confession, John gives up his happiness in life. He gives up living with his wife and children for a principal. However, as said before, this principal made him in to a model for how others should deal with the situation if it was put in front of them. His response showed his courage and love for himself, God, and his family.
By showing the world his love and courage, John Proctor changes their views, at least the slightest bit, to let their goodness shine through their sinful bodies. John died for a cause, not for only himself. That cause was to stop the wild prosecutions of so called witches. By signing the confession, he was helping to further their attempt to ?cleanse? the country, for he was being a bad example.
He was a strong man, and a weighty name as his would shock the accused and hopefully encourage them to also ?come to God.? Despite signing the contract, by ripping it up in front of the accused, his example turned from cowardly to courageous. By doing this he strengthened the rebellious cause and erased doubt in the minds of the condemned.
Arthur Miller, author of The Crucible, wrote John Proctor to be a tragic hero, a man that consequently falls from his euphoria because of a panic-stricken village, driven by fear to rid their world of evil. A smart person once said that, ?those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.? Arthur Miller wrote this play after the Communist scare of 1952. In the Communist scare of 1952, and in the witch-hunts of 1692, many people were shunned and murdered because their community let fear rule their lives and decisions. They joined the hysteria and in doing so, condemned many people?s lives to death or poverty. When this madness strikes the streets of the United States again, many believe that they will be able to resist being caught up in the insanity. However, there is only one way we can truly save ourselves and our neighbors, and that is to study and understand the mistakes that our ancestors and descendants made, and the outcomes that were born from their actions. Once we can understand the mistakes that they made and how to avoid repeating them, then our society will be theoretically trouble free.