Authur Millers, The Crucible takes a close look at John Proctors, conflict between his raw deeds and his conception of himself. Throughout the play John Proctor is tormented by this conflict. He struggles against his own weakness to achieve a view of himself that he can accept. Proctor has to overcome tremendous emotional and moral hurdles and as a result his character develops into a different person. His battle for integrity is lost many times before it is finally won in the play’s final minutes.
In the beginning of the play John Proctor was nothing more then an average man. John was well respected in the community and renown for his honesty. Even though he is considered such an honest man, few know that he is guilty of adultery with his old teenage servant Abigail Williams. This compromises his honesty in the eyes of his wife and causes him to be doubted and not given the trust he deserves. This also causes John to view himself as a sinner and as someone unworthy of the respect he is given.
After the accusations of witchcraft arouse, John assumes a more prominent role in the community. He assumes a leadership position in the movement to free Elizabeth Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Mrs. Corey from the prison. Although he fails in his motion to free his wife and friends from prison we see different sides to his character.
When the deposition stating Mary Warren had lied in court begins to falter John displays a very aggressive and violent attitude. John, who is unnerved by the lying of Abigail Williams, grabs and shakes her. This displays a very bad tempered individual who won’t hesitate to resort to violence. This is also shown when Ezekiel Cheever comes to arrest Elizabeth Proctor and John tears up the warrant. From these events we can learn that when confronted by an issue which involves his loved ones, he becomes aggressive, bad tempered, inpatient and violent.
After his arrest, John Proctor is presented with a very difficult moral choice. This is when we witness the greatest alteration in his character. John needs to decide weather he prefers to lie and live or to be truthful and die. Because of John’s low self esteem and damaged public image he believes that the best decision is to lie and live longer. This means that he would have to live in a lie for the rest of his life.
John soon adopts high moral principles and decides to be truthful and die. This also tells us that he wants redemption for his acts of lust with Abigail. These acts inform us that John has accepted the evils of his sins and in order to protect his own self esteem, he will not commit any more sins. This signifies that he would not lie to save his own life, he would rather die then live in sin. This is an act of redemption.
Even though Proctor thinks that he has given himself over to evil, there are lengths to which he will not go. He refuses to testify against any of his friends. He also refuses to hand over a signed confession for the court’s use against his friends. Although Proctor knows he is dammed in the eyes of God, he cannot bear to be dammed in the eyes of his neighbours. John gives the most climatic speech of the play, when he goes on as to how he cannot sign his confession. “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!…I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (p.143, l.22-26) Throughout the play Proctor has separated his soul from his name and his actions from his ideals. John had lost his soul when he seduced Abigail, and his efforts to protect his name only drove his soul further from him.
When presented with a moral choice, John Proctor’s character changed from a person with a very low self esteem and a negative realist view on the outcome of his life to a person that believed he could recuperate his lost honour and morality. John’s death was worthwhile. As he prepares to die for loyalty and truth, he finds a worthy answer to the question he asked earlier on in the play, ‘What is John Proctor?’ Although he knows that he is no saint, he can now at least see goodness in himself. In order for John Proctor to achieve integrity, his soul and his name must become one. In choosing to die, it was a choice and attempt to commit himself to his friends and die a honourable and honest man which makes his death true and justifiable. By choosing death over dishonour, he has regained his soul.