Is John Proctor a Good Man? ('the Crucible', Arthur Miller)

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To characterise a man as “good” or “bad” is undoubtedly a near impossible task. There are few men (or women) in this world that can honestly be defined as purely one or the other. Most cannot be categorised as “righteous” or “depraved”, simply because there is no such thing as a one-sided personality. Each person has multiple faces, multiple identities. Such is the case of John Proctor. Proctor is one of the key characters in Arthur Miller’s satirical play “The Crucible”. Set in 1692, the play is based on the true story of the Salem witch-hunt, described by Miller as “one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history”. Upon his first appearance, John Proctor is presented as a rational, honest man; however, it soon becomes apparent that great guilt lies beneath his virtuous front. The consequences of his past mistakes lead him (and his wife) to be accused of witchcraft. Faced with the decision to either confess or hang for his “crimes”, Proctor explains to his wife that he feels that dying for moral principle would be nothing but pretence for him, that a sinner has no right to die as would a saint: “I am no good man”. Is John Proctor a good man? What is a good man if not one that is prepared to die for a just cause? Or do his sins rule out this final act of virtue?

The love affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams lies at the heart of the witch-hunt hysteria, which, when all is said and done, amounts to a heartbroken girl’s vengeance. Proctor’s behaviour regarding Miss Williams is indeed indisputably dishonourable. He engages in a relationship with his seventeen-year-old house maid and by doing so not only goes against every ethical and religious law of the time, but also betrays his wife and children. Upon his wife’s discovery of the affair, he promptly abandons Abigail, putting her out onto the highroad. According to the quote (stated by Abigail): “John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew what...
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