The Crucible


John Proctor

John Proctor is the central protagonist in The Crucible. It wasn’t until Miller got a handle on his character that he felt he was able to move forward and turn the Salem witch trials into compelling drama. Guilt and shame were central themes in much of Miller’s work, and Proctor’s struggle with both is crucial to this play, as well. His guilt and shame over his affair with Abigail haunts his marriage with Elizabeth, and in a sense paralyzes him. In the critical early stages of the witch-hunt, he is hesitant to take a strong stand because he knows that doing so will likely expose him as an adulterer, a grievous and nearly unforgivable offense in Puritan society. His guilt and shame also undermine his sense of his essential goodness as a man, and this perception of himself as a fraud further blocks him from taking action. In Miller’s view, this is the essential tragedy of the play: A flawed but good and decent man fails to take assertive action when he could, putting him and his wife in a precarious and vulnerable position when anti-witch hysteria overtakes the town. It is not until the very end of the play—when he bends but doesn’t break under the pressure of his imminent hanging, refusing to save himself by betraying his friends—that he regains his sense of himself as a good man.

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Essays About The Crucible