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John Proctor: Tragic Hero or Pompous Malefactor?

Topics: Tragedy, Poetics, Tragic hero, Salem witch trials / Pages: 2 (676 words) / Published: Apr 23rd, 2015
John Proctor: Tragic Hero or Pompous Malefactor?

According to Aristotle, a classic tragic hero must meet the following six criteria: nobility (of noble birth) or (wisdom by virtue of birth), hamartia (a flaw or error of judgment), peripeteia (a reversal of fortune, brought on by the hero’s hamartia), anagnorisis (the discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero’s own actions), the audience must feel dramatic irony for the character, and the character’s fate must be greater than deserved.
The first aspect of Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero, nobility, is one where the hero is in a high social or political standing. John Proctor, however, is a farmer living outside of town with very little contact with those living in Salem Village. While the aspects of Proctor’s life negate Artistotle’s for requirement to be a “tragic hero”, Miller himself wrote an article entitles “Tragedy and the Common Man” which states, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were… It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time-the heart and spirit of the average man.” Miller does make a compelling argument since time have changed and the nobles are not as highly respected as they once were.
In next aspect, hamartia, Proctor makes a single, grave overwhelming error in judgment by having an affair with Abigail Williams. As the adult Proctor should have known better and been the one to put an end to their relationship before it even began.
Peripeteia, a reversal of fortune brought about because of the hero’s hamartia, is shown by John’s inability to control his desire and resist temptation, his life is being turned upside down by the jealousy and need for revenge of Abigail, when she first begins to accuse people in the village of witchery, and then, accusing John’s wife, which eventually led to his own demise.
Anagnorisis, the discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero’s actions, is definitely confirmed through the fact that John was, again, the adult in the situation with the affair and with Abigail. Because of this, it is obvious that John brought his bad fortune on himself.
The audience must feel dramatic irony for the character; I personally felt that John’s decisions and behaviors would lead, ironically, to his own misfortune. I also feel like John was “unconscious” of it, aka, he expected to get away with it. Which, in the end, it makes me happy that something happened, even though it was drastic.
Finally, the character’s fate must be greater than deserved. John, in the end, was hanged for a “simple” (even though it really wasn’t) act that he had not committed in the beginning.
While everything lines up to point to why Proctor is a “tragic hero”, I struggle to see it. When he was faced with the decision- sign a false confession and save his own life to care for his family or allow himself to be executed, his decision to choose self-sacrifice allows him to both recover the sense of goodness that he lost when he committed with adultery with Abigail and also to rise above the tragedy of politics. However, by sacrificing himself, he left behind his family and everything he had worked toward. John had always seemed pretentious and extremely self-righteous to me, and I believe that is how he wanted to be known/remembered. The dramatics with signing the paper, but then ripping it? “Let me keep my name!” You still signed the paper and slept with Abigail, John, your name is already tarnished. Nobody in Salem is going to think of him as a “hero” because, for me, its low that John would rather be hanged and leave his family than be embarrassed and have his name hanging on the church door (which he claims to disagree with anyways)

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