Wednesday, March 21, 2012

john proctor as a tragic character

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A tragedy can be defined as “as story in which a heroic character either dies or comes to some other unhappy end (Page 10).” The “heroic character,” also called the tragic hero, is portrayed as a character with seemingly immortal values and strengths; a role model who is often times exalted because of his actions. The tragic character is nearly perfect, except for one major flaw that turns out to be his downfall. A “tragic flaw,” according to Miller, was “the inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity...(http//www.litstudies.com/E5/tragichero.htm)” Throughout the journey of a piece of literary tragedy, the tragic hero has characteristically gained insight, though the ending is still a melancholy one.


A man of stature, respect, wisdom and pride, John Proctor was a well-established citizen in the town of Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials of the late 1600s. He was a dignified member of society and someone often looked to during troublesome times and hardships of this Puritan village. Though he was viewed as honest and generous by his peers, John held a secret that was both causing deep inner turmoil and the destruction of his marriage to his wife Elizabeth. The Puritan religion gave its followers no way to relinquish a guilty conscience or be cleansed of their sins by forgiveness (page 88), and Proctor had committed the sin of adultery with the Reverend Parris’ niece, Abigail Williams. Though he did admit his sin to his wife and received her forgiveness, he was constantly reminded of his transgression because of his own guilt. Still, when he told the men of the town of his wrongdoing, he was not believed and yet exalted.


However perfect John Proctor may appear, all tragic heroes have the infamous tragic flaw. Proctor’s was shown with his dignity, or pride. When given the opportunity to save himself the morning of his hanging, he refused to sign his confession statement. Proctor does not allow himself to be influenced by the pressure of Reverend Hale and the members of the court; rather, he stays true to his principles and dies the death of a witch for being honest (pages 885-887). His goodness was saved because he rejected the idea of destroying his good name in Salem. In choosing to die, he chose not to live the rest of his life in shame knowing Godly people were condemned because of his sought after profession of practicing witchcraft. At the end of Act IV, John Proctor cries to Deputy Governor Danforth, “How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! (Page 886)” Therefore, his flaw, to be prideful in saving his “good” name, proves to be a fatal flaw.


The imperfection of this outwardly “perfect” man is seen universally and is part of every generation. One such occurrence is easily recognized during the McCarthy Trials of the 150s. Those who were “blacklisted,” or accused of treason for communism in the United States were put on trial. They faced the reality of losing their good names by staying silent, or compromising their morals by giving other names to a jury. Many chose pride over compromise, therefore contributing to their own downfalls, but were able to keep their heads up and their consciences clear.


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The tragic hero of The Crucible is clearly defined by Arthur Miller in the character of John Proctor. A man adored and perhaps remotely worshipped in the eyes of all others gained knowledge of life, pride and faith, while at the same time lost his life. In the face of his own death, John Proctor could hold his head up high as he realized that there was good in him, despite the mistakes he had made. “The true tragedy of humankind is not our flaws, but the failure to prevent them from causing our final demise.” (http//www.litstudies.com/E5/tragichero.htm) John Proctor was, and is, one of the greatest examples of the tragic hero of our time.





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