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Arthur Dimmesdale and John Proctor

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Guilt is something that weighs heavily on the human soul. It incorporates itself in our dreams, our thoughts, and our actions. Everywhere we turn, it stares us blankly in the face. While it is unbearable to suffer, guilt is an emotion that reaffirms our humanity. Repentance of a particular guilt, being spiritual, physical or both, is evidence that we are beyond the baseness of our animal tendencies. This fact has not gone unnoticed to the many great figures of literature. They have explored the sentiments of guilt and repentance by exploiting the conscience of flawed characters. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne presented to the world Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a man suffering in a past sin. Likewise, in his play The Crucible, the great modern playwright, Arthur Miller, penned the character of John Proctor to allegorize the dangers of moral passivity. Their guilt and repentance were the primary causes of their "undoing". Dimmesdale and Proctor were both martyrs to their sin. More specifically, they were both martyrs to the sin of adultery. Being a man of the cloth, this was especially painful for Dimmesdale. How could "a ruined soul like [his] effect toward the redemption of other souls?" ...read more.


As the Salem Witch Trials reached a crescendo and the machinery of death had gained irrevocable momentum, Proctor made the decision that his wife should not be martyred for his indiscretion. The guilt of his sin with Abigail led him to become a willing martyr in place of his wife. Moreover, he could not see the people close to him suffer as a result of his wrong. When offered his wife's life in return for dropping his land grabbing charge against Putnam, Proctor replied with a solemn, "I think I cannot" (Miller 92). Even when faced with a resolution to his quest to bring reprieve to his wife, the guilt of his sin caused him to fight on. He did eventually succumb to his will to live by confessing, yet maintained the righteousness of his cause by refusing to sign off on the confession. Instead he signed his own death warrant and opined on his fate, "...for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs ...show a stony heart and sink them with it"(Miller 144). ...read more.


Praised be his name! His will be done!" (Hawthorne 239) In contrast, John Proctor had fate thrust upon him. He never expected his affair with Abigail would help cause the enormous suffering of the Salem Witch Trials. The sin was in the past and it did not weigh as heavily on his soul as it did with Dimmesdale. When Abigail beseeched him to return to her, he replied with a simple, "Abby, you'll put it out of mind. I'll not be coming for you more"(Miller 22). All he wanted to do was get on with his farming and continue to live happily with his wife. It was only when the witch hunt directly affected him did he realize the gravity of his mistake. This was completely different to Dimmesdale's seven long years of suffering. However, unlike Dimmesdale, when faced with the decision to confess and live or stand by his convictions and die, Proctor's love for life interfered. He had so much to live for including his children and his livelihood. Only his honor steered him back to the importance of his cause. Arthur Dimmesdale and John Proctor were both martyrs for personal and societal guilt. They paid earthly penances and the final penance of death. Their "undoing" was a necessity for a society at the brink. Without their sacrifice, the society they lived in would have collapsed under its own weight. ...read more.

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