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Do you consider John Proctor to be a modern tragic hero?

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Introduction

"I have given you my soul, leave me my name" Do you consider John Proctor to be a modern tragic hero? Aristotle defines a tragedy as a "form of drama defined by seriousness and dignity and involving a great person who experiences a reversal of fortune". This 'great' person is normally held in high regard and possesses a tragic or fatal flaw which contributes to the reversal of fortune. The character must pass through suffering and trials in which they are brought to their limit and, eventually, the character realises their mistake or flaw, and develops as a result of this. Unfortunately, the development invariably comes too late, and the tragedy ends in the character's death. According to Aristotle, a tragedy must induce fear and pity in the audience. Watching a person held in high regard fall leaves the audience wondering if a single mistake could really lead to such a drastic turn of events. The Crucible was written at a time when Miller was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. During the 1940s and early 1950s, the fear of communist sympathisers became so great that under Senator Joseph McCarthy, the committee became paranoid in its search for possible communists. As this was happening, Miller began seeing parallels between the actions of the committee and the witchcraft trials in Salem two hundred years ago: "What was manifestly parallel was the guilt, two centuries apart, of holding illicit, suppressed feelings of alienation and hostility toward standard, daylight society". ...read more.

Middle

Only in the absence of Elizabeth does John discover purpose and tenacity to do what he has to. He is not yet at the point where he can admit his affair openly to stop Abigail, but he begins to see the extent of the hysteria through Mary Warren and resolves to stop it with the aid of Mary Warren, "All our old pretence is ripped away-make your peace with it!" He must now contend with Mary's weak nature, and it is ironic that at the moment of gaining new strength, he must help Mary overcome her weaknesses and fears. Proctor is still scared for his reputation, but the arrest of Elizabeth is the catalyst of his future development. This now committed Proctor enters the courts to challenge Abigail, but when Mary Warren fails him he realises that the only chance to stop Abigail is to expose his sin. He is at a point where he has nothing else to topple her. With Parris accusing him of crimes against the court and his own servant turning on him, Proctor shouts his sin for all to hear, "I have known her!" This is a remarkable change from the Proctor in beginning of the play who feared humiliation above all else. Throughout the play, Proctor is riddled with self doubt and criticism. Now, in front of some of the most important men in Salem, he stands desperate and humble, revealing his darkest secrets. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is not watching someone so great in position fall that induces fear, but the fact that he is just an ordinary man. While Proctor is well regarded, he is still just a farmer and someone the audience can understand. Proctor's accessibility differentiates him from the classical view of tragic heroes. He is a hero for the more liberal and less deferential 20th Century audience and a character who is easier to relate to than a king. After all, is it right that tragedy can only belong to the great? Tragedy, to modern audiences may occur in the everyday. "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" may touch the lives of the ordinary, and while Proctor does resemble a 'classic tragic hero,' he simultaneously represents something more modern than Aristotle's definition. Miller draws a disturbing parallel between events that seem ridiculous to modern views and recent history. The witch trials of the past, the hysteria, the paranoia and the innocence destroyed may be seen just as vividly within the McCarthy trials to detect communist subversion. Aristotle's theory of tragedy is repeatedly being updated by writers. A man's worth is not measured by the eminence he holds. The loss is not only felt when we see a position to lose, we do not only pity the great who fall. Modern audiences admire integrity and personal sacrifice, so modern tragic heroes stand alone, unaided, and when the time comes, fall, not through personal flaws, but through the choice of doing what is hardest, but right. ?? ?? ?? ?? Chih-Wei Liu ...read more.

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