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John Proctor - A Tragic Hero To what extent is John Proctor the most important character in 'The Crucible'? To what extent do we sympathise with his plight

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Introduction

Alfie Stroud 11W John Proctor A Tragic Hero To what extent is John Proctor the most important character in 'The Crucible'? To what extent do we sympathise with his plight? 'The Crucible' revolves around the concept of the witch-hunt. The topic and those similar to it are often repeated in the world around us even today. In America's 'war on terrorism' for example, following the New York and Washington terrorist attacks, its hunt for a guilty party mirrored that in the McCarthy communism trials of the 1950s, and Salem's witchcraft trials of 1692, around which the play is set. As the USA requested that all nations make clear where their loyalties lie - with good or with evil - a frenzy of name-calling and finger pointing erupted, similar to that in 'The Crucible'. In 1950s America, a body known as the House Un-American Activities Committee under the chairmanship of Senator Joseph McCarthy had the task of investigating those that threatened the safety of the state. As at the time America was embroiled in the Cold War with the USSR, communism was a major preoccupation of the committee. Arthur Miller, the play's author, was himself called before the committee on a charge of holding communist sympathies. Miller recognised similarities between McCarthy's trials and those of Salem in 1692, beginning to formulate ideas for 'The Crucible'. Many critics recognise Proctor as an embodiment of Miller himself. Brought before a body of justice searching for a scapegoat for the difficulties of the time, Proctor's situation and that of Miller are quite similar. If 'The Crucible' was indeed an expression of Miller's beliefs and feelings about McCarthyism, then it is safe to see Proctor as a representation of Miller. ...read more.

Middle

He refuses to accept others' truths, preferring to make up his own mind, and hence does not collapse into the panic that others are all too ready to succumb to. For example in act two, while Mary happily and readily believes the rumours of Goody Osburn's association with witchcraft, Proctor calls for "the proof, the proof" - he will not accept rumours, but needs evidence. This provides a telling insight into Proctor's attitude to justice; he will not simply accept allegations, suggesting him to be a very rational man. The audience is naturally drawn to his calm, cheerful and positive attitude. Equally effective is Proctor's part in the plot of the play. Because Proctor is the central character in the play, and because the audience sees its events through his eyes, we are required to side with him. We know Proctor to be "powerful of body, even-tempered ... respected" and these are characteristics we as an audience look up to, leading us to greatly respect Proctor. This is bound to result in the audience siding with him over other characters. In many cases these characters are portrayed as 'bad' from the start. In the case of Parris he is described as having "cut a villainous path" and we are told that "there is very little good to be said for him". Proctor on the other hand is clearly portrayed as a character worthy of our admiration. His constant opposition to and disagreement with characters such as Parris throughout the play (their argument in act one, pages 24 and 25, for example) makes proctor out to be the 'good-guy' of the piece. ...read more.

Conclusion

He is a man of true compassion and love. But most revealing of his good nature is Proctor's ultimate choice. When it comes down to it, he cannot lie. As he tries to give the confession, he has great trouble in physically saying it. His jaws lock, we are told, as if God himself were intervening to stop a good Christian from sullying his name. His confession is short, pained and brief. He cannot bear to elaborate, simply uttering "I did ... He did" in answer to the charges against him. It is too much for this good man. He cannot darken his soul to save his life. He would rather die a good and honest Christian, than live a lie and stoop so low as those who interrogate and imprison him. It is here that he proves himself truly heroic, as he rises above the hypocrisy of Salem and dies a martyr to the cause of good and truth, and this he recognises himself - "I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor." Clearly then, John Proctor is absolutely the central character of 'The Crucible'. He is purposely detached from Salem society and moulded into the key to a play with a deeper underlying meaning. In many ways he represents Miller himself, and shares a viewpoint with the modern audience, providing a window into a very different world. In order to do this it is vital that the audience sympathises entirely with his plight. His respectable and likeable character draws the audience to him, before Miller pits both him and us against the misguided witch-hunters - Miller's own House Un-American Activities Committee. We side and sympathise with Proctor, just as Miller requires us to side and sympathise with him, before a greater evil. 6 1 ...read more.

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