John Proctor is a flawed man; he committed an adulterous affair, with a young girl, Abigail Williams, whilst she was working in his home, and while his wife was pregnant with his child. But, despite this, we still sympathise with John Proctor. Throughout the play, we come to see that Proctor is truly determined to atone for his sins, and feels desperately guilty. Proctor has many admirable qualities: he is honest, reliable, loyal, supportive, and he always puts his family first.
But, he also has many weaknesses, and it is these weaknesses that eventually mark his death. He is easily angered, and head strong, he doesn’t think of the consequences and he is single-minded. He flouts Puritan expectations by working on Sundays, and when Hale asks him what the ten commandments are, he can’t recite them and we also discover his third child has not been baptised, due to his on running feud with the village reverend, Rev. Samuel Parris. However, the biggest flaw he possesses is his incapability to resist temptation. This, is the subtle undertone of the whole play, and is, along with his pride and honesty, is the reason why he is hanged.
The village of Salem is small and puritanical society. Pleasure and leisure are seen as wrong and unnecessary, as well as working on a Sunday. They have very strict religious beliefs, and anyone seen to be flouting the expectations of the religion and of the village was severely dealt with. Salem was governed by a corrupt authority who only thought of themselves. Which ties into what Miller wrote ‘The Crucible’ for, an historic allegory of the McCarthy witch hunts against communism in America.
From reading Miller’s stage directions, we are given the impression of John Proctor as a powerful, strong minded man, ‘powerful of body, not easily led’. This leads us to think Proctor is a strong, steady character, ‘but as we shall see, the steady manner he displays does not spring from an untroubled soul’, this suggests Proctor is a troubled man, ‘but no hint of this has appeared on the surface.’ Before we even meet Proctor we aware of his insecurities. Miller probably did this so we don’t just see him as strong, powerful, hard face man but look at him with an element of sympathy. It is important to Miller that we sympathise with Proctor, as he plays the innocent victim, corrupted by Abigail, who represents capitalism. He needs the audience to take his side and appreciate his view of how terrible capitalism and McCarthyism is.
When Proctor arrives, he immediately is disbelieving of the witchcraft rumours. The other characters respect and admire him, Putnam hates him, Abigail is in love with him and the other girls fear him, but at the same time are in awe of him. Despite Proctor’s many flaws he draws admiration from everyone else in the village, even those who don’t like him, such as Putnam and Parris. Proctor and Putnam don’t get along because Proctor believes Putnam is trying to wrongfully claim his and other peoples land. Proctor says to Putnam,’ This society will not be a bag to swing around your head’.
This shows although Proctor dislikes Putnam he does so for the right reasons, he believes Putnam is taking from the society of Salem and Proctor is protecting the interests of the other villagers, and he is also showing his honest side. On the other hand, Proctor challenges and breaks the rules by working on Sundays, and this is offensive to the other villagers, especially the more religious of the community. Proctor also dislikes Reverend Parris and makes his feelings clear; ‘I see no light of god in that man.’ Again, Proctor may be doing the wrong thing by not attending church and criticising the minister, but he has strong beliefs and he stands by them, and he refuses to believe what he can’t see; first, that Parris is a good, holy man, and later in the play, that people in the community are practising witchcraft. Nevertheless, all of his intentions are good, and with all of his actions, he is trying to do the right thing by everyone.
Proctor’s worst sin was his adulterous affair with 17 year old Abigail Williams. Not only did he awaken her sexuality, he exposed her to the pretence and hypocrisy in Salem. At the same time he betrayed his wife, Although he did confess, he will never be able to forgive himself, and this tears him apart. Strong well respected characters such as the Nurse’s and Corey’s have a great deal of respect and admiration for Proctor, signifying that he must be a good man to have their respect, but Proctor no longer has any self respect. Proctor is one of the only adults in Salem not being caught up the lies and deceit of the girls.
This is partly because of his level-headed nature, but also because of his cynicism towards Abigail, as he knows her too well to believe what she is saying. He stays strong and does his utmost to dispel the rumours. Proctor’s affair with Abigail leaves her yearning for him, ‘I look for the John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart.’ She is a young girl who has lost her first love and will go to any lengths to get him back. John Proctor is an individual living in a conformist society, which is inevitably going to cause problems, especially in a strict theocracy, like Salem. This is because he doesn’t like to be told what to do and is not afraid to speak his mind, even if there are consequences for him.