A Character Analysis of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s Play The Crucible

Last Updated: 19 Apr 2023
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In the 1950's, in America, there was an epidemic sweeping the nation. This epidemic was what would become known as McCarthyism. McCarthyism was a widespread social and cultural phenomenon that was characterized by an increased fear of communists and their influence. It was all started by Senator Joseph McCarthy who in a now infamous speech proclaimed to have a list of communists in high ranking positions. This caused mass hysteria and thousands of people were accused and convicted despite a lack or total absence of evidence.

In the play The Crucible Arthur Miller uses the Salem Witch Trials to parallel the time period of McCarthyism. One way he does this is through the character John Proctor. In real life John was a sixty year old tavern keeper(Burns, Margo). In the play though he is portrayed as being about 45 and it is said he had an affair with Abigail even though at the time she was about eleven. Miller changed these things in order to drive the plot and make it more feasible. In The Crucible Arthur Miller uses John Proctor to parallel himself in history and portray himself as a tragic hero in order to gain sympathy and protest McCarthyism.

Arthur Miller and John Proctor share many character traits and go through similar situations. During the McCarthy trials Miller was forced to appear before the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee, which is clearly a parallel to the Salem Court, and was accused of being a communist just as Proctor had been accused of being a witch. When the Committee asked Miller to name people who were communists he refused saying "I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him."(BBC News). This encounter is strikingly similar to when Proctor is asked to confess and he does but then refuses and says "I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it."(Miller, Arthur).

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In both situations they refuse to name names for their own benefit and because of it they suffer the consequences. In Miller's case he was blacklisted and given a sentence in jail while Proctor was hung. Also in the story Proctor is shown to be flawed when it is revealed he had an affair with Abby. Miller suffers from the same flaws because he had an affair with Marilyn Monroe when he was married. On top of this they both deeply regretted their decisions to have these affairs. In the play John says "She thinks to dance with me on my wife's grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat" (Miller 49). When Miller was filming The Misfits, which starred Marilyn Monroe, he said it was one of the lowest points of his life(Ratcliffe, Michael).

Although Proctor and Miller have striking similarities they have their differences also. One of the most obvious differences was the punishment for their actions. While Proctor was hung Miller was given a jail sentence and was blacklisted. Its ironic because John Proctor died to save his good name while Miller's punishment was for his name to be smirched. Also when Miller was being tried by the HUAC he didn't confess and then recant as Proctor did. He simply admitted he had dabbled in the communist party and faced the consequences.

Ultimately Miller uses Proctor to parallel himself in order to portray himself as a tragic hero in order to gain sympathy for himself and put an end to the madness that was McCarthyism. In the story Proctor is portrayed as a flawed protagonist who commits lechery but in order to redeem himself he speaks the truth, refusing to lie and accuse his friends. This makes him a tragic hero because he is virtuous, basing his actions on morality, and this leads to his downfall(Donovan, Susan).

Proctor's decision reflects his want to end the hysteria of the trials. Arthur Miller most likely saw himself in the same way. He refused to name his friends and colleagues because he thought it was morally right and saw that his cause, which was stopping McCarthyism, was more important than himself. He parallels himself with Proctor because he wants sympathy for his actions so that he can glorify them and set an example for all people who might find themselves in the same situation.

The significance of this is it reflects Miller's purpose in the play. He wants to show the effects of fear and hysteria on society and the atrocities that can happen. He shows this in the death of John Proctor. When he dies we see that fear can cause good people to die and it is necessary to evaluate these situations with reason and a rational mind. If a completely innocent person who is guided by morality is punished then situations like this should be avoided at all costs. This is how he protests McCarthyism. He makes clear connections and parallels between the the two time periods in order to demonstrate what mass hysteria and fear can cause and that no one is immune from it.

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A Character Analysis of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s Play The Crucible. (2023, Apr 19). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-character-analysis-of-john-proctor-in-arthur-millers-play-the-crucible/

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