John Proctor Tragic Hero Analysis; The Parameters Of The Tragic Hero

Categories: John Proctor

The renowned philosopher Aristotle formally outlined the parameters of the tragic hero in his work “On Poetics”. Aristotle primarily based his tragic hero model on oedipus, a king from Greek mythology. He outlined the  John Proctor tragic hero as a person of noble birth who encompasses a fatal flaw, or hamartia, that results in his downfall and describes his tragic nature. The character is taken into account a hero once they rise from their fall and experience an enlightenment and redemption referred to as an anagnorisis.

In the Crucible, the protagonist, John Proctor, is considered a tragic hero. Proctor is a very secular man in Puritan Salem, yet is still highly respected among the people. His obsession with maintaining his reputable name is one of the manifestations of his fatal flaw, his hubris. John Proctor’s hubris is responsible for both his tragic downfall and his redemption. That detracts from Miller’s characterization of him as the tragic hero because he fails to experience an anagnorisis.

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Arthur Miller’s renowned play The Crucible, that takes place throughout the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, is arguably the most forceful allegory of senator Joseph McCarthy’s red scare within the Fifties. The story begins with a group of young girls as they escape to the woods to perform a pagan ritual illicit by their strict, Puritanical, and non secular society. To avoid blame, they claimed to have seen the Devil, and that other members of society serve Him by active witchcraft. The town is frightened of their claims and not until several defendant witches selected to hang instead of confess did the hysteria end.

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Although John’s fate was rather unjust and unfortunate to envision, he still made the right decision to sacrifice himself. Firstly, this ensured a positive future with no lack of goodness for his children, family, and descendants. Secondly, in continuation to the first reason, if John had falsely confessed, the future of himself and his family would have drastically changed negatively. Finally, one should travel to several lengths and measures to defend their pride and honor as John did.

Proctor was a man who had devoted himself to God, however had the priorities of his family’s well being set on top of being a devout church member. several had questioned him for this and his absence to church over and over, and believed he failed to care for God as powerfully as he portrayed himself to. However, this wasn't the case. John Proctor knew there had been tasks to be completed to keep his family alive and well, and knew he may pray to God and show his love for God while not sacrificing that well being. a part of his reasoning to not attend church was because he believed Parris wished nothing but a pretty church and did not speak of God as a sermoniser should. By the end Proctor can be seen as a respectable man or a hero. He has confessed to sexual activity, knowing he’ll head to jail for this. “I have confessed myself! … God sees my name, God knows my how black my sins are” (Act 4), he has confessed to his unholy sin. John Proctor admitted to the one thing several different Puritans wouldn’t. He does it so as to avoid wasting the lives of those accused but specifically his wife. He placed his name and life on the line to save Elizabeth and also the others. Additionally, John Proctor felt determined to save his wife as he tells of the time Abigail confessed to him it had nothing to do with witchcraft. Showing to the reverend that there have been liars amongst him. Proctor risks it all and tells of his sin, adultery, within the end making him the hero. He put his life on the line to prove that the accused and his wife were innocent and good people. He did everything he could to save those people. By the end Proctor’s truth had caused tension and doubt to the little town of Salem.

Proctor’s affair exemplifies his egotistical tendency to put himself above the rules he expects others to follow, which prompts him to make decisions that lead to his fall. The catalyst of his downfall, Proctor claims to be remorseful about his affair with his former house servant Abigail Williams. However, his attitude still indicates that he feels superior to the law. once Elizabeth queries John regarding talking to Abigail in a very room alone, John says, “I should have roared you down when you first told me your suspicion. but I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed!” (Act 1). To Proctor, confession may be a sign of weakness and inferiority, which is one reason for his refusal to conform to the faith, in addition as to the rituals of consensus later within the play. he's unable to confess and settle for the consequences of his affair. He sees himself as on top of the vows of a marriage; even when the affair happens, he thinks it's okay to talk privately with Abigail once he is aware of how it strains the already broken trust between him and his spouse. He holds Elizabeth accountable for fidelity that he himself cannot deliver, which is confirmed once he forgets adultery in the Ten Commandments and tells Hale, “Between the two of us we do know them all” (Act 2). Proctor’s crisis is exacerbated once Elizabeth is targeted by Abigail in court. Proctor is aware of based on his private conversation with Abigail that the witchery accusations are fraud, and that testifying against her might save his spouse and other townsfolk from public hangings. However, he additionally knows that this may involve public confession of the affair, which might deeply tarnish his name. He thinks himself on top of the law once he refuses to inform the court what he is aware of, and thinks that his name is superior to the lives that are lost day after day on the gibbet. only when individuals highly regarded within the town like Rebecca Nurse are implicated, does Proctor speak up, because Proctor considers them adequate to himself. However, once Elizabeth is called in to confirm that she fired Abigail for her affair with John, Elizabeth, a faultlessly honest character, lies because she is aware of how much Proctor values his reputable name in Salem. John thinks he's superior, and therefore is able to confess whenever it's convenient for him and reap the advantages. however at this point in the tyranny of consensus, it's too late for him to turn it around by his testimony. he's thrown into the Salem jail to confess or hang in time. This signifies the start of his downfall. Proctor’s choices are driven by his insincere and superior attitude, that leads him to the self-seeking choices that catalyze his fall.

Although one might disagree that Proctor’s decision is a wrong one, it is not entirely wrong and rather understandable. Proctor might not be a true hero in Miller’s play as a result of never recognizing his egotistical issues and self-superiority as fatal flaws that result in his fate within the Witch Trials. Proctor is doomed by the same means he's ransomed. His superiority may be a product of his hubris, that causes him to have his affair with Abigail. At the start he refuses to testify, and then tears up his confession after signing it. He is therefore rooted in the preservation of his name in Salem that after his downfall, he cannot experience true anagnorisis, however deceives himself by disguising his self serving resistance as a shift in awareness and morality. whereas no character will comply perfectly to philosophical parameters, the anagnorisis is simply too vital for the tragic hero to stand without it. It's the distinction between a character who is heroic, and a character who is just erroneous and meets a tough end. Society likes to examine a tragic hero, because though the trajectory by which the tragic hero will fall scares us, there's encouragement to be drawn once a character so deeply imperfect is in a position to find redemption. Even today, the american individuals look to tragic hero figures within the media, because by experiencing somebody else’s hamartia and subsequent downfall, we don't become doomed within the same manner.

At the end of the play during Act 4, John does decide to falsely confess to the actions he was accused of to avoid being hanged. However, his remaining shreds of integrity refused to permit him to continue with the confession by signing his name on a paper that would primarily set his confession in stone. He chose to have an end to his life and to stay faithful himself and wife over a continued lifetime of a lie, as he couldn't feel as if he was a righteous man. He had hoped that God would judge him accordingly, and decided that was of highest importance. The matter of good or bad is highly supported on opinion, and Proctor fell victim to the circumstances of the bulk of opinions in his village being against his favor. They chose to not see the good in his decision to work for his family, and instead see the bad in his absence at church. 

The village failed to see the good intentions in his efforts to shed light on the fact of witchcraft in court, however, chose to believe he had a compact with the Devil. This doesn't make John Proctor a foul man, nor a person of the Devil. It makes him a man who had been unfortunate enough to have more individuals believe he was, than those that believed he wasn't. 

Works cited

  1. Aristotle. (1991). Poetics. In S. H. Butcher (Trans.), The Poetics of Aristotle (pp. 43-87). Dover Publications.
  2. Bodden, V. (2017). The Crucible: Arthur Miller. Greenhaven Publishing.
  3. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Infobase Publishing.
  4. Breslin, J. F. (2002). Arthur Miller's The Crucible: A Literary Analysis. Twayne Publishers.
  5. Ditsky, J. (1987). John Proctor as Tragic Hero of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 41(2), 125-143.
  6. Dunn, J. (1992). The Crisis of Naming in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. American Drama, 1(1), 1-17.
  7. Elton, W. R. (2000). The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller. University of Michigan Press.
  8. Enoch, J. (1994). The Prophetic Drama of Arthur Miller. Indiana University Press.
  9. Martin, R. A. (2014). The Crucible: A Reader's Guide to the Arthur Miller Play. Humanities-Ebooks.
  10. Miller, A. (1996). Why I Wrote The Crucible. The New Yorker, October 21.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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John Proctor Tragic Hero Analysis; The Parameters Of The Tragic Hero. (2024, Feb 09). Retrieved from

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