Arthur Miller’s presentation of John Proctor’s ‘moral journey’. It is mentioned in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:18), “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” It was on the authority of this one sentence in the Bible that 19 witches were hanged in Salem in 1692. To Arthur Miller, the McCarthy Hearings bore an alarming resemblance to the trials in Salem in 1692. The Crucible was his way of trying to keep history from repeating itself.
McCarthy claimed America was in great danger from a Communist conspiracy to take over the world, and the people of Salem had similar views on Witchcraft. No one missed the parallels between 1692 Salem and 1953 America. But, many said, “Witches never did exist, then or now. Communists are real.” Some critics complained that the play was too cold and intellectual. Others said it wasn’t a play at all, but some kind of outburst, a political speech. Moral- of or relating to character and human behaviour, particularly as regards to right and wrong. Journey- a travelling or going from one place to another.
Everybody, including John Proctor, has morals. They are an essential distinction of character. Everybody’s morals will differ, as it is your individual opinion of right and wrong. As a child you are taught right and wrong by your parents and at this moment you embark on your moral journey. Throughout life certain events will change the way you think; your opinion on certain matters, and inevitably, your morals. This evolution of character is not however a strictly long-term process that takes years of unforgettable proceedings and experiences to alter. Single events and circumstances can see your morals change instantaneously and it is consequently interesting to see how this applies to John Proctor and to scrutinise on how his morals change and develop in the midst of the bizarre course of events.
Arthur Miller creates a very theocratic and puritan society when portraying Salem. The society and community of Salem orientates entirely around the church. The community has very strict religious views and ethics, and does not believe in any other way or possible system. The people of Salem are restrained by religious laws imposed by strict traditionalistic leaders who, through the church have been given power and control over the society and enforce it through hellfire teachings and the prevailing threat that God is watching them. No one dares to say an ungodly word against the church or speak their own mind and this creates a very tense and uneasy ambience where everybody fears for themselves to be corrupted in their own mind and commit and incriminating thought, though they know only to well that the realms of their mind are just about the only place of safe freedom of opinion.
Though the majority of the people of Salem are content and tolerant with their situation a silent minority are not. These people however, would never stand up and declare their true beliefs and intent for fear of being hung. It appears that something has to give in this unsustainable situation and a single spark or event could set of a devastating mï¿½lï¿½e of carnage and mayhem. John Proctor is the main character in the play of The Crucible. At the outset of the play, he does not appear to be a central character, but as the story develops, one can see that the importance of his existence and the reason behind his presence are soon made known. John Proctor is a farmer in his middle thirties. He is not a man of any real authority or weight but Proctor need not be and is none the less respected and even feared in Salem.
Even-tempered and not easily led he has a sharp and biting way with hypocrites. He cannot refuse support to partisans without drawing their deepest resentment. In Proctor’s presence a fool felt his foolishness instantly and Proctor was always marked for calumny therefore. However, the steady manner he displays is an inimitable front to hide his troubled soul. Proctor is a sinner, not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own vision of decent conduct. He is god at containing and suppressing this and the man carries a distinct quiet confidence and an unexpressed hidden force.
Deep inside his own mind however he is afraid, afraid of dying without confessing his sins and that his wife will not forgive him for his sins. Proctor is confused and a closer look shows that what he really desires is not his wife’s forgiveness but his own acceptance and consequential self-forgiveness of the sins that he is only too aware of. Proctor is a man of strong opinion; he has many morals and views, and is not afraid to speak out against a cause he disagrees with. One such cause is the church and the authority of the reverend Paris, Proctor is quite blunt in expressing his disapproval and at one-point states, while in front of Paris, “I like not the smell of this authority”.
For a man like Proctor the situation in this society is far from idyllic. His morals are undistinguished, and he is aware of the mental confusion and repression being created. Miller uses a number of devices within his play-script to present the character of John Proctor. Using Proctor himself Miller portrays his character by using Proctor’s speech, fears and how he behaves. Other characters in the play also help to define the farmer’s character, by their speech, thoughts and behaviour which all change as the play progresses.
Miller deliberately puts Proctor in scenes and situations that will cause discomfort and uneasiness for the farmer, like the courtroom scenes in act three where Elizabeth lies. It is Proctor’s conversations with Abigail however that heightens Proctor’s sense of embarrassment. In a society as restrained and suppressed as Salem it is surprising to note the free speech of Abigail. She is often blunt and persuasive to people of authority and it is a wonder that they never pick up on her allusion.
It is this allusion that infuriates Proctor as only he can see through it and he is frustrated and discouraged by the power she resultantly gains. Juxtaposed with Elizabeth’s negative perception of Proctor’s sins it is visibly demonstrated that Miller is deliberately making things hard for Proctor. It seems that Miller is ‘out to get’ Proctor just as much as Parris is and throughout the whole play Miller is constantly showing and presenting scenes and situations in a thorny complexion for Proctor that maximises every opportunity to emphasise his problems with temptation and the moral dilemma that this creates for the, as Miller would present, ‘fallen’ man.