John Proctor is a classic tragic hero because he contains the element of hamartia, is able to redeem himself, possesses many noble characteristics, and of course, suffers a tragic death. John Proctor was a man of great nobility and was highly revered to in the Puritan community. Proctor’s fatal flaw was his overweening pride, and that slowly tied a series of unfortunate events which eventually made John Proctor succumb to his death. One part of a true tragic hero is that their death is indeed tragic. And for an even more powerful effect, his death was also ironic. Having an ironic tragic death gives a stronger meaning to the character of John Proctor. Another necessary part of the tragic hero is that he or she redeems themselves once realizing their mistake by committing a noble deed.
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A noble person believes in a system of righteousness and does not just help himself, but rather helps others all around him. John Proctor believed in “nobleman” ethics such as when Hale interviewed him for piety. “I like it not that Mr. Parris should lay his hand upon my baby. I see no light of God in that man. I’ll not conceal it” (Miller 65). John knew what man Reverend Parris really was and refused to have his child be baptized by him. A nobleman knows the difference between what’s ethical and what’s not, so John asserted his self righteousness. When Elizabeth was taken to jail, Proctor infuriatingly questioned Mary Warren. He desperately yelled at her to tell the truth and in that desperation he told her, “My wife will never die for me! I will bring your guts into your mouth but that goodness will not die for me” (Miller 80)! Proctor stood up for his wife and was intent on protecting her at all costs. Specifically speaking, he was shielding her name from being blackened in the community. Now it’d take a true nobleman to stand up to someone with authority in the Puritan world. This kind of heroism better emphasizes his nobility despite not even being born into a noble family.
In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, John Proctor’s main fatal flaw was his overwhelming hubris that made him succumb to his death. As spoken by John Proctor, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worthy the dust on the feet of them that hang leave me my name” (Miller 143). Pride plays an interesting role in the life of John Proctor in The Crucible. During the trials, Proctor refused to testify against Abigail in order to prevent his name from being blackened. He cares much for his name and being a noble character it is easy to understand the struggle he is going through. John daily wages an internal, infernal, war between his conscience and pride. His hubristic mindset is what primarily caused his downfall. And that’s what the essence of a true tragic hero is. A person who rises and falls because of their own ignorant flaw, that’s the true meaning of a tragic hero.
In Act IV Hale urged everybody to confess to their sin in order to save their lives. While talking to Elizabeth he uttered, “It may well be God damns a liar less than he that who throws his life away for pride” (Miller 132). He was trying to get Proctor to confess his lie and save his life. John Proctor is throwing his life away for pride because he does not possess the courage to reveal his secret sin until the very end. God cannot forgive a man who dies for pride, yet he can forgive a liar. Thus, Proctor should confess to witchcraft. However, Proctor cannot do this because (referring to the other quote), it can’t blacken his name. He’ll end up revealing his sin and it will be the end of his name. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins that a Puritan could never commit. At the very end of the play, Proctor is sent to death, and Hale implores, “Woman, plead with him! Woman! It is pride, it is vanity. Be his helper!-what profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? (Miller 145)! Hale yells these words at Elizabeth Proctor, because he was imploring her to convince John to plead guilty. But prideful Proctor chose to die instead with his honor intact. This emphasizes that Proctor has overwhelming pride, and not even with the fear of death will he dare try to let go of it. As spoken by literary expert Brett Bigbie, “This pursuit of a worthy aim can be seen as Proctor’s hamartia”, Proctor indeed had obsessive pride and he sacrificed him self for cleansing his soul. The entire play began and ended with his flaw.
What makes a tragic death really tragic is that the hero’s death is ironic and that he or she is responsible for it. Literary critic and analyst Santosh Bhatia, The ultimate tragic irony is that Proctor is not convicted for the sin he actually commits, and confesses openly in court; he is executed for a sin he never commits, namely witchcraft” (Bhatia 63). This was a magnificent observation of John Proctor. Arthur Miller definitely intended to show this type of tragic irony. According to the classic Aristotelian tragic hero, the man must meet a tragic death. Proctor meets a death not only tragic, but also ironic. Bhatia parallels the idea irony and tragedy with The Crucible. Now being executed for something a person never did can be considered very tragic. John Proctor was executed for “committing” witchcraft; his real sin was his pride and lust for Abigail. A death like this can truly be called tragic. A nobleman from a high ranking society dies in a very awful way. Similar to the story of Othello, by Shakespeare Othello too, met a tragic, yet ironic death. His trust of Iago ultimately began the cutting of his string of fate. Comparable to John Proctor, the start of his prideful ways also ended up in his downfall. Brett Bigbie does a sound job on explaining responsibility of death in The Crucible. “The pride of Proctor ultimately leads him to his own demise” (Bigbie 1). So as part of the tragic hero goes, Proctor was responsible for his own death. And knowing this, he kept it a secret thus tying into the confession and eventually his own death. Proctor’s destiny was written by his own hands.
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Before a tragic hero dies he or she always comes to an epiphany and having realized this, the hero redeems himself by doing a noble deed. The biggest deed done by Proctor was most likely when he admitted to lechery, “”God help me I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore’s vengeance” (Miller 110). This is indeed his noble deed which ultimately began his redemption. By finally giving in to his emotions, he purified his body, mind and soul from the torturous demon inside of him. Redemption of a tragic hero does not come easy. In fact, most of the time, when the hero redeems himself, he or she dies tragically soon after. The same thing happened to John Proctor when he mustered up the courage to surpass his trepidation. The concrete reinforcement of his redemption emphasizes Proctor’s fit as a tragic hero. Another satisfying form of redemption is when Proctor tore up the written confession, “Proctor tears the paper and crumples it” (Miller 144). A tragic hero must redeem himself with the completion of a noble deed, and that’s what Proctor successfully has done. Proctor realized that the signing of the contract would result in the blackening of his friends’ names so he passionately denounced the court and tore the paper confession. So Proctor sacrificed himself for his loyalty and integrity. At the end of play when Proctor moved to the gallows, Reverend Hale begs Elizabeth to bring John back, however she rebutted with, “He have his goodness now, God forbid I take it from him” (Miller 145)! John has now willingly offered to die and she believes that he did the right thing. “He has his goodness now”, she says meaning that he is now back on the side of God. He redeemed himself. According to Santosh, Proctor went to death honorably. Despite being tormented daily by his conscience, Proctor chose to die with his honor intact. “He prefers to die than live a life with no honor” (Bhatia 63). He facing his demon is a true path that a tragic hero would take.
John Proctor perfectly fits the mold of a tragic hero because he harbors all the qualities of a tragic hero such as hamartia, and is able to fully redeem himself. John Proctor’s main fatal flaw was his excessive hubris, or pride which ultimately sealed his fate. As always, tragic heroes suffer a horrific death, however before that, John realized his mistake and successfully redeemed himself. When Proctor was ordered to sign the confession, he refused and tore the paper up with great passion and fury. This was practically his main form of redemption. What is really ironic is that Proctor got executed for a crime he did not commit. His sin was pride and/or lust but the charges on him were for witchcraft. John Proctor a man of great nobility and pride cleansed his soul after he suffered a tragic death, and became a symbol of purity and righteousness for others to follow.
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