Meet more prevalent in today’s social-media driven society.

Meet John Proctor, the protagonist of Arthur Miller’s historical drama ‘The Crucible.’ This lesson will briefly introduce his character traits while illustrating the transformation that grants him significance as a dynamic character.

Background

John Proctor is the main character in Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible. While this character’s traits and internal conflict really transcend time, it is important to note the cultural and historical setting of the play to fully understand John’s motivation.

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This drama is based upon historical events and set in the puritanical city of Salem, Massachusetts. The once-quiet farm town becomes hysterical over a literal witch hunt.Proctor is a member of the Puritan religion, which is actually a whole community centered around a specific belief system.

This is a culture grounded in the values of the Christian faith, hard work, self-denial, and simple living. Any action outside of such cultural norms attracts great attention and scandal. When a group of teenage girls fear punishment for their own experimentation with the occult, they deflect attention by accusing the townspeople of witchcraft. The unassuming Proctor finds his wife and himself at the center of this scandal.

Puritan teachings hold that only God is the judge of whether or not an individual has salvation but that personal sanctification would be displayed outwardly by a person’s conduct. This teaching, coupled with typical human nature, made Arthur Miller’s Salem a breeding ground for the close examination and open discussion of all the community member’s lives and deeds. Such examination motivates our character to value his reputation deeply and makes it all the more devastating when said reputation is called into question.While many of the virtues elevated by our Puritan ancestors have long disappeared from our present day ideals, the idea that ‘image is everything’ is not unique to John Proctor or his time. In fact, it may be even more prevalent in today’s social-media driven society.

John Proctor’s Character Traits

John Proctor was faced with strong internal conflict regarding his reputation.

This internal conflict drives his transformation as a dynamic character, which is a character whose traits or personality transform as the drama unfolds due to intense conflict.John Proctor is a strong Puritan whose character traits embody the values of his community. Let’s look at those traits:

  • Middle-Aged Family Man – Proctor is a husband and a father, and although he makes mistakes, he holds his family very dear.
  • Hardworking – Like many of the people living around Salem, John Proctor is a farmer.

    He is dedicated to having a successful farm and works this physically demanding job day in and day out with little rest, occasionally even working on Sundays. His wife says, ‘My husband is a good and righteous man. He’s never drunk, as some are, nor wasting his time at the shovelboard, but always at his work’ (pg.70).


  • Values His Reputation – At the onset of the play, John Proctor is concerned with having an honorable name in the community, just as most Puritans are. As a dynamic character John Proctor undergoes a great deal of transformation throughout the course of the play. However, even after said transformation, Proctor is unwilling to attach his good name to something he doesn’t believe in.
  • Pious – For the most part John keeps to the strict rules of the Puritan faith. He attends services regularly whenever his wife’s health will allow.

    He especially values the Puritan ideal from which the sect derives their name: purity or plainness of lifestyle, as well as worship. When the Reverend Parris seems concerned with his congregation donating more money and adorns the church with items such as golden candlesticks, Proctor is not afraid to speak out and hold the preacher accountable.

  • Man of Integrity – On many occasions John Proctor demonstrates great strength of character by standing up for what he believes in. He is often met with great opposition and one point even the threat of execution, but he does not back down.
  • Fallible – Despite Proctor’s strong beliefs, values, and integrity, he is indeed human.

    He strives to do right, but in a moment of weakness, he breaks one of the most taboo commandments of all.

Character Analysis

At the onset of the drama, Proctor is considered an upstanding member of the community. John Proctor is a hardworking middle aged farmer, husband, and father. He values honesty and has a great disdain for hypocrisy. Ironically, John is hiding a dirty little secret of his own.His wife Elizabeth Proctor loves and respects him although she knows he is not without human failing.

When she becomes ill for a long period of time she turns, in her own words, ‘cold’ towards John physically. Her teenage servant, Abigail Williams, is all too ready to take Elizabeth’s place, and John falls prey to this temptress’s schemes, thus our tragic hero commits the shameful sin of adultery.Despite his moral indiscretion, Proctor does love his wife and family very much. He does not continue his relationship with Abigail, and he privately repents of his sin.

Still, in this community built upon strict adherence to the Ten Commandments and civic accountability, public admission of his guilt would ruin his reputation. So despite his own personal conviction against hypocrisy, John chooses to hide his guilt in favor of keeping his good name.John’s character begins transformation when Abigail testifies in court accusing Elizabeth of witchcraft. In order to save his wife, Proctor must prove that Abigail is a liar, motivated by jealousy.

The only way to do this is to ruin his all-important good reputation by confessing to the affair. John willingly exposes his own adultery, thus sacrificing his name for the good of the woman he loves. Unfortunately, this is not enough.Even with Proctor’s proclamation, he is unable to clear his wife’s name. Mass hysteria in Salem progresses to the point of absurdity.

Ultimately John and the majority of the landowning townspeople are charged as witches.Proctor’s character continues to progress when he is offered acquittal in exchange for admission of guilt. John’s spirit is newly liberated by his previous admission, and he is initially persuaded. The drive to save his life and be reunited with the now pregnant Elizabeth outweighs his desire to maintain his reputation.

But the judge demands that Proctor sign a public statement of guilt, which also lists the names of other innocent people. He refuses.In his refusal to attach his signature to a lie, our protagonist still desires to maintain his name. At this point in the drama, however, his motivation has become deeper and more sacred. The man who once hid the truth in order to save his public image is now willing to lay down his own life rather than sully his name and those of his neighbors. John Proctor’s character is tested in the fiery crucible of the Salem witch trials.

In the end its true integrity is proven.

Lesson Summary

John Proctor is the protagonist of Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible. The play is set in the puritanical town of Salem and aspects of this cultural background help to drive Proctor’s actions.

He is a middle-aged man who is both a husband and a farmer. His defining characteristics include love of family, hard work, esteem for his name, piety, and human fallibility.The pressures of Puritan society weigh upon Proctor and his family as he finds himself at the very center of a witch hunt. He and his wife are put to public trial, and he is forced to face great internal conflict.

This conflict facilitates his change as a classic dynamic character. As the drama unfolds, he transforms from a man who hides the truth of his own sins in order to maintain a good reputation to a man who would rather be publicly shamed and executed for a crime he didn’t commit than attach his name to a lie.

Who is John Proctor?

Arthur Miller, John Proctor, and flyer for The Crucible
  • John Proctor is a dynamic character and the protagonist in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
  • Proctor is a Puritan who embodies the ideals of his society
  • Proctor’s character fluctuates from devoted Puritan and husband, to guilt-ridden sinner, to someone whose reputation is more important than his life

Learning Outcomes

When you are finished, you should be able to:

  • Describe the character of John Proctor in The Crucible
  • Explain why John Proctor can be considered a dynamic character
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