Character Profile - Proctor



Opening Impression:

The opening interpretation of Proctor is that he is seen as an outsider; he lives his own life and tries to avoid being part of rumours. However, due to the love affair he had with Abigail he seems mischievous and yet also wise. He is a sinner in two ways: firstly because he rebels against society by conforming to his own rules and thus can be seen as a hero and second, and more importantly, he has sinned against his own values and his own standards of moral behaviour. The second sin is more important because Proctor’s disgust at himself and the way that he tortures himself is partly what enables us to forgive him his affair and it is one of the key factors that contributes to making him seem, for Miller and perhaps us, like a hero: the whole play is partly a journey for Proctor through which he comes to realise that he is after all a good man.


John Proctor is Miller’s voice of reason and justice in The Crucible. He is Miller’s version of hero as a common man (and if interpreted as a modern Greek tragedy, as Miller hoped it would be, the tragic hero) whose integrity defines him and clearly distinguishes him as the protagonist. His acumen and honesty also endow him with heroic qualities as we see him repeatedly being able to discern the true from the false and the pure from the corrupt. However, his affair with Abigail Williams blemishes his heroic character and thus reminds us, as an audience, of his status as a common whilst also fuelling his dramatically powerful, self-loathing struggle against his past sins. This is, however, the only significant flaw that Mill designs for his character and it seems as though any other smaller flaw that exists, such as his wild anger, feeds upon the guilt that results from the larger flaw, his affair with Abigail.



Quotations & Analysis:






‘[Looking at Abigail now, the faintest suggestion of a knowing smile on his face]’

Shows the connection between them: their lives are parallel. Relates to how mischievous he is and implies that Proctor rebelled in the past. Thus he is not as pure as one would think and he’s not conforming to society’s expectations. The first impression here is that even though we find out that he later regrets his actions, he still remembers their time together at this point and it doesn’t seem disappointing. It also suggests that their ‘affair’ was pure lust.



Ah, you’re wicked yet, aren’t y


This suggests that he is unable to resist Abigail as there is a sense of sexual enjoyment in this line. It also suggests that he promotes “free” behaviour and it is a sign of hope that he can prevent what is to happen due to his rebellious nature. Miller partly sees himself as Proctor in this way.



‘Abby, I may think if you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again’

‘Abby’ shows sympathy and also a personal connection that he still has with her, which again confirms this love affair that took place. He knows he has sinned and this is his confession. He exaggerates to stress his point and perhaps does want to change and be faithful to his wife.



‘[To Putnam] You cannot command Mr. Parris. We vote by name in this society, not by acreage.’

This is said to Putnam, which shows personal hatred. It reflects that Proctor is a good man for he knows to vote for people for the right reasons. Also, he considers himself more valuable than those with actual valuable assets. It could be seen that he has respect for Parris and he is the Reverend.



‘I may speak with my heart, I think!’

Shows confidence. Exclamation mark implies a powerful voice. ‘Heart’ suggests his own personal opinion. ‘I think’ could show arrogance and also shows that he values his own opinion which adds to his arrogance.



Why, then I must find it and join it

Here he is referring to the ‘party’ that Putnam and Parris think is against them in the parish. This reflects his honest and open opposition to these two characters, it echoes Miller’s opposition to authority figures (1950’s communist witch hunt) and begins to build tension.



Your grandfather had a habit of willing land that never belonged to him, if I may say it plain.


This indicates the undercurrent of tensions about land issues that has been bubbling under the surface of Salem for generations and foreshadows the break down of society due to greed and jealousy. It also reflects the inequality of power distribution and emphasises Miller’s condemnation of the abuse of power by those in authority.



‘I’ve heard you to be a sensible man, Mr. Hale. I hope you’ll leave some of it in Salem.’

Shows that he is aware of the absurd situation of witches taking place in Salem. The respect for Mr. Hale shown here is important as Proctor tries to be on the side of his last hope. However, it could also be seen as Proctor mocking Mr. Hale.



‘Aye. [He eats. She watches him.] I think we’ll see green fields soon. It’s warm as blood beneath the clods.’

This quotation is part of Proctor’s opening conversation with his wife, Elizabeth. Through this awkward forced conversation we learn about a tension in their relationship and eventually the source of this tension (Proctor’s affair with Abigail). This flaw in Proctor’s character is crucial in reminding us that Proctor is a common man and also, simultaneously, drives his moral struggle.



‘[wide eyed] Oh, it is a black mischief’

This is Proctor’s response when Elizabeth informs him (and the audience) of the court trials. Perhaps more interesting that the actual dialogue is the stage direction—the ‘wide eyed’ suggests perspicacity and acumen, two key attributes of Proctor’s character, and also obviously expresses shock and horror. There is also an undercurrent of disbelief as it divulges the ludicrousness of the fact that these witch trials are seriously being accepted as real and just methods of finding people guilty.



‘[with a violent undertone] You doubt me yet?’

The violent undertone illuminates Proctor’s frustration with Elizabeth, but perhaps more so with himself. Though he is angered at Elizabeth for incessantly doubting him and his actions, his also doubts his own moral status (as is evident later in the play).



‘Because it speaks deceit and I am honest! But I’ll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!’

This quotation depicts another facet of Proctor’s personality: his honesty. He perceives himself to be an honest person and prides himself in it and therefore his disloyalty to Elizabeth agonizes him. This torn agony projects him as a hero as it therefore depicts his struggle against himself and his self-perception.



‘[starts to speak, then stops, then as though unable to restrain this] 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.’


Similar to the quotation above, the stage directions indicate how Proctor is simply unable to be dishonest to who he is and what he thinks—he is a character of integrity (a key heroic quality).


[He is stuck. He counts back on his fingers, knowing one is missing.]


Elizabeth [delicately]: Adultery, John.

This is a really interestingly crafted moment by Miller as Proctor forgets the one that he has broken. The fact that he knows the rest and just forgets this one highlights how this is the single flaw in his character. It is also obviously dramatically gripping as the tension builds as he counts back and realises one is missing, upon which point Elizabeth ‘[delicately]’ reminds him, ‘Adultery, John.’



‘On what proof, what proof?’

This repetition of ‘what proof’ emphasises Proctor’s exasperation with the courts and thus again his ability to see the truth behind situations.



‘[He walks as though toward a great horror, facing the open sky.] Aye naked! And the wind, God’s icy wind, will blow!’

This stage direction is crucial if one is to interpret Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ as a modern Greek tragedy. Proctor walking ‘as though toward  a great horror’ suggests that Proctor is incontrovertibly doomed to a particular fate. This is a key facet of a Greek tragic hero.



‘Do that which is good, and no harm shall come to thee.’

This quotation is interesting due to its contextual irony. In Salem, those who do good are the ones who suffer. Furthermore, it also highlights the hypocrisy of the sanctimonious people of Salem in that they don’t really follow the Bible as closely as they claim to (as this is a quote from the Bible).



‘[trembling, his life collapsing about him] I have known her, sir. I have known her.’

This moment is crucial in terms of Proctor’s character—his entire life is ‘collapsing about him’ as he has to sacrifice what he treasures the most—his good reputation. This confession is especially difficult for a man such as John Proctor as to him, above the materialistic desires of most other characters, dignity and honour are the most important.



‘I have made a bell of my honour! I have rung the doom of my good name—you will believe me, Mr. Danforth! My wife is innocent, except she knew a whore when she saw one!’

This quotation reinforces the explanation above but does so more explicitly as Proctor refers to having ‘rung the doom of [his] good name’. Again doom here suggests a fate that he cannot escape from—thus projecting him as Miller’s modern Greek tragic hero.


‘I say—I say—God is dead!’


‘[laughs insanely, then] A fire, a fire is burning! I  hear the boot of Lucifer, I see a filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth!...

Proctor says this out of infuriated exasperation with his own situation and also that of society. Because they live in a society which has been subverted and morally reversed, Proctor, the man who is essentially good—the voice of reason and truth, works for the Devil. The hysteria of this dialogue also reflects the hysteria in Salem.



‘You are a—marvel, Elizabeth

This quotation, most simply, reflects the progression in their relationship. At this moment, he seems to almost be in awe of Elizabeth and her strength. They no longer have trivial forced conversations, but this conversation is profoundly meaningful and deep.



‘I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud. I am not that man. [She is silent.] My honesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before.’


Interestingly, the fact that Proctor believes that he isn’t good enough to die as a saint-like hero, makes him a hero. This is because him being torn because of this betrayal reflects a his strong sense of morality and his self-reproach and inability to forgive himself intensifies this.



‘Then who will judge me? [Suddenly clasping his hands] God in Heaven, what is John Proctor, what is John Proctor? [He moves as an animal, and a fury is riding in him, a tantalized search.] I think it is honest, I think so; I am no saint...Let Rebecca go like a saint; for me it is fraud!’


There is a sense of desperation in this statement and almost insane like undertone to his actions. His desperation further emphasises how he is torn and this internal struggle of his, makes him the hero of this play.


‘[with a cry for his soul] 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 worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!’


As he has sold away his soul, the element of him that truly mattered to him, all he has left is his name and thus he fights for it though subconsciously knowing that he is being irrational. However, he later realises that his empty shell of a name is not enough for him—he’d rather have his soul. This fact, leads to his death, but also makes him the tragic hero of Miller’s ‘The Crucible’.


‘[His breast heaving, his eyes staring, Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury, but erect.]

Proctor tearing the paper is significant as it is possibly the highest climactic point of this play. In order to save his integrity, his soul, Proctor surrenders the more materialistic element of himself—his physical body. The paper is also a symbol for higher monolithic institutions such as the Church and the courts and thus ripping them obviously signifies their disintegration.




Role in the Play:

Proctor is seen as Miller’s hero as he has his own rules and rebels against the ones set by society. He is incontrovertibly endowed with several heroic characteristics such as honesty and integrity and he is also Miller’s modern Greek tragic hero as Miller wanted to make the literary point that even the common man, such as Proctor, can be a hero because of the drama and the power that exists in his struggle.


An additional role in this play is therefore to be a guide to the audience, to be the ‘common man’ who the audience identifies with and thus strives to be like. He understands that there is no witchcraft present and Miller is using him to suggest to the audience of 1950’s America that, like Proctor, they should also believe that the threat of the communists is not really present.


Proctor’s intelligence however, is ignored by the world around him and thus the consequences at the end of the play are a warning to his audience of the dire state that American politics is currently in.