Motif Tracking: The Crucible – Heroism



When examining the motif of heroism in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, it is important to consider that any ‘heroes’ will not be heroic in the tragic Greek sense, but are more likely to accord with Miller’s own, more modern, definition of a hero. In Arthur Miller’s essay ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’, he describes a hero as an “individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society”. Thus, a hero need not be a person of nobility or even necessarily a man (as according to Aristotle’s definition). Therefore, though numerous character’s are ‘heroic’ in their own right in The Crucible, it seems obvious to me that John Proctor, Reverend Hale, and Mary Warren are the ‘most’ heroic.


John Proctor

Proctor is clearly the protagonist of the text. He is introduced as a “sinner” (p27), and his anguish at this demonstrates his own strong moral code. He does not conform to the social order and instead is judged only by the “magistrate that sits in [his] heart” (p55). His rules however, are higher than those imposed by the society of the time, and the fact that he strives to achieve these, to be punished according to these, is what makes him heroic.






ELIZABETH: The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you.


These two quotations from Proctor’s wife show that no man but Proctor may judge himself. This is important in establishing Proctor as a hero because it emphasizes the fact that he abides only by what he considers to be ‘right’, and will not be swayed by another.


ELIZABETH: I am not your judge, I cannot be. [As though giving him release] Do as you will, do as you will!



PROCTOR [trembling, his life collapsing about him]: I have known her, sir. I have known her

Proctor confesses to lechery with Abigail in front of the court, surely condemning himself to not only punishment by the court, but also sacrificing his ‘good name’. Proctor’s willingness to destroy himself for what he believes in, to throw himself against the court in order to save his wife and the others who are to hang and most importantly, the sense that he feels he deserves any punishment directed against him again shows him as the hero.



PROCTOR: You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!

Proctor’s ability to see the truth when all those around him are blind to it allows us to see how clearly he views these proceedings, and further emphasizes how crazy the people of Salem have become.



PROCTOR [with a cry of 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!


The common reading of Proctor’s unwillingness to give up his name suggests that he still retains some scrap of decency, as he cannot bear the thought of his name being tarnished. However, the fact that he believes that he has given up his ‘soul’ suggests that he knows that by signing the confession he has already forgone any claims to begin a good man and that thus his need of his name in order to continue living is an almost practical requirement, it will allow him to continue the pretence of being John Proctor even though he has given up everything that he most cherishes about himself – his soul, in this case his sense of personal integrity. Ultimately Proctor’s inability to accept a life as just a name without a soul is what convinces him that he is a good man and thus good enough to die along with the martyrs Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey.




Reverend Hale

Hale, although not a ‘hero’ at first, certainly undergoes a clear change of heart as the play progresses. This change in his position regarding the validity Salem trials is an impressive feat as it requires the rejection of some deeply held beliefs and, in particular, the status he has enjoyed as a ‘witch hunter’ in this society. None of the other characters associated with the court would forego their status in such a manner, indeed Parris and Putnam are seen desperately using the witch hunts to defend their position of power or increase their influence and so, although he is clearly not ‘heroic’ in the same way as Proctor (i.e. dying for his cause and dashing himself against an opponent he cannot defeat), Hale displays some of the characteristics of a hero, and in fact a hero acts as a role model for the America in the 1950s as he realises the absurdity of the situation he has found himself in, a realisation that Miller wants the average American himself to make.






HALE [with rising exaltation]: You are God’s instrument put in our hands to discover the Devil’s agents among us.

Through these quotations we can clearly see the change that Hale undergoes through the course of the play. From the start where he is ‘exalted’ to be doing God’s work, to him going to meet Proctor without the court’s approval, to him finally realizing the fictitious nature of these trials, to him turning his back on them and denouncing them. Hale’s ability to go against his original ideals when he realizes what has actually gone on is what makes him heroic. He undergoes a fundamental change in faith and although he does not stop believing in witches, he realizes that the Salem trials are all a farce and he strives to correct their mistakes. Upon his return he openly denounces the court and attempts to make Danforth see the light, however this is impossible and his continued efforts, coupled with the impossibility of his success makes him heroic.


HALE: No – no, I come of my own, without the court’s authority. Hear me


HALE: Excellency, it is a natural lie to tell; I beg you, stop now before another is condemned! I may shut my conscience to it no more – private vengeance is working through this testimony!


HALE: I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court!


HALE: …There is blood on my head! Can you not see the blood on my head!!



Mary Warren

Mary is probably the least heroic of the three characters, however her initial bravery in standing up against the court with which she had colluded for so long affords her some heroic status. The fact that she actually stumbles again and returns to the side of the court does detract from this but her eventual failure actually serves to reemphasise how difficult it is to resist Abigail’s influence and the influence of figures of authority such as Danforth. In which case, her willingness to challenge the court even for a brief time could be considered heroic.





ABIGAIL: Now look you. All of you. We danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sisters. And that is all. And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word…


Mary Warren is clearly frightened into going along with Abigail’s lies and the court for the duration of the play. She is described as [… a subservient, naïve, lonely girl] in her first stage directions, thus supporting her obeying Abigail.


MARY WARREN [with greater impatience with him]: I told you the proof. It’s hard proof, hard as a rock, the judges said.


Mary is now upholding the views of the court, and having bought into the lie she intends to keep up the pretence. John Proctor now convinces her to testify in court, which she finally agrees to do.


PROCTOR: Aye, sir. She swears now that she never saw Satan; nor any spirit, vague or clear, that Satan may have sent to hurt her. And she declares her friends are lying now.


In the court, Proctor takes it upon himself to talk for Mary Warren, who is understandably frightened. Her presence alone, and her subsequent confession bespeaks bravery and identifies her as a minor hero