Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is clearly a representation of the true meaning oftragedy.
John Proctor was, in fact, the medium, the tool, of which Miller utilized toconvey a universal depiction of tragedy. A broad definition of a tragic hero is aprotagonist who, through faults and flaws of his own and in the society in which heexists, falters in the grand scheme of things. This mistake leads to suffering, whichultimately leads to a self-realization. Miller, himself, has said, “Tragedy, then, is theconsequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly,” leading us tobelieve that a greater theme encompasses this downfall.
Miller, as well as many otherliterary critics seem to convey that tragedy revolves around two universal aspects: fearand freedom. “The Crucible” is a direct parallel to the multiple ideals of tragedy and thuscenters around John Proctor’s fear and freedom while he exists as a tragic hero.The first stage in the process of establishing the tragic hero for Miller wasrelaying the characteristics of John Proctor. It was essential that Proctor be viewed as theso called “good guy” in the plot, one who stands out or the audience can relate to. He isdescribed as a “farmer in his middle thirties” with a ” powerful body” and a “steadymanner”, and is already being established as the protagonist in which we sympathizewith.(p.
19) Miller’s choice to describe him in such a fashion is very significant. Bydescribing the tragic hero as a “strong, steady, farmer” the dramatic effect is even greater. Who else better to fall victim to his own personal freedom and the fear of others but thestrong, stern character? John Proctor’s description also provides another outlet to conveythe dynamic nature of his character. While the physical side of Proctor deterioratedtowards the conclusion of the story a contrast is created.
John is said to be “…anotherman, bearded, filthy, his eyes misty as though webs had overgrown them, ” an obviousdiscrepancy from his initial condtion.
(p.123) Thus, John’s physical delineation is anapparent parallel to the changes he emotionally undergoes making him a dynamiccharacter. Miller also establishes Proctor as the protagonist by giving him qualities theaudience found favor with. John went against the normalities and conceptions of thetownsfolk.
An aspect we can truly justify, especially in America. Proctor’s practicalnature is indicated when he often does not attend Church. He does not agree with Parris’talk of hell, exclaiming “Can you speak one minute without we land in Hell again?” andthus turns away from the Church, clearly emphasizing that rebellious side.(p.
28) The second step in creating the tragic hero is emphasizing the mistake or flawwhich brings upon the character’s descent. It is in this stage that fear and freedom enteras a major part of John Proctor’s actions. “And if society alone is responsible for the cramping of our lives then theprotagonist must needs be so pure and faultless as to force us to deny his validityas a character. From neither of these views can tragedy derive, simply becauseneither represents a balanced concept of life.”(Miller) It is this balance between the internal and external that opens the door for fear andfreedom to enter.
Fear is society’s tool. In Puritan New England paranoia was a commonaspect. The people lived in fear of the devil, a physical devil that existed and walkedamong them. When word spread, speaking of witchcraft in Salem, that fear, thatparanoia emerged ever so imminently and thus began the tragedy. With the people’s fearcame rumors. Mrs. Putnam asked, “How high did she fly, how high?” of Betty clearlyexhibiting that rumors of witchcraft were surfacing and spreading.
(p.12) Subsequently,from such rumors came the accusations. It was the accusations that proved most costly. People turned against each other saving themselves by accusing their neighbors. All ofthese consequences sprouted from fear in the hearts and minds of the people of Salem. Fear, however, only contributed to this tragedy.John Proctor’s freedom within was the other half that completes the equation.
Itwas this freedom that resulted in his mistakes, his flaws. Proctor chose to have relations,outside of his marriage to Elizabeth with Abigail. In Act Two, John makes a determinedeffort to please Elizabeth. He kisses her perfunctoritly; he lies in saying that her cookingis well-seasoned (perhaps a kind of irony on the lack of spice in Elizabeth) showing thestrain in their relationship.
(Murray, 46) Like all men Proctor had his temptations yet hisfreedom allowed him to give in to them. Through his own freedom John “lusted with thegirl” and went “against the law of God and Salem” (Murray, 46) Freedom also existed inJohn’s choice to not attend Church. It was this choice that also contributed to hisdownfall, for it did not put him in the best standings with the townspeople. The fear insociety and the freedom of John Proctor both complement each other in that balance thatMiller spoke of . Tragedy comes from what the protagonist can, as well as cannotcontrol. This evidence clearly holds true to Miller’s definition of tragedy.
Suffering was a major step in coaxing John to his realization. He sufferedmentally and emotionally because of his flaw, as the heat of the accusations intensified. He witnessed his wife Elizabeth go through the agony of being accused as a witch. hesuffers because he too was accused of betraying God. Their true suffering becomesapparent when Proctor confesses to adultery to pardon Elizabeth. Elizabeth lies in turn tosave her husband’s name.
They endured this torment for each other. They endured it tilltheir day of sentencing. This extreme anguish and emotional stress which Miller createsadds to the sence of tragedy. It is this emphatical grief which makes the conclusion ofThe Crucible so outstanding. Miller utilizes the sorrow to make Proctor’s all-importantrealization that much more spectacular. However, in the Greek definition of tragedy thissuffering would serve as pathos. Pathos is the element of sympathy in the plot to evokepity.
In the Greek tradition this was essential to the plot. However, Miller does not seehis tragedy as one that should include pity for the protagonist. “The possibility of victorymust be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a characterhas fought a battle he could not have possible won.
“(Miller) This statement demonstratesthe conflict in belief. Miller feels the protagonist must emerge victorious in some waywhere the Greek tradition relies on an emphasis of pity. In Miller’s view, how can wehave pity for someone who has won? This is where the conflict lies and as we see inProctor’s realization, ” The Crucible” will hold true to Miller’s definition.Proctor learns something about himself and the world around him in his finalrealization before his execution. This is the concluding step in the tragic plot.
“Tragedyseems to me to be an investigation of the possibilities of human freedom.”(Kerr) Again,it is Proctor’s freedom that makes him a tragic hero. “I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is a fraud, I am not that man. Myhonesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving themthis lie that were not rotten long before.
.. I want my life… I will have my life.
..Then who will judge me? God in Heaven, what is John Proctor, what is JohnProctor? I think it is honest, I think so; I am no saint.” (pp. 126-127)These passages indicate that Proctor has come to see the truth. He has the freedom now,to not give in to them, to let God judge him.
“I think the tragic feeling is evoked in uswhen we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be-to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity.”(Miller) Miller’s definition of tragedyis a clear cut example of Proctor’s actions in “The Crucible.” Proctor realizes that hisconfession to these people violated his freedom. He learned that we need to answer toGod and God only for forgiveness.
The confession revoked Proctor’s dignity and hisfreedom. Miller says, “Tragedy enlightens..
. in that it points the heroic finger at theenemy of man’s freedom.” Proctor sees this and points a heroic finger at those peoplewho tried to take his freedom.————————————————————–