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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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THE CHARACTERS

JOHN PROCTOR

If you were to ask one of John Proctor's sons what he
wants to be when he grows up, he'd probably say, "My
daddy." It's hard to imagine a better role model for a
little boy than John Proctor. He's big and strong and does
the backbreaking work of the farm all by himself. True,
he has a temper, and isn't afraid to use the whip when
you've been bad. But that's not very often, because John
Proctor is the kind of man who makes you want to do
what he asks. And when he praises you, it's like God
Himself reached down from heaven and ruffled your
hair. Maybe best of all, he knows how to make you
laugh-he may be strict, but he's no sourpuss.

In the community of Salem, John Proctor is important,
not for what he is-he's just a farmer-but for who he is.
No one is more generous in helping his neighbors, and
no one is more honest in his dealings. If he has a fault,
it's that he's too honest: when he thinks you're wrong,
he'll tell you to your face, even in front of other people.
Anyone on the receiving end of such blunt criticism is
bound to resent it. And John Proctor has made some
enemies in Salem by his plain speaking. Reverend Parris
is one.

But maybe if Proctor hadn't been so admirable, he
wouldn't be in the mess he's in. Abigail Williams fell in
love with John Proctor's strength and honesty. What
young woman wouldn't see him as the man of her
dreams? His wife was sick, he was lonely, and he made
the perfectly human mistake of succumbing to Abigail's
adoration. But he made an even bigger mistake, as far as
Abigail is concerned, when he rejected her and went
back to his wife. As the saying goes, "Hell hath no fury
like a woman scorned," and Abigail pays him back with
a vengeance.



Elizabeth Proctor must have fallen for John just as hard
as Abigail did. But Elizabeth seems almost afraid of her
feelings, and doesn't express them easily. Her husband's
passion and sexuality no doubt frightened her, and he
probably felt rebuffed and disappointed when she didn't-
or couldn't-return his ardent expressions of love. Then
after his affair with Abigail, he not only felt guilty but
shamed by Elizabeth's self-control. She says, "I never
thought you but a good man, John-only somewhat
bewildered." How can he believe such meekness? If
their positions were reversed, he'd have torn her limb
from limb.

John Proctor is not the same man to himself as he is to
others. In a way, their admiration revolts him, because
he is disgusted with himself. Elizabeth hints at his
problem when she says, "The magistrate sits in your
heart that judges you." And the judgment is harsh: John
Proctor is a fraud. Before Abigail came along and ruined
his peace, he was always sure of himself. He still is, but
what he is sure of now is that nothing he can ever do will
be pure and honest again.

In Christian doctrine, there is one sin for which there can
be no forgiveness. It is called despair, and it means
giving up hope because you're so bad not even God can
forgive you. John Proctor is heading toward despair
when the play begins, and he is pushed closer to the
edge as the witch madness unfolds. In the end he finds
his goodness and is saved, but it's a close call.

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