The Crucible- A tragedy in every sense


Arthur Miller\'s "The Crucible" is clearly a representation of the true meaning of
tragedy. John Proctor was, in fact, the medium, the tool, of which Miller utilized to
convey a universal depiction of tragedy. A broad definition of a tragic hero is a
protagonist who, through faults and flaws of his own and in the society in which he
exists, falters in the grand scheme of things. This mistake leads to suffering, which
ultimately leads to a self-realization. Miller, himself, has said, "Tragedy, then, is the
consequence of a man\'s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly," leading us to
believe that a greater theme encompasses this downfall. Miller, as well as many other
literary critics seem to convey that tragedy revolves around two universal aspects: fear
and freedom. "The Crucible" is a direct parallel to the multiple ideals of tragedy and thus
centers 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 was
relaying the characteristics of John Proctor. It was essential that Proctor be viewed as the
so called "good guy" in the plot, one who stands out or the audience can relate to. He is
described as a "farmer in his middle thirties" with a " powerful body" and a "steady
manner", and is already being established as the protagonist in which we sympathize
with.(p.19) Miller\'s choice to describe him in such a fashion is very significant. By
describing 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 the
strong, stern character? John Proctor\'s description also provides another outlet to convey
the dynamic nature of his character. While the physical side of Proctor deteriorated
towards the conclusion of the story a contrast is created. John is said to be "...another
man, bearded, filthy, his eyes misty as though webs had overgrown them, " an obvious
discrepancy from his initial condtion.(p.123) Thus, John\'s physical delineation is an
apparent parallel to the changes he emotionally undergoes making him a dynamic
character. Miller also establishes Proctor as the protagonist by giving him qualities the
audience found favor with. John went against the normalities and conceptions of the
townsfolk. An aspect we can truly justify, especially in America. Proctor\'s practical
nature 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?" and
thus 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 flaw
which brings upon the character\'s descent. It is in this stage that fear and freedom enter
as a major part of John Proctor\'s actions.
"And if society alone is responsible for the cramping of our lives then the
protagonist must needs be so pure and faultless as to force us to deny his validity
as a character. From neither of these views can tragedy derive, simply because
neither represents a balanced concept of life."(Miller)
It is this balance between the internal and external that opens the door for fear and
freedom to enter. Fear is society\'s tool. In Puritan New England paranoia was a common
aspect. The people lived in fear of the devil, a physical devil that existed and walked
among them. When word spread, speaking of witchcraft in Salem, that fear, that
paranoia emerged ever so imminently and thus began the tragedy. With the people\'s fear
came rumors. Mrs. Putnam asked, "How high did she fly, how high?" of Betty clearly
exhibiting 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 of
these 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. It
was 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 determined
effort to please Elizabeth. He kisses her perfunctoritly; he lies in saying that her cooking
is well-seasoned (perhaps a kind of irony on the lack of spice in Elizabeth) showing the
strain