A play ending in tragedy can seem like a pessimistic choice, but a character’s noble sacrifice can actually provide a hopeful outlook on the state of humanity. This is certainly the case with John Proctor’s death at the end of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Where others would shy away and save themselves, Proctor gives it all in service of a greater cause.
The lead-up to Proctor’s self-sacrifice is first developed early on in the play, with his internal conflict. In the first two acts, the audience is informed of how this conflict affects his relationships and self-image. He is introduced as “a sinner… against his own vision of decent conduct,” showing even before his first line that he is a moral man haunted by some past impropriety (Miller 21). He projects his guilt onto others, such as when he tells his wife, Elizabeth, that he’ll “not have [her] suspicion any more,” seeing her harmless comments as disparaging him (57). However, she was not casting judgement on him, “the magistrate [that] sits in [his] heart” was (57).
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As the story progresses, Proctor continues to struggle with his guilt, and is unable to see himself as a good person. He laments his moral failure, seeing his false confession as yet another expression of his inherently evil nature. To him, only the good are worthy enough to sacrifice their lives for some cause greater than themselves, and he is not among them. He tells Elizabeth that “nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before,” his previous transgressions preventing him from doing what he sees as right (143).
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