Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is a social commentary on witch hunts in early America, as well as an Aristotelian tragedy. In Aristotle’s essay Poetics, Aristotle explains that a character flaw (imperfection or weakness in one’s personality or values) or an error in Judgment can lead to tragedy. The word for this is hamartia. Aristotle also goes on to state that the tragic hero will find enlightenment through his or her lamentable situation.
In Miller’s play there are two characters in particular, John and Elizabeth Proctor, who are tragic figures that find psychological insight, tunning facts of self-sacrifice and heroism through their personal tragedies. Elizabeth Proctor, who is the wife of John Proctor, and the enemy of Abigail Williams, appears to be a loving, caring and sturdy housewife on the outside. Truthfully, Elizabeth is a cold, insecure, and vengeful woman with trust issues in her marriage. “Spare me! You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin’. Learn charity, women. (52) At first we assume that Elizabeth is only cold in her marriage because of John’s infidelity with Abigail, but we learn that her bitterness comes from a lack of self-worth and pride in herself. “l have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery” (131). This insecure and cold spirit led to Johns affair with the house worker who was undoubtedly more confident and had a sexual appetite and appeal that intrigued John. The problem was not Just the adultery that was committed, but the harlot herself.
Abigail was a sneaky liar, who was able to imprison Elizabeth as soon as she saw the spirit of revenge brewing inside of Elizabeth. “She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! ” John Proctor was a strong minded, sharp- tongued and honest man. Unfortunately, John was also blase. He wanted excitement, ove, and sex which prompted him to become an adulterer. After committing adultery with Abigail, John saw himself in a new light and so did Elizabeth. Fortunately for him he was able keep up this honest guy charade enough to maintain status because the town had not yet known of his actions.
Once discovered, sentence surely followed right behind him, and he was sent to Jail. He was kept away from his love, who had already been in Jail for some time, and was forced to choose between right or wrong, death or life. In court John comes to the conclusion that he is no better than Mr. Danforth and states that it is because they are both hypocrites. l hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now… (115) John also realizes that the trouble that has been caused for his family leads back to his prior actions with Abigail. At the end of the play Elizabeth comes to the same conclusion, that the cold hearted actions that she led in her home caused trouble for her family in the end. She realizes this in Jail as she tried to understand why she was so cold towards John. “l have read my heart this three month…. John, I counted myself so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! ” (131). Her insecurities would not let her fully love John because she didn’t fully love herself.
With their reconciliation Elizabeth helped John make the most important decision of his life. “Do what you will. But let none be your Judge. There be no higher Judge under Heaven than Proctor is! ” (132) Does he save his life by confessing to witchcraft and continue on a happy by not falsely confessing and give his life so that he can help the ones he loved? He chose to save his soul, and was hung. His life ended in a town where people refused o believe that he was any less of the John Proctor they grew to love. It cannot be forgot, sir, that when I summoned the congregation for John Proctor’s excommunication there were hardly thirty people come to hear it. ” (123) The Proctors marriage was far from perfect, especially in Salem during this time period. They both understood that it was not perfect, but did not actually understand why the marriage ended up the way it did. “When will you know me, women? Were I stone I would have cracker for shame this seven month”. While in Jail Elizabeth realized her insecurities and the problems they caused, while John came to terms ith his adultery and how it affected his marriage.
Once they reconciled, starting over was next. John initially decided to falsely confess to the witch craft but once they asked him sign “away his name” after he felt that giving away his soul was enough, he ended his confession and was hung that same morning for it. “God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough! ” Elizabeth and John never received their chance to start over. Ancient Greek philosophers and prophets believed that tragedy could be avoided if one was to ‘Know Thyself”.
John and Elizabeth Proctor both made assumptions and accusations but did not fully understand themselves or their partner until it was too late. Death had become John’s fate and neither one of them could do anything to stop it. In todays society we see the same thing happening all around us. People are constantly being Judged by classmates, family and even on social media. Many victims are teenagers, who have not yet fully understood who they are and who they are destined to be. Many of these kids are taking their own lives, it is estimated that over one half a million teens every year commit suicide.