Here is the answer and explanation to the question In The Crucible, how does Proctor’s perception of a morally righteous person affect his decision to tear up the confession?
In The Crucible, how does Proctor’s perception of a morally righteous person affect his decision to tear up the confession?
John Proctor’s perception of a morally righteous person affects his decision to tear up the confession because it is Elizabeth who points out to him that he has not confessed yet and that it does not matter if she forgives his sins against her if he will not forgive himself.
For a long time, almost up until the very end of his life, John Proctor seems to believe that a morally-righteous person is one who has never really sinned. He thinks of his wife, Elizabeth, as a person such as this because he believes she cannot tell a lie, but because he committed adultery, he thinks it would be a “fraud” for him to “mount the gibbet like a saint.” He feels that his “honesty is broke” and that he is not a good man. In deciding, at first, that he will confess and save his life, he feels that lying now will not “spoil” any honesty in him that was not already “rotten long before.” However, Elizabeth points out that he has not confessed yet and “That speak[s] goodness” in him. Further, she tells him that it does not matter if she forgives him his sins against her “if [he’ll] not forgive [him]self.” She tells him that, whatever he chooses, “it is a good man does it,” though he does not believe her at first.
After he tears up his confession, though, John says, “You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs.” He seems to understand now that he can choose to do the right thing this time and regain his integrity. He may not have done the right thing with Abigail, but that does not mean that he can never count himself “good”—or morally righteous—again. His reconsideration of what makes a person morally righteous, the idea that people can make mistakes and still retain their goodness by choosing better in the future, informs his decision to choose honesty (and death) now.
In The Crucible, John Proctor’s character is pivotal to the underlying purpose and central theme of Arthur Miller’s play: the importance of a good name.
A hypocrite himself, Proctor, nevertheless, stands out from the others because he has the moral courage and intelligence to recognize the circular logic and ulterior motives behind the accusations and prosecutions in Salem. Proctor knows that the destruction of others as involved in witchcraft advances the gains of those who want the control of property or people. So, Proctor refuses to comply with the controlling authority of the Reverend Parris, who is himself corrupted by self-interest. Moreover, Proctor knows that he has sinned grievously, and he realizes that his wife Elizabeth is worthy of a better man than he. With his death, Proctor seeks to correct the wrong that he has committed and prevent the good and reasonable Rebecca Nurse from harm, as well. Proctor’s act also defies the control that the Puritan church exerts over individual thought. He tells the court,
How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
Proctor’s wife Elizabeth speaks after her husband dies, saying,
He have his goodness now. God forgive I take it from him!
For Proctor it is more noble to die with integrity than it is to compromise his principles so that he can live.
In Act Four, John Proctor wrestles with the decision to either save his life by giving his signed confession to Deputy Governor Danforth or to tear it up and become a martyr. In regards to Proctor’s perception of what constitutes a morally-upright person, his decision to tear up his confession indicates that he believes a morally-upright individual is selfless, courageous, and possesses integrity. Proctor is aware that his signed confession will essentially doom Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey, as well as support the corrupt court. By tearing up his confession, Proctor demonstrates his selfless, courageous personality and atones for his past sins. He is willing to die to damage the perception of Salem’s court and refuses to harm Rebecca and Martha’s reputations by confessing to witchcraft. Overall, one can assume that Proctor defines a morally-upright person as someone who is willing to risk their life for a worthy cause. In order for Proctor to find redemption and die a morally-upright man, he feels that he must tear up his confession and sacrifice his life.
Proctor’s perception of a morally righteous person is one who is “right with God”. He achieves this is the play because he is not rules by the rules of religion like the other Puritans. The objectives of the pastor and the magistrates and other ritualistic Puritans are to go to church, obey the rules, and say a certain number of prayers a day. Proctor is more concerned about relationship with God that religion for the sake of religion.
This affects his decision to tear up the confession because the confession was a lie. The only being who absolutely knew it was a lie was God. Proctor would not have his relationship with God stained any further. He longed for God’s grace and forgiveness for his other sin and this moment of truth demonstrated a pure heart condition on Proctor’s part. The magistrates were asking him to sin, thinking that what they were doing was right, but it wasn’t.
Rebecca Nurse is similar to Proctor. I do believe her words were influential to him because she was holding him accountable when she heard he had signed a confession. She knew that wasn’t in his character or perception of a morally righteous person. Her surprise helped motivate Proctor to tear up the confession.
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