The main character in Salem is John Proctor, an outspoken, successful, and well-respected farmer who chooses to stay away from the church. Religious at heart, this man who has sinned openly, condemns the witch trials while hiding a secret that could ruin the main accuser, Abigail Williams. Proctor is a man full of guilt, who uses the love of his wife, and his need to take responsibility for his actions to gain the strength to openly confess his sins, denounce Abigail Williams, and save his soul.
As soon as Reverend Parris is appointed to the church in Salem John Proctor begins to resent his superior attitude and greed.
Proctor takes every opportunity to criticize Reverend Parris and the now corrupt church. This dislike leads John to use Elizabeth’s illness as an excuse to stay away from Sunday services, a decision that will hurt Proctor in the future. On the very first day that the town starts buzzing about witches, John questions Reverend Parris’ motives when he learns that Parris has sent for John Hail without calling a town meeting first.
John uses this situation to let everyone know that he feels talk of witchcraft is ridiculous and that the minister is over stepping his bounds.
The confrontation leads to a discussion about the reverend’s demands for money and housing, a conversation that Proctor resumes with Reverend Hale when he visits the Proctor as home. Led by his desire to punish any one who would oppose him, Reverend Parris directs Reverend Hale to the Proctor home. In his search for devil worshippers, Hale questions the Proctors about their absences from Sunday church services. John eagerly responds to the inquiry stating, “…since we built the church there were pewter candlesticks upon the altar; … but Parris came, and for twenty week he preach nothin’ but golden candlesticks until he had them.
I labor the earth from dawn of day to blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows – it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer. I think sometimes, the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meeting houses” (62). Proctor continues to explain his absences by attacking Parris’ holiness when he says that he was unable to have his last born baptized because he could “… see no light of God… ” (62), in the minister. Satisfied that they are good Christian people, the Reverend Hale prepares to leave the Proctor house.
After Elizabeth’s arrest, determined to save the woman he loves, John publicly denounces Reverend Parris and the witch trials that the minister has instigated when he goes to court and states under oath, “I – I have no love for Mr. Parris. It is no secret. But God I surely love” (84). It is obvious that John Proctor cares for and respects his wife when he refuses to complicate his adulterous mistakes by turning away from an obsessed Abigail Williams. That caring respect is revitalized into loving devotion when Elizabeth is unjustly charged as a witch. He promises her, “I will bring you home.
I will bring you home soon” (77), as she leaves. When Proctor discovers that it Abigail accused his wife, he realizes that he has kept his affair a secret for too long. John’s selfish desire to remain respected in the community has turned him into a weak man and given Abigail the upper hand. His love for his wife makes Proctor desperate to convince his young housekeeper Mary Warren, to go to the court and tell them everything she knows about the lies that Abigail Williams and the other girls are telling. In order to get what he wants, John threatens “…
I will bring your guts into your mouth but goodness will not die for me” (76). In court, Mary Warren gives in to Abigail’s glares and refuses to testify. John Proctor is arrested as a devil worshipper for trying to undermine the witch trials and it is wrongly determined that Proctor lied when admitting to an affair with Abigail in an attempt to discredit her. Still trying to make up for his past sins, John uses his last chance to speak to Elizabeth before he is hung to profess his love for her. “You are a – marvel, Elizabeth” (134), he declares before he is taken to the gallows.
Through all his feelings of contempt, guilt, and love John Proctor discovers that he has a desperate need to take responsibility for his actions so that he can ask God for forgiveness and learn to live with himself again. John begins by confessing to the court that he has had an adulterous affair with their chief accuser, Abigail Williams. Proctor’s initial intentions were to save his wife from the gallows and that was ordered as soon as the court discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant, but his conscience got the best of him and he tried to denounce Abigail in order to save his accused friends.
When asked if he would drop his charges now that Elizabeth was saved, Proctor replied “I – I think I cannot” (85). After unsuccessfully trying to stop the witch trials in order to save his friends, John Proctor is charged with devil worshipping and jailed. Proctor is promised his freedom in return for a signed confession and the names other devil worshippers. John claims “I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it” (131), as he decides not to answer.
Unable to stand the pressures of feeling like an unworthy man, Proctor lies again and signs a confession for devil worshipping in order to have his life spared. The true character of his goodness prevails though when he rips up the confession and stands by his friends in death instead of falsely accusing them as witches. . In his determination to gain back his strength of character, John Proctor uses his contempt for Reverend Parris, his love for his wife, and his need to take responsibility for his actions to admit his sins, denounce Abigail Williams, and save his soul during the Salem Witch Trials.
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