Whilst having dinner with his wife Elizabeth, we lose all respect for John Proctor, and see the effects that his unspoken adultery have upon their relationship. It is like a visible subtext that neither of them wishes to confront. We can tell that Elizabeth knows about this, but chooses to ignore it, and so we are angered to find that she is submissive to her husband, something 21st century women and men deeply resent and so conjures up feelings of hatred towards Proctor, as if he is too much of a coward to do the right thing.
When Proctor makes a comment about the lack of flowers, Elizabeth replies as if she is his slave, perhaps in a fashion very true to the time, “Oh, I forgot! I will tomorrow”. The sentence structuring at this point in play is very interesting and goes further to back up my point. When the couple are attempting to be nice to one another, the sentences are very short and are quite bland, however when they are angry at one another sentences expand into whole paragraphs full of rage.
An example of when this happens is when Proctor says he is fed up of not having enough trust in his marriage, and accuses Elizabeth of making the house into a “court”, where he is the accused. This is especially true at the point when Elizabeth subtly confronts his adultery, exposing all of Proctor’s weaknesses and failures. We cannot help but think that Proctor has sunk as low as he possibly can if he cannot even be happy in his home. Out of the blue, events take a shocking change of course as we see that he does care for his wife after all; he defends Elizabeth fervently when she is accused of witchcraft.
At this point of high dramatic tension, we see his love for her come through as though he is a changed person displaying a vast contrast to previous events. This is particularly evident when Proctor loses his temper with a character called Cheever and proclaims “out with you” at Cheever’s presentation of a warrant. The pace of the conversation at this point in the play is extremely fast and we can see that Proctor is greatly outnumbered and so is forced to snap back at any remark made, possibly without thinking as much as he should have.
This sort of tribalistic fighting; against those that support the new movement of persecution and Proctor who does not, elevates him to the status of a tragic hero. This bravery is crucial to enable the audience to build up a relationship with Proctor that will allow the audience to connect with him towards the end of the play when he chooses to die as a martyr. The text at this point frequently uses religious symbolism so that Proctor will appear in the same light as Jesus perhaps did. After much ado Proctor finds himself in court, forced to confess to adultery.
He does not find this easy because he doesn’t want to spoil his good name, so Abigail thinks she can take advantage of this, but he eventually breaks down and confesses, giving us, the audience, a bit of a mixed feeling. We want to be able to look down on him for what he has done wrong, he has slightly tarnished the good feelings and trust that we felt earlier, but at the same time there is this overriding feeling that he is doing this to save his wife’s life, that he now a great man, heroically defending his cause, no matter what the consequences.
This is evidently shown when Proctor says, “A man will not cast away his good name”. This shows us just how much he is prepared to stake to secure his wife’s life, to be able to make amends, and to finally put all this mess behind him. It appears that to have a good name is to have a good relationship with God and so we can see that he is not just idly tossing around meaningless words. Ultimately, this section strengthens out belief in Proctor and our support of what he is doing in what is to follow.
In this scene reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy, Proctor is at his highest. Throwing away everything he has has not had a negative effect upon his status, in fact it has made it rise, right to the very top. He is put into a predicament over whether to sign a confession and lose his good name or die as a martyr. When he is caught up in the emotion of the event, refusing to sign his name, we see it as his greatest moralistic triumph, dieing for his cause, with a great, loving and cohesive relationship between him and Elizabeth.
To him it would be better to be seen dieing in God’s name, even when he knows that it is all a bit of a charade, one that he cannot escape out of. He makes the most of ridiculing the town’s new movement, attempting feebly to find alternatives to dieing, “say Proctor broke his knees and wept like a woman”, at this very point we feel immense sympathy for Proctor to the point where we feel we can do no more, and it is as if his fate is in God’s hands.
He is like any civil rights movement figure head, dieing as a true hero, hoping that the world will see its wrong, however tragically he winds up doing so. The language used at this point in the play enables us to almost hear the emotion and trouble in his voice; it enables Proctor to flip the tables and almost become the figure of authority for this brief moment, stealing it away from the Judges.
In conclusion, John Proctor’s character goes on a plight of status change throughout the play, seemingly able to go from being the lowest of the low to the man that everyone has respect for, visibly or not. In some respects Act Four shows that he has failed to get what he wanted, and instead ended up losing his own life, but at the same time it also shows that his intentions changed, and he finally did not care about just himself, instead leaving an impact as a martyr; a tragic hero.