The Crucible as a tragedyThe Crucible can be seen to be a tragedy in a number of ways, mainly because the main character is faced with, in the words of the author, Arthur Miller, himself, a tragic dilemma.
John Proctor is the main character in the play of The Crucible. At the outset of the play, he does not appear to be a central character, but as the story develops, one can see that the importance of his existence and the reason behind his presence are soon made known. John Proctor is a man with a divided nature and this is reflected in the way he conducts the relationships between his neighbours and himself. The relationship which reveals the most about the man is the one between him and Abigail. Miller tells us that Proctor feels he has compromised his idea of decency and proper conduct, but the farmer does not seem to assume any such emotion. As a matter of fact, he is unashamed or embarrassed at the presence of Abigail, his illegal liaison, and even smiles somewhat knowingly at her when he points his finger at her and accuses her of being ‘wicked’. He claims that their relationship is over and even goes so far as to say that they ‘never touched’.
This seems to contradict the fact that Proctor is a man of strong convictions, but Proctor’s obvious opposition to Parris, his brow-beating of Mary Warren, his threatening violence against the court clerk and his tearing up of the Governer’s warrant all indicate the strength of his character as well as the strong convictions which possess this man. Later on, John Proctor is faced with a tragic dilemma which tests this conviction. He is accused of witchcraft himself and he is forced to make a choice between confessing to the deeds which he has not done and live, or to hang a convicted practitioner of witchcraft who did not confess his sins. At first, Proctor, after a long period of confinement in prison, agrees to sign the confession. However, as he thinks things through, he finally takes the right path and tears the confession up after signing it. This clearly demonstrates the strong convictions which bind his thoughts and this situation thus becomes a tragic dilemma. It is also something of a tragic dilemma for Hale, who is a secondary character but also plays an important role. At the end of the play, Hale decides to attempt to convince those wrongly charged of witchcraft to confess to witchcraft to avoid the noose, even though this goes against what he has always been thought and believed.
There is thus a contrast between the two men. One takes right path in an effort to preserve his integrity and righteousness, while the other chooses the path of darkness in order to preserve those whom he does not wish to see perish simply because of an inept system of justice. Proctor, being the central character to the play, influences much of the reader’s opinion of the play as well as the content of the play. Having vicariously experienced a tragic dilemma which Proctor is subject to, the reader is bound to think of the play as a tragedy and this is certainly true. What could be more tragic than the ruthless killing of innocent men, women and children simply because there exist factions and hate within a small town? What more could be more tragic than having to choose between selling your soul for mortal life and preserving your soul for eternal life, then choosing mortal death over eternal hell-fire? As such, it can be seen that The Crucible is, undeniably, a tragedy in every sense of the word.