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The Importance of Non-Conformity

Thomas Paine once wrote, ?These are the times that try men’s souls.? He of course was speaking of the difficulty the colonists faced during the Revolutionary war. However, we see that throughout history there have been numerous times when man has been faced with great dilemmas, the outcomes of which have had an effect on society as a whole. Those who lived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, were faced with such similar struggles. Some of these battles were outwardly fought and others were the, sometimes more brutal, internal battles, in which the victor had a strong effect on the whole Salem community. The outcomes of the inner conflicts found in the characters of this novel, were based upon whether or not the players chose to submit to the pressures put upon them by a society that was rooted in the strict control of all aspects of life. Throughout the play Jon Proctor, in looking out for he and his wife?s welfare, his soul and name, and the town, makes decisions which are of important consequence to himself and to the greater community. In The Crucible, we see through John Proctor?s various motivations, Arthur Miller?s underlying theme of the difficulty and importance for one to be an individual in a society of conformists.

Proctor being concerned only with himself and behaving like a true conformist does not submit his knowledge of the falsity of the witch trials, nor of the adultery he committed with Abigail Williams. Primarily, realizing that it is likely that the court will not believe him, John is not readily inclined to go against what most of the community considers as true and tell the court that the girls are a fraud. John understands that the consequence for such a charge is great and so he is afraid of getting caught up in unnecessary trouble with the town. He had the power very early on to stop the witch trials; however, he chooses to keep his silence; hence the number of accused continued to grow. Furthermore, Proctor realizes? with a deep hatred of himself,? that Abigail may denounce him by admitting to their lechery. John had committed adultery and had absolutely no intentions of admitting it to anyone because he was not willing to pay the town?s consequences for his act. So when he finds, in the end of Act Two, that Abigail could ruin him without bringing her own ?saintliness? down, he is disgusted with himself for not telling of his fornification when he had the chance to destroy her reputation. Later, we see that even when he does admit to it, with great difficulty and shame, and openly discredit himself, the court does not believe him. Proctor, had he not been so concerned with his reputation, could have possibly stopped the witch trials very early on.

John, fearing for his wife?s welfare, goes against his beliefs so that he may look like a traditional Puritan in front of those who are judging him. Initially, although Proctor does not believe in the existence of witchcraft, he says to Hale, ? I have no knowledge of it; the Bible speaks of witches, and I will not deny them.? John, in trying to convince Hale of the ? Christian character? of their household, is yielding himself to the ignorance of the community, which he knows in his heart to be false. Moreover, John has shown that even the most individualistic person in the community can be oppressed if faced with a high enough stake. Also, When Cheever tells Danforth that Proctor ripped up the warrant for his wife?s arrest, John?s reply is, ? It were a temper, sir. I knew not what I did.? Proctor is correct in saying that he was angry; however, he knew well enough what he was doing and in saying this he makes himself look as if he has no control over his actions. He is lowering himself to the oppressors? level and exhibiting the respect for Danforth that is expected from him, but which he does not actually feel. Proctor, while trying to protect his wife, conforms to the ideals looked for in him.

Throughout Act four, John?s concern for his soul and name are factors that influence whether or not he will choose to give up his individuality and live a lie. Principally, Proctor, thinking of confessing to witch craft says, ? My honesty is broke, Elizabeth; I am no good man. Nothing’s spoiled by giving them this lie that were not rotten long before.? John is willing to give his ? weighty? declaration because he thinks that he is not a ‘good’ man and feels that dying for the cause of being ‘good’ is therefore pretence. His confession would cause him to validate the witch trials and to remain in a society that will no longer view him as a distinct person. In addition, the difficulty John Proctor has when he is confessing to witch craft is shown when he says, ?I think it is honest, I think so; I am no saint.? Proctor?s uncertainty about giving his admission shows how great the battle within him must be, while he is submitting himself to live a lie. Proctor is having difficulty deciding if he will testify to this fabrication that will tear away his individuality as it destroys his name. Likewise, Proctor refuses to sign a document admitting to his correspondence with the devil. As Danforth asks him why, John answers with a cry, ? Because it is my name. Because I cannot have another in my life . . . How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!? John realizes that if he conforms he will be left without his name and that without his name he is like any other man in Salem and no longer the individual he prided himself in being. Also, he begins to think about the effects his name as a confessor will have on the community. Proctor, as he is dealing with the concerns for his soul and name, conforms to a certain point and then begins to question the importance he lays on being an individual.

Proctor, with great difficulty, finally wins the battle within himself as he realizes the consequences that his confession will have on the overall community; thereby, leading to his subsequent choice of non-conformity. Firstly, John refuses to say he saw anyone with the devil and explains to Danforth, ?They think to go like saints. I like not to spoil their name.? John does not want to admit that he saw anyone with the devil because he feels bad enough that he is committing himself to a lie, and does not want validate the fact that Rebecca Nurse or any others are a witches. Yet, he does with great trouble succumb to Danforth when he makes it sound as if he does not believe that they are speaking of the truth. We see here that John?s sanity is beginning to break and that he is having a lot of trouble admitting to witch craft. Moreover, Proctor tells Danforth in a fury, ? Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this [ the signed document] is nailed to the church door the very day they hang for silence.? John realizes the true effect of his admittance on the community and that if he confessed he would cause all those that ?[hung] for silence? to have died for nothing. He knows now that he can not conform and that he is not only giving up his individualism if he does, but more importantly he will be feeding a falsehood to the community. Finally, the masterful scene between Proctor and his wife in the final act deals with his struggle to be true to himself and his community. Elizabeth refuses to judge Proctor and influence his decision to live, saying: ?I am not your judge, I cannot be?. Proctor now realizes that only God and he himself may judge his sins. He refuses to ? blacken? his and the other martyrs names and to substantiate the whole witch trials. In the end, Proctor keeps his conscience and hangs as an innocent man rather than living as a liar.

Emerson once said, ?A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.? In The Crucible, Proctor fights within himself to keep his individuality in a community where non-conformance can bring severe consequences. Proctor realizes, through his different motivations, the importance for one to be true to oneself and to the ideas that you believe in, in order that you may truly live in ? a rich realm.? Although at the end of the play Proctor is dead, he as Elizabeth says, ? Has his goodness now.?

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