by Arthur Miller
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Rebirth
John Proctor discusses Abigail’s mischief with her.
Because John Proctor has committed adultery with Abigail Williams, he is still under her sway. When Proctor visits to find out why Betty is sick, and to mention how the entire town seems to think it’s witchcraft, Abigail admits to him that she, Betty, and the other girls were just playing games. We know, however, that she was drinking a potion to make Elizabeth Proctor die so she could become Proctor’s next wife. Although Proctor doesn’t know it, we the audience are aware that Abigail is a dangerous personality and that Proctor is vulnerable.
John and Elizabeth Proctor are relatively isolated from the frenzy that is eating the town alive. They only hear about it through rumor and their housemaid, Mary.
John and Elizabeth discuss farm issues, and it’s clear that their relationship is still strained. John wants forgiveness, and Elizabeth wants to give it to him, but the hurt is deep.
Elizabeth is arrested as a witch, and John Proctor tries in vain to save her and clear her name. In so doing, Proctor himself is arrested and accused of being a witch as well.
The Proctors’ housemaid Mary returns home and gives Elizabeth a poppet with a pin stuck in it. Mary explains how she saved Elizabeth’s life, and Elizabeth urges Proctor to go to the court and explain what he knows about Abigail. But it is too late. Cheever and Herrick arrive to arrest Elizabeth. The poppet is considered proof that she’s a witch: earlier that evening, Abigail was eating and was suddenly stuck by a pin in her thigh. She said Elizabeth Proctor was the one who tried to hurt her, and if they looked on the property, they’d find a poppet with a pin in it. They do, and Elizabeth is led away.
Later, in the courtroom, John Proctor tries to save his wife by exposing Abigail Williams as a fraud and a whore. To ascertain the truth, Deputy Governor Danforth asks the imprisoned Elizabeth Proctor if her husband is a lecher. To save his name, she lies for the first time, and claims he is not a lecher. Unfortunately, Proctor has already confessed, so Elizabeth’s untruthfulness actually undermined him rather than helped him. Soon after this event, Proctor himself is accused of being a witch and ends up in prison.
The day of John Proctor’s hanging – and his dilemma about whether to confess.
Proctor wrestles with his soul in prison, feeling that he doesn’t deserve to go to the gallows branded as a martyr and a saint. He discusses how he is feeling with his wife, and she lets him know that she realizes that it was her coldness that led him to seek Abigail. She feels he is taking her sin upon his shoulders and suggests that he stop judging himself. The shock of this confession rips Proctor right out of his self-pity, to look at the world with new eyes. He wants to live, he decides, and so he will confess.
John Proctor tears up his signed confession and walks to the gallows.
Even as he confesses to a sin he didn’t commit, Proctor realizes that he can’t tell lies about the sins of other people. It is one thing to lie about himself and to take the rap to his reputation. But it is yet another thing to smear his friends’ good names. When Proctor decides to tear up the confession, he redeems himself and recognizes that he’s a good man. When he chooses death, he recognizes his fundamental goodness as a man. He is reborn.