“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”
A daring thing to say, especially in 19th century sectionalized America. Written by Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience was written in 1849 in response to the Mexican American War and the government’s idleness in resolving the slavery issue. Thoreau urges his fellow Americans to protest the government if they were truly unhappy with it; and if this meant going to jail, so be it.
If you are willing to uphold a moral or a belief in the face of an unjust government, you must be willing to take the unjust punishment for your beliefs.
Rewind 157 years to the Salem Witch Trials and the events of The Crucible. John Proctor, seeing his neighbors killed for being accused of witchcraft and his wife Elizabeth being accused, stands up to Abigail Williams and the court in order to protect those around him. John claims that Abigail and the rest of the girls are pretending to see demons and witchcraft, and John even reveals his sin of adultery to the court in order to protect his wife and neighbors. At this point, John has come to terms with himself and his guilt for cheating on his wife; a turning point in Proctor’s character development. John realizes that he must accept punishment for his actions in order to defend his neighbors and wife. This development comes to a head when John refuses to sign his confession for witchcraft, as he knew he couldn’t lie to himself anymore and send his neighbors to the scaffold. John was willing to sacrifice his life in order to uphold his integrity and die for what he believed to be right.
The irony behind the story is summed up when John and the other people “guilty” of witchcraft recite the Christian prayer “Our Father” as they are being falsely convicted and executed for a demonic crime. What made the scene even more ironic was Proctor being killed just after reciting “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”; a nod to the court’s decisions, Abigail’s pretending, and Elizabeth’s forgiveness for John’s adultery.
John had stood up to the face of an unjust government in order to defend the innocence of those around him. A brave sacrifice and a resounding answer to the question “Are you willing to die for your most sacred religious or humanitarian beliefs?”