John Hale in The Crucible by Arthur Miller epitomizes a dynamic character. Throughout the drama, Hale evolves from a man with intentions to free the world from satanic influence to a person who realizes the Salem witch trials were based on lies and fakery. Reverend Parris asked Hale to come and assist in the pursuit of evil.
Hale is cautious in accepting situations that people believe have witchery involved. As a recognized authority on the devil and witchcraft, initially Hale appears arrogant and authoritative. Although Hale had never really accused anyone of being a witch, he is ready to investigate and rid Salem of any demonic influences.
Hale arrives with his weighty books of authority. His idealism comes forth as Hale meets several of the characters involved in the night in the forest of naked dancing and flying: Abigail, Betty, and Tituba.
In addition, he is introduced to some of the well-known townspeople: John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, The Putnams, and the Coreys. Hale also observes some hysteria from the girls which increases his concern about the devil’s presence.
Since Proctor has chosen not to attend church, Hale comes to question him by asking Proctor to repeat the Ten Commandments. Proctor names all of them except adultery, which ironically is the one that he has broken.
Hale wants to find and prosecute witches. He is willing to convict anyone that appears to have the devil within him/her. Hale definitely believes that:
“…powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack upon this village. There is too much evidence to deny it.”
As the trial progresses, Hale begins to see some hypocrisy on the part of the court. He believes that the good people have nothing to fear because God will protect them. The judges do not always give a fair hearing to people who have proof that they are not witches. In addition, there are people like Rebecca Nurse who is considered to be one of the godliest women in Salem accused based on the shady testimony of Ann Putnam.
When Danforth fails to give a fair trial to Proctor, Hale doubts the purpose of the trials. Up to this time, Hale had signed seventy-two death warrants. Hale consistently challenges Danforth in his questioning of Mary Warren and John Proctor realizing that Proctor is telling the truth.
When Abigail Williams does not deny her affair with Proctor and threatens the court, Hale calls this to the attention of the court, but the court ignores him. Finally, when Proctor is sentenced to death, Hale denounces the court and leaves Salem.
After several months, Hale returns on the day of Proctor’s execution. His purpose is to try to get Proctor to sign the false confession to keep from being hanged. Proctor does sign but refuses to give Danforth the copy of his signature. Hale begs Danforth for more time to convince Proctor to save his own life. Danforth refuses because it would make the court look bad.
In addition, Hale asks Elizabeth Proctor to ask her husband to save himself. She refuses because she believes that it is his decision. Obviously, the Reverend Hale would like to relieve himself of some of the guilt for the innocent people who were hanged after he signed their death warrants. Hale now knows that the entire proceedings have been a sham caused by silly girls and gullible adults with the devil and superstition on their shoulders.
Reverend John Hale
A Personal Journey That Would Make Ulysses Jealous
Talk about a character arc. Hale starts out with a Van Helsing-esque vendetta (against witches, not vampires) and ends up a broken, cynical man.
With the notable exception of John Proctor, Hale gets our vote for most complex character in The Crucible. He starts off with really good intentions—even if he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In Act I, Miller writes of Hale: "His goal is light, goodness, and its preservation." This guy has trained and trained to be the best witch-hunter ever, and he's psyched to finally get a chance to show off his stuff. Though he's probably a little full of himself, his ultimate goal is to valiantly fight the Devil. What could be wrong with that?
Well, a whole lot.
In Act II, we see that Hale's former confidence is slowly eroding. This is demonstrated by the fact that he shows up at the Proctors's house of his own accord. He's there without the court's knowledge, trying to get an idea of who the Proctors are for himself. This independent action is a big hint that he's probably beginning to doubt the validity of his own conclusions. When John Proctor gets convicted in Act III due to Abigail's transparent machinations, Hale's confidence is shattered. He quits the court and storms out in anger.
The transition from overconfidence to total disillusionment is already a big journey, but then Miller takes his character a step further in Act IV. After taking off for some soul-searching, Hale turns up hoping to save some lives. He councils convicted witches to confess so that they won't be hanged. Hale is knowingly counseling people to lie. He's lost all faith in the law, and there's a good chance his faith in God is a bit shaky as well.
Hale's last effort to wash some of the blood off his hands fails. He's not able to convince anyone to confess. When John Proctor marches off to his martyr's death, Hale pleads with Elizabeth to change her husband's mind, screaming,
"What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms declare his truth?" (IV.207)
Words like these show that Hale has become a completely different man than the one we met at the beginning of the play. The tortured reverend is a great example of the kind of rich, morally ambiguous character for which Miller is famous.Reverend John Hale Timeline