John Proctor never wavers from his principled stance of being a "Gospel Christian," an honest man and a husband devoted to his wife—except one mistake ruins his family and causes his death. After he confesses his affair to his wife, Elizabeth, he remains dedicated to mending his marriage when he encounters Abigail Williams's seductive behavior. He demands the young woman not speak negatively about his wife, never imagining how callously cruel this young girl with a selfish heart will act when spurned. Standing on his Christian principles, Proctor has no qualms about publicly chastising Reverend Parris for choosing to involve the authorities before calming parishioners who fear the Devil is revealing himself in Salem. He also demonstrates his lack of respect for the minister's materialism and his demands for obedience by threatening those who don't conform with eternity in Hell. Neither does he fear Thomas Putnam's power when his adversary commands Parris to have Reverend Hale look for signs of sorcery in the village. Proctor bares his unflinching integrity by not releasing the names of people who signed depositions revealing the girls' as frauds, and he stands with his friends Giles Corey and Francis Nurse when they take the same principled stance. He even chooses to maintain his good name and die an honest Christian man instead of shaming himself by living a lie.
Elizabeth Proctor becomes the tragic victim of the Salem witch hunt because of a young woman's desire for vengeance. She is a loving wife to John and mother to their three sons and dedicates herself to her husband's and children's needs. Elizabeth remains cold toward her husband even seven months after he confessed to an affair and promised to mend their marriage. Not knowing that John has staked his reputation and his life on her unflinching honesty, she lies, stating he isn't a lecher. When he says he told the truth, she cries, "Oh, God!" realizing she has condemned him to death. At the end of the play, Elizabeth tells her husband she has loved him unconditionally and has always believed in his goodness. She asks his forgiveness for doubting his love. Elizabeth explains she always felt too plain and undeserving of him, so she wasn't as free with her love for him as she should have been. Right before he is to hang, John asks her what he should do—lie to save his life, or go to his death an honest man. She says the decision must be his and asks for his forgiveness, saying, "I never knew such goodness in the world!"
Reverend Parris is a defensive and paranoid Salem minister who left a successful business in Barbados to become a church leader. He is insecure about keeping his position because he feels some of his parishioners are against him. He is so concerned he will lose his position over Betty's actions that he quickly accepts the insinuations that the Devil's work is thriving in Salem. Because he depends on the support of the wealthy Thomas Putnam, Reverend Parris sides with the land-hungry man when he airs his suspicions and questions the Christianity of specific townspeople. Whether he realizes that Putnam is condemning people who own land he covets is unclear. Parris just wants to solidify his role as a minister who accepts the biblical views of the theocracy's authorities.
Abigail Williams is an attractive and conniving 17-year-old girl who had an affair with John Proctor around October 1691, seven months before the play begins. When she talks with John at the Parris house during Betty's illness, she tries to lure him into restarting their romance. He refuses and demands she not speak disparagingly about his wife, Elizabeth. Unwilling to accept his rejection, Abigail seeks vengeance by plotting to have Elizabeth convicted as a witch and hanged so John will marry her. To solidify her case, she first accuses people of witchcraft who haven't earned the same respect Elizabeth has so they will be easy to convict on the proof of her courtroom theatrics. Her convincing pretenses initiate every scene, turning into a group hysteria logic that common sense cannot penetrate.
Although he is anxious to prove his expertise as a witchcraft expert, Reverend Hale is first of all a "sensible man" as John Proctor mentions in Act 1. Although Reverend Hale does question the arrests of Rebecca Nurse, Martha Corey, and Elizabeth Proctor since they are known to be good Christian women, he is gulled by the girls' visions and bewitched behavior. After he finally heeds John Proctor's pleas for proof, and witnesses how the girls' antics are believed when the evidence presented by Misters Proctor, Nurse, and Corey aren't, Reverend Hale questions the judges' decisions. When Proctor and Corey are arrested, he denounces the court. Then, in the final act when Danforth will not pardon John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse, or even postpone the executions, Reverend Hale shows his integrity and solid Christian beliefs when he cries, "It is a lie! They are innocent."
Giles Corey is a farmer who owns 600 acres of farmland and woods. A naïve man, he innocently asks Reverend Hale why his wife, Martha, likes to read so much, never thinking Thomas Putnam, his land-hungry adversary, will use his query against him by accusing his wife of witchcraft. Heartsick over how his words have been used to condemn his wife, he tries to prove her innocence with evidence showing Putnam had his daughter accuse a man of sorcery so he could seize the man's land. Corey won't name the man who gave him the information, and the judges arrest him for contempt of court. He is crushed to death when heavy stones are piled on his chest, choosing not to answer the indictment of witchcraft because if he denied it, he would be hanged, and then Putnam could seize his land, too.
Rebecca Nurse is known to be a steadfast Christian woman. Townspeople send for her when a loved one is sick or dying because of her warmth and compassion. Ann Putnam is jealous of Rebecca because 11 of her babies have grown to adulthood, while only one of Ann's eight children has lived. Ann accuses Rebecca of murdering her babies through sorcery. Rebecca refuses to lie by confessing to witchcraft to save her life, so she is sentenced to hang and walks to the gallows with John Proctor's support.