At the beginning of Act 2, we see John and his wife Elizabeth in conversation. Elizabeth has cooked a meal for her husband and the conversation is tense and careful. Elizabeth is careful not to displease her husband and John is careful in his manner to Elizabeth. Elizabeth is afraid of what she must discuss with her husband but it is necessary that she does. She asks John if he went to Salem today. She is referring to the court case that is now under way concerning witchcraft. "Aye, it is a proper court they have now. They've sent four judges out of Boston, she says, weighty Magistrates of the General Court, and at the head sits the Deputy Governor of the Province." She mentions too her rival Abigail. "She speaks of Abigail, and I thought she were a saint, to hear her. Abigail brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel..." She wants John to go to Salem and see Mr. Cheever, an official of the court, and report what Abigail said to him last week when she denied that this was witchcraft, that it was just girls playing with sorcery and the supernatural. "She said it had naught to do with witchcraft, did she not?" Proctor replies, "I am only wondering how I may prove what she told me, Elizabeth. If the girl's a saint now, I think it is not easy to prove that she's fraud, and the town gone so silly. She told it to me in a room alone - I have no proof of it." Elizabeth reacts predictably to this. She is far more concerned that her husband has again been alone with this young woman. She is suspicious of his motives for being alone with her. John quickly angers. "You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail...I have forgot Abigail." He continues "I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven month since she is gone...and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!" The audience is quick to notice that John Proctor is a very human sort of man.
Later, in the same Act, John is in conversation with Mary, their maid. Mary says, "The Devil's loose in Salem, Mr. Proctor; we must discover where he's hiding!" John replies, "I'll whip the Devil out of you!" He considers her as talking rubbish but later she says, "I saved her life today," speaking of Elizabeth. Proctor is horrified that someone so mild mannered and God fearing could possibly be accused. We see his love for his wife. Elizabeth is convinced that Abigail is at the root of this and wants to see her, Elizabeth, dead so that she might take her place and become John's wife.
Elizabeth sees no option for her but to encourage her husband to go to see Abigail. "Then go and see her and tell her that she's a whore. Whatever promise she may sense, break it, John, break it."
She sees that Abigail is the villain. The whole charade is all about Abigail wanting to have John and she will stop at nothing to achieve her end. Elizabeth is wise in her commanding John to do her bidding but we, the audience, sense her sense of desolation at her situation. On one hand, she wishes to prevent her husband having any more to do with Abigail, but, on the other, if she does not make him face her and show that he recognises Abigail's intentions, she, Elizabeth, may die.
Later on in the Act, Cheever arrives at the Proctor's house with a warrant for the arrest of Elizabeth. It appears that Abigail Williams has charged her with conspiring with the Devil. He comes looking for poppets (dolls). "So will you hand me any poppets that your wife may keep here." The doll, of course, is used in black magic, representative of another being. A doll is found with a needle attached to it. It turns out to be the poppet of their servant, Mary. It is a rag doll that she has been making whilst whiling away long hours in the court. "Let you ask Susanna Walcott - she saw me sewin' it in court." Hale then accuses Mary of attempting to murder Abigail since a needle was found stuck into her stomach. John Proctor is witness to this scene and sees the whole situation as ridiculous, so he rips the warrant out of the hands of Hale.
"We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! I'll not give my wife to vengeance!"
John Proctor is an ordinary man who can see the ridiculousness of the situation, and so he takes the law into his own hands. He represents normality in a world that has rules that go against human nature. We, the audience, sympathise with him totally, but his wife is still arrested. He promises her, "I will bring you home. I will bring you soon." The audience believe him. He knows the true culprit. It is Abigail. He tells Mary that she must come to the court with him and tell them who stuck the needle in the doll. However, Mary says, "I cannot charge murder on Abigail." She tells John that Abigail will get her own back on John. "Abby'll charge lechery on you." So now John knows that Abigail has told his secret to others. He will be found guilty of the sin of adultery and he will be ruined in this puritan society. John no longer cares for himself. All he cares about is his wife and that everyone knows the truth about Abigail. "We will slide together into our pit; you will tell the court what you know."
When Miller first wrote this play, there was an additional scene but he later withdrew it from the published version. When the next Act begins, we see the court case well under way. We discover too that many people have been charged with witchcraft. We assume the missing scene showed Abigail having got away with her intentions and has continued her accusations of witchcraft. Elizabeth is still accused and John has not been able to bring her home. It shows us that Abigail has the upper hand in the relationship since she has been able to control the agenda and not John. She has the power whereas we might have felt that prior to this, John was the more powerful of the two characters. Salem is being destroyed by this destructive relationship. Our sympathies are perhaps with both of the characters, John because he can do nothing to stop the outcome of the court and Abigail because once she has started this vindictive court case, she too is unable to stop what she has started. The whole thing has spiralled out of control. I suspect Miller withdrew this scene because it undermines the power of the following Act. We are expecting John to have been to the court and dealt with the situation. We expect sense to have prevailed and so therefore when it has not, we are surprised and this adds to the dramatic power of the play.
In Act 3, we see Proctor accusing Abigail of plotting to murder his wife. "I believe she means to murder." He accuses all the girls of being acting the whole thing out. He accuses Abigail of being a whore. Proctor confesses to the court his sin. "God help me, I lusted..." Danforth puts Proctor's accusations to the test by inviting Elizabeth into the court and asking her why she put Abigail out of her house. Proctor has already told the court the goodness of his wife Elizabeth and her inability to lie. Danforth asks "To your knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery?...Is your husband a lecher?" Elizabeth replies faintly, "No Sir." She lies purely to protect the man she loves but the reply is the great dramatic moment of the play. Proctor says, "She only thought to save my name." Hale believes Proctor and says that he thinks Abigail is guilty of a terrible sin, but Abigail selects cleverly this moment to imagine she is seeing a yellow bird. She diverts attention. The girls follow her lead. The case is lost. We finally see Abigail for what she is. She cares for nobody apart from herself and saving her own soul, whereas Elizabeth has lied to protect the man she loves. She knows that she will face death but she lies to protect him. Proctor realises all that he has lost and all that was his own fault. Proctor should be presented as a broken man and his wife as submissive, having all hope taken away from her. Abigail still has the power. She is a commanding presence.
In Act 4, Abigail runs away from Salem. The situation has out grown her and so she does what we would expect such a shallow person to do, run away. John is hung after he and Elizabeth become close again and say they're sorry. Hale wants John to confess to his lie, which he will not. Elizabeth understands her husband. He is a good, honest man and should be remembered as one. He must have his name. She recognises his needs to be honourable.
Abigail is without doubt the villain of the play. John is the hero. Despite the fact that John is hanged at the end of the play, we respect him and admire him. He has made serious mistakes, but he never falters when he is presented with what is right. Elizabeth too never falters whereas Abigail makes mistakes and compounds these mistakes and allows other people to die for her selfishness. Then, at the end of the play, she runs away like a thief. She is truly evil.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This essay demonstrates a good understanding of the play and the characters within it. There are many apt points made; however some of them need to be developed more fully to really show a full understanding of how Miller uses certain techniques for effect and to convey certain messages. 4 Stars