As she clutches him in desperation he unintentionally calls her “child”, “how do you call me child” her anger rises and she is left feeling insignificant and vulnerable. This is ironic as this “child” had previously been his lover, her anger rises and she is left feeling insignificant and vulnerable. The tension reaches its peak as Abigail loses her temper and speaks badly of Elizabeth “She is blackening my name. She is a cold snivelling woman”. As John gets up to leave Abigail resorts to crying, “Pity me, pity me” she says but Miller innovatively ends the scene as Betty wakes up leaving everyone in suspense. What will happen now? Will John give in to Abigail? Although we haven’t been introduced to Elizabeth we already feel a great deal of sympathy for her, as she thought her husband was a righteous man. How can she trust him? At this stage we are given the impression that Elizabeth is a very forgiving women as she is still standing by her husband. He respects her greatly for this but she probably hates Abigail as much as her religion will allow.
As act one closes the audience want to see Elizabeth on stage soon to judge her for themselves. They will subsequently be asking questions surrounding the affair. Is Abigail right about Elizabeth? Why did John betray his wife? Although John has brought the situation on himself he is trying to rebuild his life and tells Abigail that she’ll “…speak nothin’ of Elizabeth!”.
At the beginning of Act two John and Elizabeth are shown together. John enters the house carrying a gun, which portrays his threatening image. In contrast to this, Elizabeth is heard singing to the children this indicates her gentle and calming character. John tastes the soup Elizabeth has made and is unsatisfied with it, he “…takes a pinch of salt” and adds it to the soup. However in order to show his eternal gratitude for her forgiveness he lies and tells Elizabeth the soup is “well seasoned”. This is a sign of his guilty conscience that he is so desperate to free himself of. He wants to show Elizabeth that despite the setback in their marriage he still loves her and she still makes him happy.
Dramatic pauses are used within John and Elizabeth’s conversation to show conflict. There is no physical contact or passion between them as they talk mindlessly, when John kisses Elizabeth the stage direction states “with a certain disappointment he returns to the table”. This shows the lack of satisfaction John is receiving from Elizabeth and the obvious emptiness within their marriage.
As Elizabeth cautiously ponders on the subject of the Salem Witch Trials, John is fuming as he discovers that she has gone against his wishes and allowed Mary Warren to go to Salem. He then criticises Elizabeth for not taking control of her own household, “…it is a fault Elizabeth – you’re the mistress here not Mary Warren.” Elizabeth feels threatened and says, “she frightened all my strength away”. John realises the power and domination he uses in conversation are successful in overpowering his wife and convincing her she is wrong. He puts on a hard front to subconsciously make his wife fear him so she won’t disagree or have the nerve to talk back to him.
John mentions his previous conversation with Abigail earlier in the day, Elizabeth quite rightly feels threatened by this and questions her husband. John does nothing to help the situation and states, “…If it were not Abigail that you must hurt now, would you falter now, I think not”. This is said because John refuses to go into Salem, he says “I’ll not have your suspicions…”. Elizabeth tells John that he will not earn her forgiveness easily, “Then let you earn it”. This conversation really shows the true colours within each character. John is desperately striving for forgiveness to take away the guilt he is carrying but Elizabeth is a very religious woman and although she feels it is her duty to hold the marriage together she believe that he must seek forgiveness from God first, “the magistrate sits in your heart that judges you”. As the subject of Lechery enters the conversation the tension mounts as the audience feel close to the characters for the first time in the play.
As Mary Warren enters tension is created again. John shows great anger towards her and is livid about her working in court. Elizabeth is in fear of death after Abigail’s accusation, “she wants me dead, John, you know it!”. As Elizabeth is speaking, John’s anger is constantly rising. Hale then enters, “I note that you are rarely in church on Sabbath day”, John’s religion is doubted by his absence in church. Hale then asks him to recite the ten commandments, he only recites nine this is ironic as the tenth was Adultery. Elizabeth “delicately” reminded John and his reaction was “as though a secret arrow had pained his heart”. Hale then questions their belief in witches, John says “I have no knowledge of it; the Bible speaks of witches, and I will not deny them. But Elizabeth condemns herself by saying that she cannot believe which according to Hale is dangerous as that denies the Gospel. After Elizabeth reveals her non-belief that the “devil may own a woman’s soul” the tension mounts as Hales’ suspicion arouses.
As act two draws to a close Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft and the poppet Mary gave her is a supposed symbol of this. The audience feel sympathy towards her as she has many hidden strengths behind her weak exterior. The audience also know that she has been falsely accused and could face death.
As act three opens John takes Mary Warren to court in order to clear Elizabeth’s name. He instructs her to tell the truth about the girls to the court and set the record straight surrounding Abigail’s lies. Abigail strongly denies deceiving the court sending John’s anger rocketing sky high. He then decides to confess to prove his wife’s innocence. Although the confession would strip him of his respected name he knew he owed this to Elizabeth. The court have their doubts and summon Elizabeth the tension mounts as she is brought to the stand. John and Elizabeth are told to face away from each other. The audience expect Elizabeth to keep her religious ways and tell the truth but to the dismay of both John and the audience she lies in order to save his name. She realises she has made a terrible mistake when John cries out “Elizabeth, I have confessed it!”. As Elizabeth is taken away many questions would be asked by the audience. If Elizabeth had been allowed to look at John would her answer be different?
Abigail then begins acting up to the court, frantically shouting, “Oh, please, Mary” and “ Mary, please don’t hurt me!” This distresses Mary greatly and she desperately tries to convince the court that she is not setting her spirit upon Abigail. The audience would be confused as to who the court would believe as they seem to be siding with Abigail but they know Mary is telling the truth.
At the end of act three, John Proctors words strongly symbolise the inner sufferance and anger to which he has subjected himself to and his anger towards the court for punishing his completely innocent wife for something his ex-lover has made up. The injustice of the situation infuriates him and he shouts, “You are pulling heaven down and raising up a whore”.
In act four, John awaits his sentence. Abigail goes missing and
Hale pleads with Elizabeth to ask John to lie so he doesn’t hang for a crime he didn’t commit. Elizabeth refuses. The audience would feel anger towards her at this point as her religion is once again interfering with the courts decision, and subsequently her husbands’ life. Eventually he convinces her to talk to him, the conversation is surprisingly normal and unemotional. The subject changes to the confessions of both characters John asks her whether she could for give him for confessing and lying. She answers with a cold tone simply stating, “I cannot judge you, John”.
Tension is mounting as the audience expect Elizabeth to offer her forgiveness, they would hate to see John die for a sin he didn’t commit. We now know that John has very little time to play with. She finally admits her true feelings, “I have counted myself so plain, so poorly made…it were a cold house I kept.” Very ironically she then says, “forgive me, forgive me, John…”. He then tells the court he will confess, and states after much controversy that he did communicate with the devil. The court then tells him “sign your testimony”. After a lot of thought he signed. A great deal of tension was present when Danforth took away the signed confession, as there was no going back now, his fate was decided. The audience can now see that he is so passionate that he would even face death in order to keep his good name.
In her last line; Elizabeth has now developed as a character and can proudly give John the forgiveness he dreamed of, “He have his goodness now”.
As the play draws to an end the audience feel a sense of sadness towards John for the false accusation made against him but at the same time he died with everything out in the open he no longer had to live a lie. The audience would have felt pity towards Elizabeth and slight resentment as she was the only person with the power to save him but at the same time she set his spirit free and let him keep his name, which was what he wanted. The small town of Salem will always remember John for who he was and not what he did because he confessed to save his wife and ended up losing his life but he died knowing he did the right thing.