The Crucible

How do the events in act 2 affect the readers' perception of the situation in which Proctor and the others find themselves?

The Crucible act 2

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The conversation between John and Elizabeth Proctor is highly mundane, illustrating the significant tension remaining in the relationship since Proctor's affair with Abigail Williams. Elizabeth Proctor is intensely suspicious of her husband, worrying when he arrives at home late for dinner and adopting a condescending tone when her husband admits that he was momentarily alone with Abigail Williams. Miller establishes Elizabeth Proctor as a morally upright woman, respectable and dignified, yet with an air of superiority that renders her frigid and distant. Proctor feels that Elizabeth has made her home into a repressive atmosphere, continually punishing her husband for his wrongdoing. Still, if Elizabeth adopts a tone of moral superiority it is because she is the superior of her contemporaries, with an unwavering belief in the capability of persons to remain moral.

Miller creates an atmosphere of guilt within the Proctor household that mirrors the similar conditions within larger Puritan society. Proctor has expressed contrition for his infidelity and asked for forgiveness, yet there is no sense of catharsis within his marriage nor ability for full reconciliation. The Proctor marriage is stagnant and stifling, as the fact of John's adultery lingers in every conversation like a giant white elephant. Miller demonstrates this, in particular, when Proctor is unable to recall the commandment against adultery – it is a moment of humor, but it also reflects the crisis of the Proctor marriage. Miller seems to indicate that, like the rest of their Puritan society, the Proctors need an outlet to expiate John's sins and without this means for redemption they are committed to a perpetual obsession with past infidelity.

Two major themes emerge in the second act of The Crucible. The first of these is the line between public and private. The act itself moves from the intimate conversation between husband and wife to more public matters, but the division between these two spheres becomes obscure. Even in this setting, the public discussions of the Proctors' guilt or innocence occurs within the home. More importantly, Reverend Hale and the other court officials use private information for their public matters, such as information about the frequency with which they attend church and their belief in the existence of witches. The court officials investigate all aspects of the suspects' private lives. Under such intense scrutiny, these officials are able to find any information that may be may interpreted as evidence of guilt – not unlike the House Unamerican Activities Commission using everything from religion and sexuality to, in the case of the Rosenbergs, a discarded box of Jell-o as evidence of un-American behavior.

The second major theme of the act is the ambiguity of evidence. This begins even before Hale arrives at the Proctors' home, when Elizabeth, as a betrayed wife, suspects her husband's excuses for coming home late. This continues with Reverend Hale's interpretation of John's forgetfulness of one of the Ten Commandments and the evidence against Martha Corey, which deemed her a witch for reading books. The most significant symbol of this theme in the second act is Mary Warren's poppet. Miller makes it clear to the audience that Elizabeth did not use the poppet as a charm against Abigail Williams, but its presence in her house is quite damning in the view of the court.