In The Crucible, what lie did John Proctor tell Elizabeth in Act ll which makes her more suspicious of him?  

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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At the beginning of Act ll, John and Elizabeth make all attempts to be cordial to each other. They indulge in small conversation but it is obvious that there exists some tension between them. Initially, though, it does seem as if they are on the road to making peace with one another.

The conversation soon revolves around Mary Warren and Abigail Williams, their current and erstwhile servants. The two girls have become central witnesses in the witch trials in Salem. Elizabeth urges John that he should go to Salem and inform the court about what Abigail had told him about her and the other girls' actions in the forest - an incident that led to accusations of witchcraft.

It is clear that John is not keen to grant his wife's request. He makes the excuse that Abigail has achieved so much status that it would be difficult to negate her version of events. John lets slip that he and Abigail were alone when she told him about her and the other girls' shenanigans in the forest. She mentioned that they had only been 'dancing in the woods' and that Betty Parris, the priest's daughter, had only gotten a fright at her father's sudden appearance.

Elizabeth rhetorically asks John:

You were alone with her?

He immediately goes on the defensive and states that they had been alone 'for a moment.' One can sense Elizabeth's suspicion at this point and she tells John:

Why, then, it is not as you told me. 

It is obvious that John has lied to her previously. He probably told her that they were in other people's company when Abigail spoke to him. The fact that John had to lie, then, proves that he still felt guilty about his indiscretion with Abigail and that he also felt ashamed that she had put him in such a compromising situation at the time of their talk. In fact, Abigail clearly still possessed some power over him because he admitted about looking up to her window. It was only when she attempted to tarnish Elizabeth's name during their conversation that John became angry.

It is John's lie that makes Elizabeth suspect that Abigail still has some influence over him. She believes that his unwillingness to testify against her is informed by the fact that he still has a soft spot for Abigail. This is what drives her to later declare passionately, when she speaks about John's reticence and his statement that he will never be freed from his sin:

You'll tear it free - when you come to know that I will be your only wife, or no wife at all! She has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor, and you know it well!

It is ironic that John lies at this point for his untruth foreshadows the falsehood that Elizabeth feels compelled to utter when she is later, in Act lll, questioned about whether John had turned from her to be with Abigail. Elizabeth, for all good intentions, said that he did not, in the process damning her husband who had already confessed his lechery.  

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

John had told Elizabeth that he had not been alone with Abigail, but in the beginning of Act 2, he slips up as they are discussing whether John should go to Salem and defend the accused. John is reluctant because Abigail has such a following now, even considered among the people to be a "saint".

John, musing, says, "...If the girl's a saint now, I think it is not easy to prove she's fraud, and the town gone so silly. She told it to me in a room alone -- I have no proof for it."

Elizabeth doesn't miss a thing. "You were alone with her?

Proctor (stubborly): For a moment alone, aye.

Elizabeth: Why, then, it is not as you told me.

Proctor (his anger rising): For a moment, I say. The others come in soon after.

Elizabeth (quietly --she has suddenly lost all faith in him): Do as you wish, then. (She starts to turn)

Proctor: Woman. I'll not have your suspicion any more... I'll not have it!


Elizabeth: Then let you not earn it.


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