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Why does Elizabeth lie? Why does John Proctor tell the truth?Please help!

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ihateenglishh | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted July 11, 2010 at 9:39 AM via web

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Why does Elizabeth lie? Why does John Proctor tell the truth?

Please help!

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 11, 2010 at 9:47 AM (Answer #1)

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I assume that you are talking about the part of the play where John Proctor admits that he had an affair with Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor says that she fired Abby for other reasons.

In this case, Elizabeth is lying because she does not want to hurt her husband and his good name.  She does not want him to get in trouble for what he did.  She has, in the past, been very angry at him for cheating on her, but now she seems to have forgiven him.

In a similar way, John is telling the truth because he wants to help Elizabeth (along with other people).  He wants to stop the Court from continuing the witch hunt.  He thinks he can do it by showing what kind of a person Abby is.  So he admits his own guilt because he thinks it will help Elizabeth (and others like her who have been faslsely accused) to get out of trouble.

So both of the Proctors are trying to help one another.  That is why she lies and he tells the truth.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 11, 2010 at 12:52 PM (Answer #2)

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This is one of the most interesting parts of the play.  Elizabeth's lie is meant to save her husband and her marriage.  She lies in order to achieve a higher notion of the good.  It is a very interesting moral dilemma posed through Elizabeth's predicament.  We are taught that it is categorically unacceptable to embrace and to practice deceit and lies.  If everyone did this, there would be little hope to establish any sort of union between individuals and society, as a whole.  Yet, Miller poses a very interesting hypothetical situation that raises question to this.  If the social and/ or political order is corrupt, then telling the truth actually emboldens these forces of evil.  This is precisely what the likes of Abigail wanted.  Individuals would have fallen prey to her plan by simply telling the truth.  There is almost a moral imperative to not tell the truth in such situations, and Elizabeth embraces it.  On the other side of the coin, John had already practiced deceit in not being entirely forthcoming about his relationship with Abigail.  When he begins seeing individuals being forced into confessions that are disingenuous, he understands that there is another level being undertaken.  Individuals who are legitimately innocent of doing anything wrong are lying to confess to wrongs that they have not done simply to be left alone.  The contrast of his own failure to tell the truth and the horror of seeing people lie to stain their reputation, but to be left alone compels Proctor to take a stand that says the truth has to be upheld.  The excessive calculations of when to lie and when to speak the truth are repudiated by the end when Proctor uses the analysis of his name, his reputation, and his own sense of dignity to guide his actions, forcing him to tell the truth regardless of consequences.

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