Describe the cause and effect relationships among the events in Act II of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Act II of The Crucible by Arthur Miller is full of events which are interconnected, and often one event triggers another. To see this best, here is a list of the events, in the order they happen, in this act of the play:

  • We see that the relationship between Elizabeth and John Proctor is strained because of the affair he had with Abigail
  • Proctor learns that the witch trials are in full force: Abigail is the head accuser and fourteen people are in jail
  • Elizabeth wants Proctor to tell what he knows and cannot understand why he hesitates to do so
  • Proctor knows he should tell, but he has to admit that he was alone with Abigail when she told him they were all just faking this to avoid getting in trouble
  • Proctor's failure to tell Elizabeth that he was alone with Abigail causes more discussion about sins that have already been committed and forgiven
  • Mary Warren arrives home, hands Elizabeth a "poppet" (doll), and is distraught that thirty-nine women are now in prison, accused of witchcraft
  • Mary reveals that Sarah Good was imprisoned because she was unable to say the Ten Commandments
  • The Proctors do not want Mary to go back to court, and she blurts that today in court she saved Elizabeth's life 
  • Mary cannot tell who accused Elizabeth, but Elizabeth says, 

"She wants me dead, John, you know it!"

  • He does know it.
  • Hale arrives, uneasy about Rebecca Nurse's name being "mentioned" in court
  • Hale questions Proctor about his poor church attendance; Proctor tells him the truth
  • Hale asks Proctor to recite the Ten Commandments; he only forgets one--the one about adultery--and Elizabeth helps him
  • Proctor tells Hale Abigail is lying 
  • Giles Corey and Francis Nurse arrive; their wives have been arrested. Hale is troubled.
  • Ezekiel Cheever arrives and asks Elizabeth if she has any poppets; of course she gives him the one she just received from Mary (who made it in court that day)
  • Cheever discovers a needle in the poppet, evidence that Abigail's made-up claim against Elizabeth is true
  • Elizabeth is arrested and Proctor tells Hale he will testify in court tomorrow
  • Proctor coerces Mary into testifying against Abigail and is glad that Abigail will be exposed, even if it means he must confess to his own sins.

There are two primary connecting story lines here. One is Abigail's desire to get rid of Elizabeth and the other is Proctor's reluctance to tell what he knows. Because he broke off their affair, Abigail now wants Elizabeth dead, or at least gone; because she wants Elizabeth gone, she sticks a needle in the poppet she is making (and undoubtedly told Abigail who she planned ot give it to). Knowing Mary was going to give the poppet to Elizabeth, Abigail was then free to make up any story she wanted about Elizabeth torturing her with a needle. Being "mentioned" in court has now turned into arrest warrants for Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Martha.

John's reluctance to speak what he knows allows Abigail to reign in court, and his guilt about the affair causes him to stumble in front of Hale, making him look suspiciously like a reprobate and a sinner. When Proctor tells Mary that Abigail will charge him with lechery if he talks, Proctor is even more determined to go to court and, in addition to saving Elizabeth, finally expose Abigail for the lying wench she is. He is even just a bit relieved that he may have to confess his own sin in order to bring Abigail down.

One thing causes another in this act, and most of it is driven by Proctor's guilt or Abigail's lust.

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