In the beginning of Act II, how does the playwright show the audience the strain in the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor?
In Scene II, Miller shows us the private life of John and Elizabeth Proctor. As they share a meal around their table, the conversation turns to what is occurring in Salem with the accusations of witchcraft growing each day. John makes an off hand comment that there is no witchcraft afoot it is all just innocent fun that the girls were having in the woods. Elizabeth wants to know how he knows this, he says that Abigail told him.
She insists that he go to the court and tell the authorities immediately so that the whole witchcraft court process will stop. He refuses, she persists, he says he can't go and tell the court because he was alone with Abigail when she said it and that no one else heard her say it.
Instantly, Elizabeth is suspicious of her husband. She believes that he has resumed his affair with Abigail Williams. He becomes very angry with his wife, accusing her of being unable to forgive him. He accuses her of being unwilling to believe him, now, when he is telling the truth. She feels a growing distance between then, which is obvious and provides a nice contrast to their emotional reunion towards the end of the play.
The affair that John Proctor has with Abigail has caused Elizabeth to become insecure, she has a very low self-esteem and easily falls back into believing that her husband is cheating on her again.
That is why it is so sad that Proctor must hang at the end, because he and Elizabeth have found each other again, they are united. And in this new union, they agree that it is better for John to sacrifice his life than to be used by the court and admit to witchcraft.
From the very beginning scene, it is apparent that both John and Elizabeth are uncomfortable. She appears cold and untrusting. He leans in to kiss her, but she simply receives it and doesn't kiss back. Even before she comes into the room, he tastes the food on the stove and adds seasoning to it, as if it's too bland (like Elizabeth herself?) There are no flowers on the table either, and such a thing in this household makes it appear just as cold as their relationship is at this point.
As they make small talk, it is also apparent that there is tension in the air. As they continue their conversation, it slowly stears towards Abby. John argues with Elizabeth and tells her that their affair is in the past and that he has asked for her forgiveness. It seems that Elizabeth is still troubled by it, so she obviously has not yet forgiven him for his infidelity.