How does Elizabeth change throughout The Crucible?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act II of The Crucible , Elizabeth still appears to be angry with John over his affair with Abigail seven months earlier. John reproaches her with coldness, saying that she is constantly judging and condemning him, and that her "justice would freeze beer." We should be careful of agreeing...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Act II of The Crucible, Elizabeth still appears to be angry with John over his affair with Abigail seven months earlier. John reproaches her with coldness, saying that she is constantly judging and condemning him, and that her "justice would freeze beer." We should be careful of agreeing with him too completely. It seems that the Proctors have had a difficult and uncommunicative relationship since John's affair and the actress playing Elizabeth will have to decide whether she is a harsh, unforgiving woman (albeit with a legitimate grievance) or someone who finds it hard to talk to her husband in the wake of his betrayal.

In Act III, Elizabeth only appears briefly, but she seems to have abandoned her bitterness and to be doing all she can to save her husband, even to the point of lying, an act of which John said she was incapable. When we see her again in Act IV, she has forgiven John completely, refusing to judge him or even to suggest what he ought to do, merely repeating "Do as you will, do as you will!" She tells him that whatever he does, he will be a good man and even blames herself for his transgression, saying that "It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery." Whether this is a complete change of character or simply a progression from anger to forgiveness that might well have happened anyway depends on whether we accept John's assessment of her in Act II. It may be that breaking her own strict moral code and lying for the sake of her husband has made her more tolerant and accepting of his imperfections and more ready to support him whatever decision he makes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Elizabeth Proctor is initially portrayed in act 2 as a callous, insensitive woman who has not forgiven her husband for having an affair with Abigail Williams. She acts distant from her husband and is not portrayed as a supportive, loving wife, as a result of her resentment from the affair. Her melancholy demeanor forces John to feel the guilt of his actions, and her actions indicate that she does not plan on forgiving him.

After she is arrested and accused of witchcraft, John goes to great lengths to challenge the corrupt court. John even tarnishes his good reputation by admitting that he committed adultery with Abigail Williams, in order to undermine Abigail's authority over the court. Following John's testimony in act 3, Elizabeth Proctor reveals her change in character by lying for her husband. Elizabeth's attempt at protecting her husband's reputation reveals that she sympathizes with John and respects him for valiantly challenging Salem's court. In act 4, Elizabeth illustrates her development and growth by forgiving her husband. When Elizabeth visits John in his prison cell, she tells him,

John, I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept! (Miller, 137)

By the end of the play, Elizabeth develops into a responsible, supportive wife who forgives and respects her husband's decision to maintain his integrity by refusing to offer a false confession.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pain and humility are the essential elements of Elizabeth's changes in The Crucible. Learning to let go of her pain and to forgive, humbly, is the primary driver of her outward change.

She has been emotionally hurt by her husband, John Proctor, when he has an affair with Abigail. Elizabeth remains hurt for quite a while as we see early in the play. She lashes out at John and holds his mistake against him, using it to both make him guilty and to push him to do certain things she feels are morally mandated. 

When John breaks down and tells her that she is ill-treating him by being so cold and he begs her forgiveness, Elizabeth refuses at first to take responsibility for her behavior. Later, however, she agrees that her coldness was what drove John to his affair with Abigail and that the responsibility for that mistake includes her. 

Her change of heart on this matter leads Elizabeth to defend John Proctor to the judges, lying to deny the affair. This perjury completes her transition from accuser to accused as Elizabeth breaks her moral code by telling the lie. She is no longer the hurt victim lashing out but a humble person acting loyally and proudly to protect the person she loves. 

This change clearly moves Elizabeth from a position of powerlessness to a position of moral power. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team