In the beginning of act 2 of The Crucible, how does Miller use language to convey important insights into the Proctors' marriage?

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Arthur Miller skillfully uses language to convey John and Elizabeth Proctor's tense, unstable relationship at the beginning of act two. When John walks into the home, he immediately tastes Elizabeth's soup and adds salt to it, which suggests that their relationship is bland and lacks passion. John and his wife...

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Arthur Miller skillfully uses language to convey John and Elizabeth Proctor's tense, unstable relationship at the beginning of act two. When John walks into the home, he immediately tastes Elizabeth's soup and adds salt to it, which suggests that their relationship is bland and lacks passion. John and his wife proceed to engage in brief small talk, which heightens the tension of the atmosphere. Both characters are careful to not upset each other and prefer to speak about common, uneventful subjects.

When John tastes his meal, he proceeds to lie to Elizabeth by saying, "It’s well seasoned" (50). John's trivial lie indicates that his relationship with Elizabeth is unsteady and he is resorting to minor compliments to appease her. John proceeds to mention that he is thinking about purchasing George Jacob's heifer and tells his wife, "I mean to please you, Elizabeth" (50). Once again, John is obviously attempting to repair his damaged relationship with Elizabeth by gaining her favor.

Elizabeth is also anxious to please John and chastises herself after forgetting to bring him cider. John then tells Elizabeth, "You ought to bring some flowers in the house" (51). John's comment alludes to the bland, cold environment of their home, which is a reflection of their relationship. The Proctor home lacks warmth, compassion, and love. Miller reiterates the cold imagery to emphasize their damaged marriage when John remarks, "It’s winter in here yet" (51). There is an evident sense of separation between the couple, and John notices that Elizabeth is still depressed. As their conversation progresses, Elizabeth brings up the witch trials and discovers that John was recently alone with Abigail, which leads to a heated argument between the two.

Overall, Miller utilizes language to convey tension and distance between John and his wife at the beginning of act two. Elizabeth has clearly not forgiven John for his infidelity, and John resents his wife's cold, callous demeanor.

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Elizabeth's first speech to her husband, John, is a question that seems to have arisen merely from wifely concern but which, as we read the rest of the act (or even consider what we know of the Proctor marriage and John's recent infidelity), seems to betray her continued suspicion of John. She asks him, "What keeps you so late? It's almost dark." And her "Oh" at his response appears to indicate her relief that he was simply planting the areas of the farm far from the house. She later explains that she thought he'd "gone to Salem this afternoon." Further, John's comment that the rabbit stew his wife has made is "well seasoned"—after we just saw him add seasoning to it—seem somewhat disingenuous: he wants to find a reason to compliment her, even if it isn't entirely truthful. He wants to please her, even maybe to appease her. There's also a sense of Elizabeth having forgotten how it is that she is supposed to care for her husband: she forgets to bring his cider with dinner, she has forgotten to bring flowers into the house, and so forth. This indicates, perhaps, that there has been somewhat of an estrangement between them (and also could be, in part, because she has been ill). Their conversation is stilted and seems to avoid something, especially after John goes to kiss Elizabeth and she merely "receives" but does not return it.

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At this stage in the play, hysteria has firmly taken hold of Salem. Abigail Williams is effectively presiding over a reign of terror in which any accusation she makes, no matter how ludicrous, is implicitly accepted and believed. No one, no matter how respectable or influential, is safe from a frenzied atmosphere in which slander and denunciation are the order of the day.

When act 2 opens, we're at the Proctor house, and John and Elizabeth are sitting down to eat. The atmosphere is incredibly tense, and this is reflected in the language used. The Proctors exchange idle chit-chat about this and that, but there's a huge elephant in the room they're both trying hard to avoid. But they are unable or unwilling to do this straight away, so the conversation continues in short, terse sentences; it's as if they're both talking just for the sake of it to avoid confronting the serious issues surrounding the witch craze.

However, as Elizabeth begins to confront John, urging him to go to Salem to expose Abigail's fraud, her language changes. Gone are the glib pleasantries, replaced by the kind of declamatory, accusatory language used in a court of law. Elizabeth has tried to keep the witch craze from entering her home, but John's dishonesty and unwillingness to confront Abigail and her lies has now made this impossible. The Proctor household has effectively been turned into a court, and appropriately enough, the language Elizabeth uses is almost a parody of that used in the witch trials. She is judging John, chiding him for both his affair with Abigail and for his cowardice in refusing to do what's right and expose Abigail for the lying charlatan she really is.

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This is the first time that the audience sees Elizabeth, although we already know some about her. We already know about John's affair, and that he has ended it. We assume that Elizabeth has knowledge of it, because of her dismissal of Abigail and the rumors circling about Abigail. We also know already that Elizabeth has suffered some sort of illness.

In this scene, Miller uses a minimal amount of words, but those words speak powerfully. The couple addresses mundane things, speaking in short, concise sentences with an understood tone of tension. The stage directions help us understand this as well. When they transition into more serious topics, they tread lightly at first, giving the audience the impression that both are trying to be sensitive. The simple statement by John Proctor, "I mean to please you Elizabeth," speaks volumes to the audience, because we want to believe him. 

When the subject of Abigail and the trial comes up, the conversation escalates, and we see the nature of the tension in their relationship -- neither have fully forgiven John for his actions. This tension provides further conflict for the plot, and culminates in Act IV before resolution is found.

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