What is a quotation showing ambiguity from The Crucible?

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gpane's profile pic

gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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One quotation showing ambiguity, or unclearness and uncertainty of meaning, is by Elizabeth Proctor near the end of the play. Her husband John has been condemned to hang for the sin of witchcraft unless he confesses, and this he cannot bring himself to do as it means telling a flat lie. However, he does have a period of wavering, when he thinks he might confess simply in order to save his skin. When he asks Elizabeth's opinion of what he means to do, her response is evasive in the extreme:

I cannot judge you, John.

She does not give him a straight answer, whether she approves or not of his giving a false confession. 

However, although Elizabeth refuses to elaborate on what she thinks here, her answer does imply that she does not really agree in a moral sense. She has been shown throughout the play to have high, perhaps even somewhat rigid standards of behaviour, and Proctor can actually guess what she really thinks. However, she cannot state it plainly, because she doesn't want him to die as a result of refusing to confess.

Elizabeth's ambiguous reply forces Proctor to ask her again, 'a pure question': 'What would you have me do?' Once again, she effectively turns the issue back on himself: 'As you will, I would have it.' In modern English this translates as: 'Whatever you want, I'm happy with.' But then she adds, ' I want you living, John. That's sure.'

Elizabeth does not want Proctor dead, naturally enough; yet she can't approve of his lying either. In short, they are both stuck in a dilemma, which is only resolved when Proctor finally decides to give up all pretence and accept his death.

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Wiggin42's profile pic

Wiggin42 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Valedictorian

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In act 3

Proctor, his mind wild, breathless: I say—I say—God is dead!

Parris: Hear it, hear it!

Proctor: laughs insanely, then: A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!

It seems that Proctor has confessed to being an atheist and in league with the devil. At least, on the surface and in the eyes of Danforth; he has has. But a close reading reveals that Proctor is referring not to God in the sense faith tells us; but the interpretation of "God" that Danforth holds. 

If it is the devil they want, they will find it in themselves. John believes that the cosmology that the leaders of Salem hold is not that of the Bible but of superstition. 

So although it seems that Proctor has confessed to being a devil-worshiper; in reality he is condemning the current authority and legal justice system. 

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