In The Crucible, how does the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor change throughout the course of the story?

Expert Answers

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

In Act Two, the audience witnesses the stressful atmosphere surrounding Elizabeth and John's marriage. Elizabeth is a rather callous, unforgiving character in Act Two, and John resents her cruel attitude. Elizabeth has clearly not forgiven or forgotten about John's infidelity, and John is upset with his wife's cold demeanor. John's affair has caused a deep rift between them, which is evident in the way they interact. After Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft and arrested, John feels directly responsible for her imprisonment, given the fact that Abigail is driven to defeat Elizabeth. In Act Three, Proctor chooses to tarnish his good name and reputation in order to expose Abigail's true personality. However, Elizabeth demonstrates her love for John by attempting to protect his reputation by lying to the court officials, which ironically incriminates him.

In Act Four, Elizabeth visits John Proctor in prison. The two characters seem to have reconciled their differences and Elizabeth is viewed as a supportive, caring wife. She not only encourages John to do what he thinks is best, but she continually reminds him that she will not judge his decision. Elizabeth also takes responsibility for her part in John's infidelity by saying, "I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery" (Miller, 57). By the end of the play, Elizabeth and John's relationship and respect for one another have drastically improved. Their battle against Abigail and the corrupted court have brought them closer together. Both Elizabeth and John reveal their affection for one another in the last act, and each person demonstrates their love for their partner.

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

In Act I, Elizabeth is not present, although she is mentioned by Abby. John is defensive of his wife as she is referenced as cold. Obviously he loves her enough to want to protect her.

In Act II, the act opens with John and Elizabeth having a cold interchange while she prepares food for him. He doesn't like the food and seasons it further when she is not looking. This might have been a symbolic gesture that he is making an effort to improve the situation. Their relationship stays stale through a conversation that essentially demonstrates she doesn't trust him anymore. He would like to make amends and improve their family. He is willing to "pay" for his sin by taking her wrath and cold shoulder, but he wonders when the treatment will end.

In the end of this Act, we find Elizabeth has been accused of witchcraft and John again comes to defend her verbally.

In Act III, after she's been taken and jailed, John confesses his sin in the court to demonstrate his moral character and a truth that only Elizabeth would know, but she lies to protect his name. They are obviously both trying to atone for their mistreatment of each other. She kept a cold house and probably drove him to find love in another, he was a lecher.

By Act IV, John is now in jail too. Elizabeth is...

This Answer Now

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

Get 48 Hours Free Access

pregnant, and the baby is John's. This symbol of new life may demonstrate that their relationship can begin anew, but the government has them bound away from each other. This new life foreshadows John's eventual inability to let Danforth make a liar out of John. John refuses to confess to witchcraft because it is not true. The telling of this truth earned him death, and Elizabeth watched in moral Godly pride that her husband did the right thing.

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

In The Crucible, how does the relationship between John and Elizabeth change throughout the play?

Although John and Elizabeth are a well respected couple among the Puritan community, their interpersonal relationship is strained when we are first introduced to them in the play.  There is a separation displayed between the small talk in which they engage in Act II.  There are several references to their strained marriage such as Elizabeth receiving and not returning a kiss from her husband.  Also, John remarks about the lack of flowers in the house by saying that "it's winter in here yet, Elizabeth."

It is clear that the issue of guilt is between the two of them for most of the play.  John's guilt stems from his infidelity with Abigail.  Elizabeth's judgement of him makes him search his soul for the "goodness" once present in it.  Elizabeth's guilt stems from her inadequacies of satisfying her husband. In Act IV, after being separated for over three months from her husband, Elizabeth's tenderness is demonstrated when she finally stops judging John for his infidelity and takes the blame on her shoulders. She says

" takes a cold wife to prompt lechery."

By admitting her part in the infidelity, Elizabeth realizes that she loves her husband dearly and remains silent when John asks her what he should do about signing the confession.  She knows that John must search deep into his soul to come up with the answers.  Her tender words

“whatever you will do, it is a good man does it”

is proof positive of the change in their relationship from the harshness in Act II to the tenderness in Act IV.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on