John Proctor values his name and his family. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible presents his protagonist as a flawed human being, but also one who does have values and moral system. Elizabeth and John Proctor live in a dangerous time.
Act II, scene 1, opens in the Proctor’s common room. It is early evening. Elizabeth questions why John has gotten in late. Obviously, she does not fully trust him. John and Elizabeth discuss the farm. It is obvious that the married couple’s relationship is strained. Proctor is trying hard to win her back, and she is struggling with his adultery. Proctor tells her that he will try to get a cow for her because he knows that it will please her.
The news from Salem is not good. They discuss Mary Warren, their current house maid. Mary went to Salem without permission from Proctor. John is angry with Mary. Elizabeth warns John about the changes going on in Salem. The men in town have sent for four judges to try the fourteen people who have been accused of witchcraft and are in the Salem prison.
Sarcastically, Mary tells Elizabeth why she must go to town:
Mary said to Elizabeth: I must go to Salem, Goody Proctor, I am an official of the court!
Elizabeth: Mary Warren speaks of Abigail as though she were a saint, to hear her. She brings the other girls into the court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel. And folks are brought before them, and if Abigail scream and howl and fall to the floor—the person’s clapped in the jail for bewitchin' her.
Elizabeth tells Proctor to go to Salem and tell the court and reveal that Abigail is a fake. Proctor has to tell Elizabeth that he cannot prove what Abigail said because they were alone when they talked. Elizabeth becomes upset with Proctor because he did not tell her he spent time alone with Abigail. Proctor and Elizabeth argue.
Abigail despises Elizabeth Proctor. Jealousy and vindictiveness—Abigail will secure her vengeance from Elizabeth for being thrown out of the Proctor house. Although she is not in this scene physically, her presence is felt in the argument between Elizabeth and John. Tension fills their lives.
Elizabeth has forgiven Proctor but still remains distant. She seems to examine John’s every move. When Elizabeth discovers that John talked to Abigail alone, she again feels mistrust. In actuality, John defended Elizabeth to Abigail when she called Elizabeth “a cold sniveling woman.”
By asking Proctor to go to Salem, Elizabeth hopes to demonstrate her faith in her husband. Of course, she is greatly frustrated when she finds that John and Abigail have been alone. If John had done something wrong, he would never have told Elizabeth about being alone with Abigail. Evidently, he was trying to avoid the very argument that they are having now. It will not be until Elizabeth actually forgives him that Proctor will be able to forgive himself for hurting his wife and his family.
Mary Warren foreshadows the events to come. Her defiance of Elizabeth and John demonstrates the changes in Salem. She is a foolish girl who has been taken in by Abigail and will help Abigail charge Elizabeth with witchcraft.
This is a pivotal scene which introduces the main characters and their problems. In addition, the audience discovers that Abigail has become a force to answer to in the court. John has to tell the truth and let the court know about these ridiculous charges. Lives are at stake!