What's "going on" between the Proctors at the beginning of Act II?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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From the most elemental of aspects, what is "going on" between the Proctors is that their marriage is enduring a challenging time.  There is obvious tension between both husband and wife.  The affair that John had with Abigail is taking its toll on their marriage.  At the same time, Elizabeth is struggling with both her potential role in driving her husband away as well as being able to look past the affair.  John, himself, is struggling with having committed such a transgression and, at the same time, no longer wanting to feel guilty for it.  In both of them, the ability to let go of the past for different reasons and embrace the future is where their challenges lie.  

As Act II opens, both husband and wife are immersed in this struggle.  This accounts for the very off emotional dynamic existing between them.  The small talk of seasonal change and harvests is concealing a cauldron of anger, hurt, and resentment in both of them.  This comes out eventually in the act.  It is Miller's genius to be able to depict marriage, even in the Puritans' times, in such an honest and brutal manner.  There is only the long standing suffering that exists when wrong is committed.  Marriage is shown as the challenge to seek to overcome that suffering.  This is what transpires between both of them, or "what's going on" between them.


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