In The Crucible, why is the scene between Elizabeth and John Proctor important, and what does it reveal about their relationship?
The conversation between John and Elizabeth Proctor at the beginning of act 2 helps us to understand her continued distrust of him as well as his anger at her for this suspicion. When Elizabeth learns that Abigail and John were alone when she told him that the girls' activities in the forest were only fun, she says, "Why, then, it is not as you told me." She seems to feel as though she's caught him in a lie.
Further, she suspects that John would not hesitate to tell the court what Abigail said if it would not damage his former lover's reputation. She asks him, "John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now?" John warns Elizabeth not to judge him anymore, telling her, "You forget nothin' and forgive nothin'. Learn charity, woman." He is angry at her, thinking her to be unjust and self-righteous. It is important for us to witness this interaction because it allows us to understand the tension that continues to exist between John and Elizabeth.
Moreover, after Mary Warren retires to bed, having mentioned that Elizabeth's name came up in court that day, Elizabeth tells John that Abigail "thinks to kill [her], then to take [Elizabeth's] place." Though John tries to deny this, "He knows it is true." Through this interaction, we see that Elizabeth knows exactly what Abigail is doing, and we can infer that John's reticence to accuse Abigail of fraud has permitted this situation to develop, endangering the innocent Elizabeth (among many others). John's moral ambiguity is a major component of his character, and it definitely factors into his eventual redemption, so it is important that we understand how culpable he is by not coming forward with his information sooner.
In the first scene of Act 2 in The Crucible, Miller introduces Elizabeth Proctor and provides the audience with an intimate glimpse into her marriage to John. By this point in the play, the conversation between John Proctor and Abigail Williams has already taken place; so the audience knows that John was unfaithful to Elizabeth.
As the scene opens, Elizabeth has been waiting for John and instead of greeting him affectionately, she immediately questions why he is "so late." This sets the tone for the rest of the scene: Elizabeth questions John's actions, motives, and words, and John resents her suspicion and emotional distance. While John's and Elizabeth's words are quite telling in regards to the tension between them, Miller's stage directions are even more significant. When John kisses Elizabeth,
"she receives it. With a certain disappointment, he returns to the table."
John had made the effort to get up, go to his wife, and demonstrate affection, but it is still to difficult for her to return her trust and sincere affection to her husband.