Act IV, Scene 2 Summary
Deputy Governor Danforth and Reverend Parris decide that it might be worthwhile to bring Elizabeth Proctor to speak with her husband. She is well into her pregnancy by now, and she may be able to persuade him to confess to witchcraft—though he is truly innocent—in order to save his own life. They hope that a confession from a respected individual like Proctor will help to legitimize the court's proceedings and prevent a rebellion in the town. Reverend Hale begs Danforth to postpone their execution, but Danforth continues to refuse.
Hale describes how bad things are in Salem: orphaned children go from house to house, abandoned livestock wander the streets, and crops are rotting in the fields—all because so many people have been imprisoned for witchcraft. Hale explains that he has returned to Salem, after having quit the court at the end of Act III, to do "the Devil's work" (that is, to encourage the convicted to falsely confess to save their lives). He feels responsible for all of the lives ruined by this court: "there is blood on my head!"
When Elizabeth Proctor is brought out of the jail, Hale tells her why he has come and owns up to the arrogance he felt when he first arrived in Salem. He asks her to plead with John and convince him to confess a lie and live, but she makes no promises.
When Elizabeth and John are able to speak alone, he seems to be in disbelief. He tells her that he's been tortured, and she informs him that Giles Corey was pressed to death because he refused to enter a plea (thus preventing court proceedings from beginning). Rather than risk conviction, Corey accepted a gruesome death in order to save his property for his children (it would have been seized and auctioned off if he was convicted, as he surely would have been).
John considers confessing, reasoning that he is already "no good man," and so nothing is ruined by lying now. Elizabeth assures him that, whatever he chooses to do, he is a good man and always has been. She takes some responsibility for the fact that he had an affair and admits that she was cold to him because her own insecurities made it hard for her to trust in his love. Eventually, John decides that he wants his life; he will confess.