Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1422
Essential Passage 1: Act 1
Proctor, gently pressing her from him, with great sympathy but firmly: Child—
Abigail, with a flash of anger: How do you call me child!
Proctor: Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.
Abigail: Aye, but we did.
Proctor: Aye, but we did not.
Abigail, with a bitter anger: Oh, I marvel how such a strong man may let such a sickly wife be—
Proctor, angered—at himself as well: You’ll speak nothin’ of Elizabeth!
John Proctor and Abigail Williams meet, several months after their brief affair ended with Abigail’s expulsion from the Proctor home. Abigail begins to remind John of the passion they once had, hoping to spark a similar confession from him. He puts her off, but eventually admits that he while he has thought of her fondly on occasion, he has no intention of rekindling their relationship. In exasperation, John calls her, “Child.” Abigail lashes out, resenting his attempt to put their relationship back into the role of adult and child. With a calm firmness, John tells Abigail plainly that, despite thinking of her “fondly” on occasion, their relationship is over forever. They are to go on, pretending it never happened. In a moment of contempt, Abigail begins to make disparaging remarks about her rival, Elizabeth, John's wife, the woman she hoped would die when she cast spells in the woods. John is furious. He warns his former mistress against speaking against the woman they both wronged.
Essential Passage 2: Act 1
Parris—now he’s out with it: There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party.
Proctor: Against you?
Putnam: Against him and all authority!
Proctor: Why, then I must find it and join it.
There is shock among the others.
Rebecca: He does not mean that.
Putnam: He confessed it now!
Proctor: I mean it solemnly, Rebecca; I like not the smell of this “authority.”
The residents of Salem have begun to position themselves along the battle lines: Parris and Putnam together against John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Giles Corey, among others. Civic and religious leaders Parris and Putnam accuse John of being lax in his spiritual practices, such as regular church attendance. John, however, resents their legalism displayed as power. John has not attended church, he says, because he does not like the focus of hell and damnation as opposed to instruction from God that Parris pushes. Parris resents the implication that he is not an adequate pastor and thus accuses John of resisting authority. John admits it; if the control of Parris is “authority,” then he is indeed against it. Rebecca, fearing the power that she knows Parris has to make life miserable, tries to put a different spin on John’s remark, but John stands by it. He will not be cowed by Parris, a man he despises.
Essential Passage 3: Act 3
Danforth: I will have nothing from you, Mr. Hale! To Proctor: Will you confess yourself befouled with Hell, or do you keep that black allegiance yet? What say you?
Proctor, his mind wild, breathless: I say—I say—God is dead!
Parris: Hear it, hear it!
Proctor: laughs insanely, then: A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!
At the trial, Judge Danforth and Parris are pushing John Proctor to confess that he himself is in league with Satan. Mr. Hale, acting as the voice of reason, tries to interfere, but Danforth is on the warpath. Proctor, at last able to stand no more, proclaims that God is dead. At last Parris has want he has wants. Proctor has damned himself beyond just a confession of being in league with Satan. He has revealed, Parris believes, what Parris thought all along: atheism. Yet Proctor is referring to the interpretation of God held by Parris and Danforth. If it is the devil they want, they will find it in themselves. John believes that the cosmology that the leaders of Salem hold is not that of the Bible but of superstition. Those, like himself, who reject that interpretation, are condemned because they have not effectively stood up against this fraud perpetuated in the name of religion.
Analysis of Essential Passages
John Proctor has four key relationships: with Abigail, his former mistress; his wife Elizabeth; Parris, the village pastor; and with God. With each, he comes against the consequences of his actions, as well as the actions of others, played out against the backdrop of Puritan New England. The isolated community of seventeenth-century Salem presents the stage that John Proctor must face himself and the part that he has played in the tragic drama of his life.
Abigail represents his most human side, which he plainly calls lust. The momentary fall into adultery will blacken his name and be the vehicle that opens him up to the evil of Abigail and thus the spiritual leaders of the colony. Abigail, however, places the blame on Elizabeth, who was cold and distant toward her husband, depriving him of his “marital rites,” thus driving him to the arms of the nearest female, which was their servant Abigail. The coldness of Elizabeth presents a stark contrast to the heat of Abigail, which Abigail pushes for all its worth. What was to John a momentary fling was a lifetime commitment in the eyes of the young girl. As Elizabeth later points out, there are promises made in being in bed with someone, and Abigail means to hold John to those promises. John, however, has confessed in all honesty to his wife, who has taken him back, though not necessarily forgiven him. Between the coldness of the Elizabeth and the heat of Abigail, John is caught in conflict. Abigail will not let him go, and Elizabeth will not entirely take him in. Thus John has a sense of being alone, belonging to no one.
As John is isolated from his wife, and is trying to isolate himself from his former mistress, John has also distanced himself from the local church headed by Parris, a man he despises. It is not the church that John has rejected, but the attempt at control by Parris. As a theocracy, Salem was ruled by the spiritual leaders. As the local pastor, Parris falls into those ranks. Parris’s insecurity in his position has led him to demand more authority and respect than he has rightfully earned in the community. This overstepping of his boundaries is what irks John the most. Parris’ focus on hell and damnation has made him a fear-monger, exacting obedience out of fear rather than respect. As John resists more and more Parris’ authority, Parris squeezes tighter. But to resist the pastor is to resist the church. To resist the church is to resist civic authority. Thus Proctor has placed himself outside of the community as far as his farm is outside the boundaries of the town.
It is John’s conflict with God that pushes him to the brink. In stating that God is dead, he is not proclaiming atheism. His rejection of God is a rejection of the God of superstition and fear that is presented by Parris and Danforth. God is dead because the leaders of Salem have killed him. Parris has made God his servant, a tool to use to beat the members of the community into submission to his authority. On the whole, God is a controlling device to keep this ragged group on the edge of the wilderness together, huddled against the darkness that ever threatens to overtake the colonists far from civilization. Proctor is arguing against the belief that God rules through fear and ignorance. But Proctor has not rejected God. Rather, it is Parris and Danforth who deny the true God, as well as all the people who have not stood up to this outrageous event. Proctor transfers his allegiance to a different God, one that holds a man’s character to high importance. It is for this that John Proctor dies a martyr.
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