Act II Analysis & Character Development

Act II Analysis & Character Development

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Act II Analysis & Character Development

At the start of Act II, John Proctor returns from the fields and sits
down to dinner with his wife, Elizabeth. She has cooked up a rabbit,
which apparently walked into the house and sat itself in the corner.
Proctor seems out to please Elizabeth throughout this scene, kissing
her and complimenting her on her cooking. Their small talk continues
for a page or so, until the atmosphere abruptly changes, as Proctor
enquires, “I think you’re sad again aren’t you?” Elizabeth responds by
saying that he had returned so late that she thought he had gone to
Salem.

When Elizabeth mentions that Mary Warren is currently in Salem,
Proctor becomes angered, demanding why Elizabeth did not stop her.
Elizabeth suggests that he himself, go to Salem to testify that the
accusations of witchcraft are false. Proctor says that he cannot prove
his allegation because Abigail told him this information while they
were alone at Parris’ house. Elizabeth is greatly dismayed upon
learning that he and Abigail were alone together. Proctor demands that
she stop judging him. He says that he feels as though his home is a
courtroom, but Elizabeth responds that the real court is in his own
heart. This is implied by the line:

“I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges
you.”

This also suggests that regardless of whether Elizabeth forgives
Proctor, he still cannot forgive himself.

When Mary Warren returns home, the mood of the scene changes
dramatically. As soon as Mary enters the room, Proctor goes directly
to her and grabs her by the cloak, furious.

“How do you go to Salem when I forbid it? Do you mock me? [shaking
her.]

I’ll whip you if you dare leave this house again!

Mary responds by saying she is sick and gives Elizabeth a doll that
she sewed in court, saying that it is a gift. She reports that
thirty-nine people now stand accused. John and Mary argue over whether
Mary can continue attending the trials. Elizabeth’s name was
apparently mentioned in the accusations (Mary will not name the
accuser), but Mary spoke out in Elizabeth’s defense. Proctor instructs
Mary to go to bed, but she demands that he stop ordering her around.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, is convinced that it was Abigail who accused her
of witchcraft, in order to take her place in the Proctor household.

Overall, this is a very important Act in terms of the relationship
between Proctor and Elizabeth. It brings to light a number of crucial
issues such as deceit, dishonesty, unfaithfulness and a growing sense
of mistrust. Throughout the scene, Proctor seems motivated by feelings

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of guilt. When Elizabeth urges him to go to court and expose Abigail,
he is afraid that his relations with the girl will be brought to
light. The question of whether the court will believe him seems of
less importance. Proctor appears to be struggling against his own
fear. “I cannot speak but I am doubted,” says Proctor, “…as though I
come into a court when I come into this house!” Although Proctor lies
to Elizabeth about being alone with Abigail in Parris’ house, he
persists in defending his honesty.

Elizabeth undergoes a number of emotional changes in Act II.
Initially, she is subdued, preparing dinner and happy to discuss
relatively inconsequential matters, until the issue of where Mary
Warren is arises. Proctor is far for pleased when he learns that Mary
is in Salem, but Elizabeth is just as dismayed when she finds out that
Proctor was alone in Parris’ house with Abigail. At this point, she
looses all faith in her husband and accuses him of not being open with
her. Then, Proctor is let off the hook somewhat by the return of Mary
Warren from Salem.

When Elizabeth hears that her name was mentioned in court, she
immediately suspects Abigail. Elizabeth is frightened by the news, and
relates her fears to Proctor:

“Oh the noose, the noose is up…she wants me dead, I knew all week it
would come to this!…she thinks to kill me, then to take my place.”

Elizabeth tries to persuade Proctor to go and confront Abigail:

“Then go and tell her she’s a whore. Whatever promise she may sense –
break it John, break it.”

Mary Warren is not very prominent is Act II, although her role is an
important one. Although forbidden to leave the house, she had gone to
Salem that day, against Proctor’s wishes. When Proctor hears that Mary
is in Salem, he demands why Elizabeth did not stop her from going.

Elizabeth: “I could not stop her…she frightened all my strength away.”

Proctor: “How may a mouse like that frighten you, Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth: “It is a mouse no more, and she raises up her chin like the
daughter of a prince and says to me, ‘I must go to Salem, Goody Proctor, I
am an official of the court!”

Mary is starting to lose her shyness as she begins to feel that she is
important to the court. For the first time in her life, she finds that
adults will listen to her and treat her with respect. Nevertheless,
Mary is still terrified of Abigail and lacks the strength to stand up
to her.
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