Study Guide

The Crucible Compassion and Forgiveness

By Arthur Miller

Compassion and Forgiveness

Act II
Elizabeth Proctor

ELIZABETH, reasonably: John, have you ever shown her somewhat of contempt? She cannot pass you in the church but you will blush—
PROCTOR: I may blush for my sin.
ELIZABETH: I think she sees another meaning in that blush.
PROCTOR: And what see you? What see you, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH, conceding: I think you be somewhat ashamed, for I am there, and she so close.
PROCTOR: When will you know me, woman? Were I stone I would have cracked for shame this seven month!
ELIZABETH: Then go and tell her she's a whore. Whatever promise she may sense—break it, John, break it.
PROCTOR, between his teeth: Good, then. I'll go. (He starts for his rifle.)
ELIZABETH, trembling, fearfully: Oh, how unwillingly!
PROCTOR, turning on her, rifle in hand: I will curse her hotter than the oldest cinder in hell. But pray, begrudge me not my anger!
ELIZABETH: Your anger! I only ask you—
PROCTOR: Woman, am I so base? Do you truly think me base?
ELIZABETH: I never called you base.
PROCTOR: Then how do you charge me with such a promise? The promise that a stallion gives a mare I gave that girl!
ELIZABETH: Then why do you anger with me when I bid you break it?
PROCTOR: Because it speaks deceit, and I am honest! But I'll plead no more! I see now your spirit twists around the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!
ELIZABETH, crying out: You'll tear it free—when you come to know that I will be your only wife, or no wife at all! She has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor, and you know it well! (II.170-186)

In this exchange, John Proctor is begging his wife to forgive him—but though she wants to forgive him, she is right about Abigail’s interpretation of their affair, which has bound Abigail and Proctor together in ways Proctor fails to understand.

John Proctor

PROCTOR: I am only wondering how I may prove what she [Abigail] told me, Elizabeth. If the girl’s a saint now, I think it is not easy to prove she’s fraud, and the town gone so silly. She told it to me in a room alone—I have no proof for it.
ELIZABETH: You were alone with her?
PROCTOR, stubbornly: For a moment alone, aye.
ELIZABETH: Why, then, it is not as you told me.
PROCTOR, his anger rising: For a moment, I say. The others come in soon after.
ELIZABETH, quietlyshe has suddenly lost all faith in him: Do as you wish, then. (She starts to turn.)
PROCTOR: Woman. (She turns to him.) I'll not have your suspicion any more.
ELIZABETH, a little loftily: I have no—
PROCTOR: I'll not have it!
ELIZABETH: Then let you not earn it.
PROCTOR, with a violent undertone: You doubt me yet?
ELIZABETH, with a smile, to keep her dignity: John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? I think not.
PROCTOR: Now look you—
ELIZABETH: I see what I see, John.
PROCTOR, with solemn warning: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more. I have forgot Abigail, and—
PROCTOR: Spare me! You forget nothin' and forgive nothin'. Learn charity, woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven month since she is gone. I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches round your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!
ELIZABETH: John, you are not open with me. You saw her with a crowd, you said. Now you—
PROCTOR: I'll plead my honesty no more, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH, now she would justify herself: John, I am only—
PROCTOR: No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed! Some dream I had must have mistaken you for God that day. But you're not, you're not, and let you remember it! Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not.
ELIZABETH: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John (with a smile), only somewhat bewildered.
PROCTOR, laughing bitterly: Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer! (II.65-87)

Proctor desperately desires forgiveness from his wife, but whether he’s earned it or not, she struggles to let go of her hurt. She cannot be honest about her lingering feelings of betrayal, and her husband is callous to think that she should just get over it. Also, neither has completely come to grips with the fact that the woman Proctor slept with now has the power to cause either or both of them to die.

Deputy Governor Danforth

DANFORTH: Woman, look at me! (Elizabeth does.) Were she slovenly? Lazy? What disturbance did she cause?
ELIZABETH: Your Honor, I—in that time I were sick. And I—My husband is a good and righteous man. He is never drunk as some are, nor wastin’ his time at the shovelboard, but always at his work. But in my sickness—you see, sir, I were a long time sick after my last baby, and I thought I saw my husband somewhat turning from me. And this girl— (She turns to Abigail.)
DANFORTH: Look at me.
ELIZABETH: Aye, sir. Abigail Williams— (She breaks off.)
DANFORTH: What of Abigail Williams?
ELIZABETH: I came to think he fancied her. And so one night I lost my wits, I think, and put her out on the highroad.
DANFORTH: Your husband—did he indeed turn from you?
ELIZABETH, in agony: My husband—is a goodly man, sir.
DANFORTH: Then he did not turn from you.
ELIZABETH, starting to glance at Proctor: He—
DANFORTH, reaches out and holds her face, then: Look at me! To your own knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery? (In a crisis of indecision she cannot speak.) Answer my question! Is your husband a lecher!
ELIZABETH, faintly: No, sir.
DANFORTH: Remove her!
PROCTOR: Elizabeth, tell the truth!
DANFORTH: She has spoken. Remove her!
PROCTOR, crying out: Elizabeth, I have confessed it!
ELIZABETH: Oh, God! (The door closes behind her.)
PROCTOR: She only thought to save my name! (III.410-426)

Telling the truth would save Elizabeth's life, but she lies to save her husband’s reputation. Is this an act of forgiveness, or is she just covering up for him because she feels it is her duty? Throughout the play, Elizabeth has been slightly more interested in preserving appearances than Proctor.

Act IV
Elizabeth Proctor

PROCTOR: I'd have you see some honesty in it. Let them that never lied die now to keep their souls. It is pretense for me, a vanity that will not blind God nor keep my children out of the wind. (Pause.) What say you?
ELIZABETH, upon a heaving sob that always threatens: John, it come to naught that I should forgive you, if you'll not forgive yourself. (Now he turns away a little, in great agony.) It is not my soul, John, it is yours. (He stands, as though in physical pain, slowly rising to his feet with a great immortal longing to find his answer. It is difficult to say, and she is on the verge of tears.) Only be sure of this, for I know it now: Whatever you will do, it is a good man does it. (He turns his doubting, searching gaze upon her.) I have read my heart this three month, John. (Pause.) I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.
PROCTOR, in great pain: Enough, enough—
ELIZABETH, now pouring out her heart: Better you should know me!
PROCTOR: I will not hear it! I know you!
ELIZABETH: You take my sins upon you, John—
PROCTOR, in agony: No, I take my own, my own!
ELIZABETH: John, I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept! (In fright, she swerves, as Hathorne enters.)
HATHORNE: What say you, Proctor? The sun is soon up.
Proctor, his chest heaving, stares, turns to Elizabeth. She comes to him as though to plead, her voice quaking.
ELIZABETH: Do what you will. But let none be your judge. There be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is! Forgive me, forgive me, John—I never knew such goodness in the world! (She covers her face, weeping.)
Proctor turns from her to Hathorne; he is off the earth, his voice hollow.

PROCTOR: I want my life. (IV.204-214)

Elizabeth’s forgiveness makes John Proctor want to keep on living, even if he must live dishonestly. He decides to confess.