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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes
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This last revelation casts a whole new light on John's
relationship with Abigail. The scene that follows is the most
intense confrontation between two people in the play. They no
longer have time for fooling around; if John and Elizabeth must
settle with each other, it's now or never.

The danger is clear to both of them: Abigail means to cry out
Elizabeth for a witch. What are they going to do? Proctor says
be will go to the court and tell them what Abigail said to him.
But Elizabeth is a woman, and she understands Abigail better
than John does: Abigail thinks she still has a chance with John,
if only Elizabeth can be removed. So John must go to Abigail
and call her a whore, kill any hope she might have of ever
getting him for herself. He agrees, but it makes him mad. He
says, "it speaks deceit, and I am honest!"

What does he mean by "deceit"? That he still loves Abigail, and
that calling her a whore will be a lie? Or that he thinks this is a
cheap trick? He doesn't explain. He goes back to his old
complaint about Elizabeth: "I see now your spirit twists around
the single error of my life, and I will never tear it free!"

But Elizabeth knows what to think:

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!

NOTE: The Puritans' views on sex were not so "puritanical" as
we usually imagine. Sexual intercourse between married
persons was not only encouraged, it was required by law. If a
husband proved impotent, his wife could have the marriage
annulled. If the wife refused sex to her husband, this was
considered "neglect of duty" and could be used as grounds for
divorce. God had commanded his people to be fruitful and
multiply, and the Puritans took this commandment seriously.

Today we call sexual intercourse "making love," or "sleeping
with." To the Puritans, a man and woman who had intercourse
were "made one flesh." If you were married, it was your duty to
be made one flesh with your spouse. But if you were made one
flesh with someone other than your spouse, this was adultery.
And adultery, like witchcraft, was a capital offense. Elizabeth
Proctor must love her husband very much to keep his secret.
Later we will see how much Proctor loves Elizabeth-he is
willing to confess to adultery in order to save her.

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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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