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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ACT II, SCENE 4

Reverend Hale comes in on a curious errand: "to put some
questions as to the Christian character of this house, if you'll
permit me." How changed he is from when we saw him last!
Then he was bold and confident; now he seems tentative, almost
shy. He is obviously troubled by the developments of the last
few days. He, too, like Mary Warren, is an official of the court.
But she is merely a witness. He is a judge. His signature is on
Goody Osburn's death warrant. But he's a stranger to these
people, and things are beginning to move too fast for him.

Keep your eye on Hale. In a way he's our stand-in or proxy-we,
too, are strangers in this town. His reactions will be much the
same as ours would be if we were in his shoes.

Hale loves the truth more than anything in the world. This love
made him a scholar in the first place. It has also sharpened his
sense of what's not true. And he's begun to feel uneasy about
what's happening in Salem. It's just a feeling, and a vague one at
that, but before he signs another death warrant he wants to know
whom he's sending to the gallows.

We already know Proctor doesn't think much of Salem's
minister, Samuel Parris. But church attendance is compulsory
by law, and if Proctor's youngest son dies unbaptized, he will go
straight to hell. Hale has a right to be worried about this
"softness" in John Proctor's record.



Worse yet, Proctor cannot recite the Ten Commandments.
Remember Mary Warren telling us that Sarah Good couldn't do
it either. And Sarah Good's been "proved" a witch, first by
sending her spirit out in open court, later by confession. Proctor
does a little better-he gets all but one, the seventh: Thou shalt
not commit adultery. This is a serious failing, because the
Puritans believed that all of God's laws are summarized in the
Ten Commandments.

You've probably had the experience of blanking out on a test.
You know the answer, it's on the tip of your tongue, but no
matter how hard you try to think of it, it just won't come. Hale
seems to realize that this may be the case here; he decides to let
it pass, even though he has misgivings.

Proctor then tells him what Abigail said, that "the children's
sickness had naught to do with witchcraft." Hale is shocked, and
wants to know why Proctor has kept this information back. The
answer Hale gets alarms him more than anything he's heard
tonight. Proctor doubts the existence of witches, and Elizabeth
agrees with him. Witchcraft is Hale's specialty, remember, and
he knows that the first thing a witch will say is not, "I am no
witch," but "There's no such thing as a witch."

Notice two things in this passage. The first I've already
mentioned, the fact that some "will swear to anything before
they'll hang," and Hale knows Proctor's right in saying this. The
second thing occurs when Proctor assures Hale that Elizabeth is
incapable of lying. Abigail, in Act I, repeatedly called Elizabeth
a liar. But Abigail, as we've seen, is a liar herself. On the other
hand, Proctor, in Act III, will repeat his claim that Elizabeth
cannot tell a lie, and it will ruin them both. Arthur Miller is here
preparing us for that catastrophe.

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