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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ACT IV, SCENE 6

This scene is not long, but a lot happens in it. In terms of the
plot, it's pretty simple: John explains to Elizabeth why he's
going to confess. She urges him to do what he has to do, and
tells him that no matter what he decides, he's a good man. That's
it.

We know from Danforth that Proctor's confession is important
to the court and the town. But John doesn't seem to care much
what his confession means to anyone but his wife. And
Elizabeth doesn't seem to care whether or not he confesses at
all.

What's really going on in this scene has little to do with events
in the outside world. In Act II Arthur Miller made us part of the
emotional life of John and Elizabeth's marriage. We not only
care what these people do, we want to know what they feel.
John Proctor will either confess or he won't. If he does, it won't
be in this scene. For the moment, the important thing is to find
out what's in their hearts.



The first half of the scene is all small talk, as it was in their first
scene together, the opening of Act II. Now, as then, we get
"exposition": Elizabeth is healthy, John's been tortured, the boys
are taken care of, no one who matters has yet confessed, and
Giles Corey was pressed to death. They run out of news, and a
silence falls. Then John begins to explain himself.

His main reason for confessing is, as he puts it, "I cannot mount
the gibbet like a saint.... Nothing's spoiled by giving them this
lie that were not rotten long before." He feels unworthy to die
with the others, for they are truly innocent people. But he wants
Elizabeth to forgive him for this lie he's about to tell. He wants
her to "see some honesty in it." In other words, he wants her to
judge him. This is a far cry from Act II when he warned her
angrily to learn some charity herself before she judged him.

Of course, a lot has happened since then. But none of it could
have meant more to him than the one lie that Elizabeth told in
her life, the lie she thought would save her husband's name.
When Danforth asked her if her husband was a lecher, the two
words "No, sir" contained all her love for John. And how could
he hear those two words without it breaking his heart?

Elizabeth has also changed. She cannot judge him any more: -

John, it come to naught that I should forgive you, if you'll not
forgive yourself. It is not my soul, John, it is yours.

Of course, beneath all this talk of confessing or hanging is
another sin than lying. And that's what Elizabeth really wants to
talk about:

I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my
own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.

She is telling him that whatever he did in the past is forgiven.
He has more than proved his love for her. Now she wants him to
know her love.

This "confession" of love is more important to her than John's
decision to confess or hang. Without the love she now shows
him, either choice he makes is a lie. Her love confirms his
goodness:

Whatever you will do, it is a good man does it.

John doesn't seem to get it. He's carried his guilt around for so
long that he's used to it. In Act II he accused her of twisting her
spirit around the single error of his life. But it's his spirit, not
hers, that has become twisted by guilt. He has come to think of
himself as totally corrupt because of this one mistake. It will
take some convincing for him to accept Elizabeth's new vision
of John Proctor, the man who is good no matter what he does.
And they have no time.

One thing has happened: Abigail is forgotten. Her name is never
mentioned; she has no power over either of them anymore.
Whatever lies in the future, they are now free from the shadow
of suspicion and guilt that chilled their marriage. John and
Elizabeth Proctor are reconciled at last.

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