The Crucible Act 2 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Act 2 of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This act takes place in the Proctors' home and we see some of the disastrous effects of Abigail Williams's accusations of witchcraft.

Tension in the Proctor Home

So far we've learned that John Proctor and Abigail Williams had an illicit affair while she was employed as a servant in the Proctor home. What we don't learn much about is his wife Elizabeth--how is she reacting and what will become of her?

In Act 2 of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, we see the tension which remains between Elizabeth and John because of the affair. 'You come so late I thought you'd gone to Salem this afternoon,' Elizabeth says at one point. Salem is where Abigail Williams lives. Proctor replies 'I thought better of it since,' but the stage direction tells us 'he knows what she means.' Elizabeth still doesn't trust John, and he knows it!

Escalation in Salem

Discussion of Salem brings out the information that Mary Warren, the Proctors' new servant, has spent her day there. She is one of the girls who, with Abigail Williams, sits in court and accuses people of witchcraft.

Elizabeth tells John that a 'proper court' has been set up to hear these accusations, at the head of it are 'four judges out of Boston...weighty magistrates of the General Court.' She also tells John that the court has been given the power to execute those who are condemned, and fourteen people have been arrested.

John can't believe this--he can't believe Abigail's accusations could have gone so far, especially since she told him herself that it all 'had naught to do with witchcraft,' but was just 'sport.' What tangled web is Abigail weaving? And why?

Mary Warren's Update

When Mary returns, John is angry with her because he had told her not to go to Salem again. Mary is distressed from her day in court, however, and tells John and Elizabeth that there are now 39 people in jail, all held on charges of witchcraft. Furthermore, Goody Osburn is set to be hanged because she would not confess. (Goody is a term that was used essentially as we use 'Mrs.' today.)

Distressed, Mary gives Elizabeth a doll she made while sitting in court. 'We must all love each other now,' Mary says, ominously. It is not clear if Mary means this warmly, or if it is some kind of threat. She goes on to wield her position in the court to extract better treatment from John.

Elizabeth Proctor is Accused

Mary, in a last ditch effort to escape punishment for disobediently leaving her work to spend the day in Salem, points at Elizabeth and says, 'I saved her life today!' That day in court, Elizabeth's name was 'somewhat mentioned,' but Mary spoke on her behalf and the charges were dismissed.

Mary won't say who accused Elizabeth, but Elizabeth assumes it was Abigail. 'There is a promise made in any bed,' she tells John, and she believes Abigail 'thinks to kill me then to take my place.' She begs John to go to Abigail, to tell her in no uncertain terms that their affair is over and that she and he have no future whatsoever together. More precisely, Elizabeth tells John to 'tell her she's a whore.' That ought to do the trick.

Investigation and Arrest

John is angrily on his way out the door to do what Elizabeth has asked when Mr. Hale, a reverend and supposed witch expert, appears and asks them if he can 'put some questions as to the Christian character of this house.' He goes on to ask John and Elizabeth about their church attendance and why their youngest son has not yet been baptized. John explains that they have some issues with Mr. Parris because he seems to care more about gold candlesticks and his salary than he does about his parishioners.

Mr. Hale is about to leave when Ezekiel Cheever arrives with a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. Abigail has accused Elizabeth (or at least Elizabeth's spirit) of stabbing her in the belly with a needle. Mr. Cheever has instructions to search the house for dolls and he finds the one Mary gave Elizabeth that very night. Furthermore, there is a needle shoved into the doll's belly. It is implied Elizabeth used this doll and this needle to stab Abigail via witchcraft.

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