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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ELIZABETH PROCTOR

The first we hear of Elizabeth Proctor is from Abigail
Williams, who calls her a bitter, lying, cold, sniveling
woman. Abigail has a tendency to blacken anyone who
doesn't like her. But when we finally meet Elizabeth
herself, she does seem pretty cool toward her husband,
John. And if she's not exactly bitter about John's fling
with Abigail, she isn't happy about it either. But who
would be? She has a right to be jealous, and suspicious,
too, especially when she finds out that the last time John
was in town he saw Abigail alone-not in a crowd, as he
had first told her. Elizabeth wants John to go back to the
judges and expose Abigail's lie about there being
witchcraft in Salem, not just to help the town, but to
prove he's not still in love with Abigail. When John loses
his temper because he can't stand being judged any
more, Elizabeth stands up to him:

...you [will] come to know that I will be your only wife,
or no wife at all!



Cold, suspicious, possessive: not an attractive picture of
Elizabeth Proctor. The question is, what was she like
before John "strayed"? Later on, when she sees him for
the last time before he's hanged, she answers this
question herself: "It needs a cold wife to prompt
lechery."

This painful honesty about herself brings out another
quality in Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail calls her a
gossiping liar, but John thinks of her as "that goodness,"
and tells everyone that Elizabeth never told a lie in her
Life. Indeed, according to her husband, Elizabeth can't
lie. This sounds like an exaggeration, and maybe John is
making her out to be better than she is because he
himself feels so guilty about having betrayed her. He
could also be bragging because he's proud of her
goodness.

When she does tell a lie, it is to save John's name: she
denies to the court that her husband was an adulterer.
Ironically, this lie does the opposite of what she
intended, because John's already confessed-now it looks
like he's lying. As Reverend Hale says, it's a natural lie
to tell, and even though it didn't work, it took some
courage for Elizabeth to lie to the most powerful
authority in the province.

Courage has been defined as "being scared and doing it
anyway." This describes Elizabeth's behavior when she
is arrested. Although obviously scared to death, she
promises to fear nothing. And then, as if to prove it,
perhaps to herself as well as the others in the room, she
says, "Tell the children I have gone to visit someone
sick." This may be whistling in the dark-talking about
everyday things to keep her fear from overwhelming
her-but the fact that she can think of her children at a
time like this is impressive.

But Elizabeth's courage is not blind-she's intelligent as
well as brave. When she hears that her name has been
"somewhat mentioned" in court, she realizes Abigail is
out to get her. It won't be enough for John to talk to the
court about Abigail; he will have to go to Abigail
herself. From one tiny due, Elizabeth figures out
Abigail's whole monstrous plan to take her place with
John. And she instantly knows what to do about it.

After her arrest, and all through her trial, Elizabeth
refuses to confess to witchcraft, even though this lie
would save her life. This is brave and noble. But as soon
as she discovers she is pregnant, she doesn't hesitate to
tell her jailers immediately, knowing that this fact will
probably spare her, at least for a while.

And in the last act Elizabeth shows not only wisdom but
great love for her husband when he is agonizing over
whether to confess. He asks her what he should do. She
knows he is so confused that he will probably do
whatever she says. She desperately wants him alive,
especially now that a baby's on the way. But she refuses
to choose for him: "As you will, I would have it,"
leaving him free to decide his own destiny. But she does
give him her blessing:

Only be sure of this, for I know it
now: Whatever you will do, it is a
good man does it.

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