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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ACT I, SCENE 4

John Proctor enters, looking for Mary Warren. His appearance
startles the girls, and Mary and Mercy Lewis quickly scurry out.
Betty has relapsed into lifelessness, so Proctor and Abigail are
in effect alone. At once we are aware that these two know each
other well, perhaps better than they should. They speak with an
easy familiarity, and smile as if they share a secret. He's heard
rumors of witchcraft in the town. "Oh, posh!" Abigail replies.
"We were dancin' in the woods last night, and my uncle leaped
in on us. She [Betty] took fright, is all." How many faces does
this Abigail have? We've now heard three different versions of
her story; which one are we to believe? Proctor seems to know:
his smile widens as he says, "Ah, you're wicked yet, aren't y'!
You'll be clapped in the stocks before you're twenty."

But Abigail wants more from him than casual banter. "Give me
a word, John. A soft word." His answer, "No, no, Abby. That's
done with," tells us that the rumor is true, something did happen
to cause Goody Proctor to put Abigail out of the house. But for
Abby it's definitely not done with. For the rest of the scene she
tries to get Proctor to admit he still loves her. And although he
keeps repeating that it's over between them, he never actually
says, "I don't love you any more."



Suddenly, a whole new dimension of the play opens up. Before
this scene, the situation has looked like not much more than a
prank that backfired. The girls were just letting off steam, and
the adults are taking the whole thing too seriously. Indeed, when
Rebecca Nurse enters a few moments later, that is her
explanation for the whole affair. For the rest of the girls this
may be true, but for Abigail there's more at stake. We have seen
the dark passion that flows between her and John Proctor, and
we know her too well by now to believe that she'll let this thing
rest. Not if she can use it to get what she wants.

NOTE: What is this "heat" between Abigail and Proctor? Is it
true love, or is it just the lust of the flesh? Or maybe some of
both? At this point it's hard to tell. Abigail remembers "how you
clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion
whenever I come near!" This sure sounds like lust. But later, in
tears, she pleads with him: "I look for John Proctor who took
me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew
what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was
taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men!
And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? I will not, I
cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you
love me yet! John, pity me, pity me!" The earnestness of such a
speech is hard to doubt.

As for Proctor, we hardly know him yet, but compared to the
others we have met so far, he seems the opposite: honest, even
when it hurts him; determined to do the right thing, even though
it makes him and others suffer. We will have more of a chance
to examine his heart later, for he will soon emerge as the hero
of this tragedy. For the moment, however, let's just take note of
how intense their feelings are for each other, and watch for
further developments.

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