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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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Hathorne and Parris think they have won. Mary has failed the
test, so she must be lying now. But Danforth isn't sure. Too
much doubt has been cast on Abigail, and Mary's pathetic
explanations somehow ring true to him. So he turns to Abigail
again and bids her search her heart and speak the truth.

But Hathorne's trick has brought Abigail enough time to collect
her wits. Once again, as she did with her uncle in Act I, she
dodges the question and attacks Danforth for asking it, even
going so far as to threaten him openly:

Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that
the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it!

The irony is that this is precisely what's happening. Abigail
Williams, at this very moment, is turning Danforth's wits toward
her destructive purpose.

But she breaks her threat off in midsentence. Maybe she's afraid
of going too far, maybe she just gets a better idea. It is fun
twisting Danforth around her little finger, but Danforth isn't
Abigail's real enemy here, Mary Warren is, and Mary Warren
must be destroyed. What better way then to "cry her out"?

We've heard a lot about the awful torments these poor girls
endure in court day after day. Now we get to see them in action.
The important thing here is not what these girls suffer, but who
is being made to suffer. To the judges, these are children. Adults
are strong enough to fend for themselves; but the suffering of
children is an outrage.



Danforth cannot conceive that a child could be evil enough or
even smart enough to plot murder. Abigail knows this, and she
plays on it. When it begins to look like Proctor might be
opening Danforth's eyes Abigail moves quickly. And the girls,
like robots, follow suit.

They haven't lost the "sense of it," as Mary Warren quickly sees.
By now the girls are old hands at being tormented, and can turn
it on as easily as a water faucet. They follow Abigail's lead,
each one building on the other's fantasy until they've worked
themselves into a proper "torment"- cold skin, chattering teeth,
shivering from the same "icy wind."

The judges' reaction is automatic. They've seen this happen
before, they know what it means. Danforth immediately wheels
on Mary Warren:

Mary Warren, do you witch her? I say to you, do you send your
spirit out?

It's a brilliant move on Abigail's part, but it almost blows up in
her face. Proctor, seeing Mary's nerve give out, is driven to the
wall. In a total rage he leaps at Abigail and jerks her up by the
hair. "How do you call heaven! Whore! Whore!"

Now it's out, and Proctor's done for. Whether Abigail is exposed
or not, Proctor's just destroyed himself. There's no way he can
win. But maybe by unmasking Abigail he can save his wife and
his friends.

Danforth's shining image of Abigail has been tarnished, but this
new charge of Proctor's is too shocking. It must be proved. So
Danforth sends for Elizabeth Proctor.

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