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SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The plot revolves around the witchcraft hysteria that plagues Salem and splits the town into those who use the trials for their own ends and those who desire the good of the society.
Act I introduces most of the main characters in the play. The action takes place in Reverend Parris' home. Having discovered his daughter dancing naked in the woods with several other girls and his Negro slave, he has called in the Reverend Hale to investigate his suspicions of witchcraft. Various characters are introduced, and the reader learns of the pettiness of the Putnams, the superstition of Parris, the open-mindedness of Hale, the viciousness of Abigail, and, most importantly, the secret guilt of Proctor, who has committed adultery with Abigail.
Act II develops the need for Proctor to take action in defending the truth. The action takes place at the Proctors' home. John and his wife argue over whether he should denounce Abigail, and the reader learns of the rift that has developed between Proctor and his wife over his act of adultery. When officials of the court arrive and Elizabeth is arrested, John realizes that he can no longer stand by and not act.
Abigail, by pretending that Mary is "sending her spirit out" to attack her, induces Mary, who has been supporting Proctor, to abandon her testimony and accuse him to protect herself. Proctor is arrested, and Hale quits the court in disgust.
The final act focuses on Proctor's dilemma whether to live or accept death. He signs a confession, but, when he realizes that it will be used against his fellow accused, he tears it up. On a personal level, this act recovers his sense of goodness. In a larger sense, his act represents the tragic sacrifice of good as the only means to bring harmony back to a society gone awry.