Krishna has very kindly typed up a brilliant response to a past paper on The Crucible. This was the question:
How does Arthur Miller present the relationship between Elizabeth and John Proctor at the beginning of act 2, and how does it change by the end of play?
Here is Krishna’s response:
Arthur Miller intelligently uses descriptions of the Proctor’s house to indicate their relationship. For example, in the beginning of the act, Proctor’s house is described to have a ‘fireplace’ at the ‘left’. The fireplace could represent heat and passion. However, because it is on the ‘left’, this could indicate that this heat and passion is only one sided, so only one of them is passionate about their relationship. Additionally, it could show that John’s affair with Abigail has left a lasting dent in their relationship, leaving passion to one side. The ‘fireplace’, as a connotation of hell/evil, could also indicate the sins of John Proctor (adultery) as he had betrayed his wife. From the beginning only, a tense environment has been set up to portray the relationship between this couple.
As we read the setting of the act further, we learn that Proctor is ‘not quite pleased.’ At first glance, this may be interpreted as John not being pleased with the food. But upon closer inspection, we begin to see that Miller shows there is more to it. One may infer that he is not quite pleased with his relationship, hence having the affair with Abigail. Furthermore, because John Proctor ‘adds salt’ to the pot, it may show how to secretly likes to lead in this relationship and slyly changes things to suit him. If we dig deeper we can see that ‘salt’ is cleverly used as a metaphor for Abigail. Abigail may be the person that spiced up John Proctor’s life and made it interesting. This may also be interpreted as Elizabeth not being able to provide John with what he wants, leaving him feeling quite disappointed. This is further highlighted with my next point, which is when John walks up to her to kiss her, ‘she receives it’ which means that she turned her face away and John is described imaginatively by Arthur Miller to be ‘disappointed.’
John Proctor says that Elizabeth’s ‘justice could freeze beer.’ This metaphor could imply numerous things. It solidifies the idea that the relationship of John and Elizabeth is not strong. This is because Elizabeth cannot forget the illicit relationship between John and Abigail and still feels heart broken. Secondly, one can also imply that John may think of his affair as being light and in the past. Although he may have apologised to Elizabeth, she is adamant on not forgiving him, and so John feels that her justice too harsh and can ‘freeze beer’. Arthur Miller applies the recurring symbol of heat/cold as a representation of the lack of warmth and cohesion in their relationship.
However in act 4, we can see a sudden change in the relationship of Elizabeth and John Proctor, when Elizabeth has ‘forgiven’ John. Elizabeth then states that she has her ‘sins’ to ‘count’ which could indicate that previously in this relationship, there may have been small misunderstandings which may have indirectly forced John Proctor to keep away from his wife and commit adultery. The fact that she can ‘count’ them indicates that there may have been numerous ‘sins’. Furthermore, Elizabeth later states that ‘it needs a cold wife to prompt lechery’ Here we can see that Elizabeth confesses that she was a ‘cold wife’ which once again touches on the constant there of warmth and coldness throughout the play. This could imply the physical on and off relationship between the couple (in terms of heat and passion) where John Proctor would probably be leading the heat and passion. The word ‘prompt’ stands out to me the most because it could indicate that Elizabeth accepts the role as some sort of instigator in the fall of their relationship. ‘Cold wife’ also stands as it can suggest that she may not be that passionate about their relationship when they first got married, which led her to being quite ‘cold’.
Elizabeth confesses her love for Proctor when they have their final conversation. She states she ‘never knew how’ she ‘should’ say her ‘love’. The fact that she ‘never knew’ could show that she was at first unsure of their relationship and was not able to ‘love’ him. It could indicate that this relationship may have been an arranged marriage where the couple were probably forced to marry each other, but later Elizabeth fell in love with John. I could not be surprised if this was the else. This is because in the context that the play is set in, it was normal for Puritan people to marry someone they may not have met in their life previously.
Right at the end, Elizabeth and John share ‘a great passionate’ kiss which indicates how all their physical and emotional barriers broke at that time and without any care of others, they both finally shared intimacy. However, the irony is such that John Proctor is soon hanged, leaving Elizabeth deprived of her ‘love.’ The death of Proctor could indicate that their relationship wasn’t strong enough for Elizabeth to persuade John to lie and save his life. It could also show that in the Puritan era, sins and God were even above the relationships of couples.
A very detailed and exploratory response – A* worthy. Well done, Krishna!