Eight weeks has passed since the girls’ frantic confessions. Proctor returns from the farm for dinner. His dull conversation topics with Elizabeth about food and flowers are awkward, demonstrating that their relationship still suffers from the repercussions of Proctor and Abigail’s affair seven months ago. Proctor is vexed when he learns of Mary going to Salem, yet again defying his direct orders forbidding her to go into town. He cannot understand why Elizabeth, as Mary’s employer, lacks the courage to enforce the rules of the home. She defends herself, explaining that Mary is now an ‘official of the court.’ [pg 53] In the two months, Salem has constructed a court with ‘weighty magistrates’ with the Deputy Governor of the Province at the head. Fourteen people have been incarcerated for their association with the Devil. Unlike people who insist on their innocence, those who confess their crimes to the court and denounce others in the process ironically avoid the death sentence. Abigail is now treated like a ‘saint’ during hearings. The accused are brought before Abigail and other girls, with their future sentence based on whether or not the girls break out into hysteric cries of ‘witch’. Proctor calls this ‘black mischief’ since it is evident that Abigail is manipulating the court. Elizabeth begs Proctor to visit Salem and instill some sense of reason to its people. His hesitation sparks an argument between the two. While Elizabeth believes his reaction is due to his affection for Abigail, a weary Proctor argues that he merely has no proof that Abigail is a fraud.
Their dispute halts when Mary Warren enters. Proctor, furious at her transgression threatens her with a whipping if she ever dares to leave the house again. Her docile behaviour is odd, especially when she hands Elizabeth a doll as a gift. Mary declares, ‘we must all love each other now’ [pg 56] and starts for her room. Proctor questions Mary concerning the validity of fourteen people’s sentences. Breaking down, she responds that number has now reached thirty-nine. She cries that one of those sentenced to death is Goody Osburn. When asked by the Deputy Governor to recite the Ten Commandments, Osburn was unable to express even one of the Commandments. Sarah Good was also accused but has avoided death sentence because she confessed to a compact with Lucifer. Proctor wonders how this could be true, knowing the good nature of Sarah Good. However Mary says it is so, since Sarah sent her evil spirit out and almost choked the people of the court to death.
Proctor, still irate towards Mary, demands her obedience in the household. Mary retaliates, revealing that she saved Elizabeth’s life in court. Her defense for Elizabeth, saying that she ‘never see no sign [Elizabeth] ever sent [her] spirit out’ [pg 59] prevented Elizabeth from incarceration. This revelation shocks the Proctors. Mary exhausted and ‘dissatisfied’ heads to her room.
Elizabeth deduces that the emergence of her name in court is the work of Abigail who ‘wants me dead’ so she can become Proctor’s wife. Elizabeth questions why Proctor has never shown Abigail some form of contempt in order to discourage her desires for him. Proctor defends himself, contending that he shouldn’t need to if Elizabeth were to trust him.
Suddenly, they realize that Hale is at the doorway. Unlike the first impressions of a headstrong and confident man, eight weeks later Hale’s stance has changed to ‘deference’ and ‘even guilt.’ [pg 61] Hale explains to the couple that his appearance is not on behalf of the court but of his own accord. He feels this is necessary because he is new to the town, and wishes to familiarise himself with its people. Proctor has a damaged record for the courts since he has been absent from church, ploughed on Sundays and has one child that is yet to be baptised. In an attempt to gain understanding of Proctor’s devotion to Christianity, Hale asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. Although nervous and hesitantly, Proctor pronounces nine of ten. Elizabeth helps him with the tenth commandment, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery.’ [pg 64] Aware that he has failed to establish a positive impression to Hale, Proctor asserts that ‘there be no love for Satan in this house.’ [pg 65] Hale prepares to leave, and due to Elizabeth’s appeals, Proctor reveals that Abigail confided in him that the girls participated in witchcraft one night in the woods. Hale, shocked at Proctor’s words but less surprised at this possibility, asks Proctor to testify in court. Proctor agrees.
Giles Corey and Francis Nurse appear announcing that both of their wives have been taken. Francis reveals that Rebecca’s sentence was due to claims of a ‘supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies.’ [pg 67] Giles’s wife, Martha was sentence due to Walcott’s charge against her that he was unable to keep his newly bought pig alive due to her supernatural influences.
Ezekiel Cheever and Marshal Herrick arrive on behalf of the court with a warrant to arrest Elizabeth. The charge came from Abigail, who had two needles struck deep into her stomach. Cheever asks if Elizabeth owns any poppets, and Elizabeth brings over the poppet Mary sewed her. Cheever draws a long needle from the poppet and concludes that Elizabeth’s spirit must have stabbed Abigail. Due to this outrageous accusation Proctor demands that Mary is bought down to prove his wife innocent. Mary confesses that the poppet was a gift to Elizabeth, and that Susanna Walcott and Abigail are witnesses since she sewed it in court. Proctor rips the warrant, furiously refusing to let his wife be taken away. Herrick explains that there is no other alternative as he is bound by law. There are nine men waiting outside to arrest her. Elizabeth yielding to their requests walks out the door with her head held high. Proctor turns his anger on Hale, disgusted that his cowardice towards the court is allowing many innocent people being imprisoned. Proctor orders everyone out of his home, leaving only Mary. Proctor peremptorily insists that Mary comes with him to court in order to tell the truth. Mary cries that she cannot do so, since Abigail threatened that if she did, Proctor would be charged with lechery. The act ends with Proctor hopeless against the truth, which is ‘naked now.’ [pg 75]
Proctor and Elizabeth’s relationship is clearly strained. The uncomfortable small talk between husband and wife highlights how both are conflicted towards one another. Proctor’s guilty conscience drives him to behave carefully around Elizabeth. He attempts to please her by commenting on her good cooking skills. He also refrains from ‘full condemnation’ [pg 53] of her when he learns that Mary Warren has yet again returned to Salem under her watch. Meanwhile, Elizbaeth has developed a sense of coldness towards her husband. When he kisses her, she merely ‘receives it’, [pg 52] unable to demonstrate any affection. Her suspicions of Proctor still longing for Abigail appear to be omnipresent since she has reached the point where ‘she… has lost all faith in him.’ [pg 54] In what would normally be a minor mistake, a lengthy feud is sparked between the two when Proctor mentions that he and Abigail were in a room alone, and not with a crowd as stated earlier. Through their retorts to one another, it is clear that an argument is the only avenue through which they are able to express their true emotions and thoughts. Although both endeavour to amend their relationship, their suffering prevents them from sealing their gulf of separation.
Conflict can often change a person’s perspective; such is the case with Hale. His entrance depicts a ‘deferent’ [pg 61] man, which is starkly different from the proud and pompous man first introduced to the play. Although regarded as a specialist in the field of uncovering the supernatural, Hale had never encountered a witch prior to his visit to Salem. In the prose describing Hale, it is mentioned that his closest experience to a witch was a woman that appeared to be casting spells upon a young child. Nevertheless, the witch turned out to be a ‘mere pest’ [pg 37] with no supernatural powers. His assurance when meeting with Parris that ‘we cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise’ [pg 41] is a factor that drives the town to paranoia. However, his first real exposure to the insanity formed amongst the puritans when attempting to find witches causes him to change his demeanour since things are not as ‘precise’ as he believed his job to be. The action of the courts conflicts with his moral judgment, as multiple respectable women are being charged with possessing occult powers. This has widened his perspective, as seen when he visits the Proctor’s home on his behalf and not the court, in order to gain an understanding of the Proctors. Over the past eight weeks, his exposure to mayhem has ultimately altered his perspective.
In such a tightly-knitted community, where nowadays, their town which would barely be considered a village, everybody minded ‘other people’s business.’ [pg 14] Yet due to their conservative nature, people acted politely and respectfully towards one another. This lead to years of growing jealously and personal grudges buried and kept quiet amongst the people in Salem. Therefore, when the supernatural conflict spread throughout town, people’s resentment for others also surfaced since the people were looking for someone to blame. People began to accuse those they despised so that they would achieve personal revenge. Walcott’s charge against Martha Corey is evidently powered with malevolence. Due to his inability to obtain his money back when a pig, which he bought from Martha, had died, his obtains vengeance by declaring that she used her supernatural powers to kill the pig. Rebecca Nurse’s incarceration also highlights the absurdity the Putnam’s claims since she is ‘the very brick and mortar of the church.’ Many of the people in Salem use to assert their own personal attacks upon others. This fuels the hysteria in Salem even further, and only the people of Salem can be blamed.