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Act 4

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4 of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

The Crucible | Act 4 | Summary

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Summary

As Act 4 opens, Marshal Herrick is moving Sarah Good and Tituba to another cell. Reverend Hale is also there but without Danforth's blessing since he denounced the court at their encounter a few months earlier. Judge Hathorne wants Hale questioned about any part he might have played in the Andover rebellion that ended the court's reign in their town. Danforth does not want Andover mentioned at all, fearing any talk about the town will cause the Salem citizens to rebel. Reverend Parris has appeared rather unstable lately, but Ezekiel Cheever blames the preacher's condition on all of the cows wandering through the town because people are fighting over their ownership. When Parris enters the room, he confesses Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis have run away and have stolen all his money. Betty Parris confessed she had heard them talking about taking a ship away from the province. He thinks they are scared to stay in Salem because of their part in the witch hunt. He insinuates that they know about the Andover rebellion and have heard talk from Salem townspeople who are upset with the unwarranted executions and fear for their lives. Parris fears a riot will erupt in Salem if John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Martha Corey are hanged because they are still well respected for their high principles. He wants to postpone the hangings, and Hale wants the three villagers pardoned. Danforth refuses to heed either suggestion because they will make him look weak. He plans to continue with the day's executions.

Danforth has John and Elizabeth Proctor brought into the room, believing she will convince her husband to confess to the charge of witchcraft, thereby saving his life. The Proctors' meeting after three months is filled with both joy and sorrow. John asks Elizabeth what he should do, but she insists he is the only one who can make his decision. She tells him Giles Corey was pressed to death with huge stones because he would not admit nor deny any guilt, knowing he would save his land for his family if he wasn't hanged. Neither Martha Corey nor Rebecca Nurse will lie to save their lives. John feels he is not good like the women are because he is stained in the eyes of God and his wife because of his affair. She attests to believing he is a good man, no matter his choice, and her forgiveness means nothing if he won't forgive himself. She confesses her part in not being a loving wife and begs for his mercy because she never appreciated his virtuousness.

John announces he will confess, and everyone rushes to make it final and save him. Rebecca still refuses to do so because it would be a lie. "How may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot," she says. Proctor denies ever seeing any of the accused or any person with the Devil because he will not ruin their names and can speak only to his sins. After much arguing, he signs his confession but will not give it to them to hang in the town. He tears up his confession, finally understanding he is worthy of an honorable death instead of living a lie. He walks to the gallows along with Rebecca Nurse.

Analysis

Act 4 focuses squarely on the theme of reputation, showing the disparities between the morality of certain characters and their concern for their reputation. Judge Hathorne continues to bare his remorseless and merciless personality with his insinuations and pronouncements. He never worries about his reputation because he is convinced the majority of people accept the accuracy of his opinions, and those who disagree don't matter. He tells Danforth that Parris "has a mad look these days," instead of more equitably mentioning that Parris seems to be feeling the strain of the past few months. When Parris worries a riot will erupt if the pious Rebecca Nurse prays to God on the gallows, Hathorne does not sway a bit from his decree, stating, "she is condemned a witch."

Deputy Governor Danforth exhibits fairness when he responds to Hathorne's comment about Parris by saying, "perhaps he have some sorrow," but his disquiet isn't about the looming hangings to occur at sunrise or how many of the townspeople view them as unjust. Instead, his anxiety centers on his reputation if he postpones the executions like Parris requests, or pardons John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, or Martha Corey like Reverend Hale implores him to do. Danforth adamantly refuses to hear any more talk of stopping the morning's scheduled proceedings. "Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part," he states. He worries reprieves will cause people to wonder if the 12 people who already died from hanging or being pressed to death were guilty of the crimes they were accused of. This could cause their disdain for the court, which would weaken his standing in the province. Danforth emphasizes his adherence to Massachusetts's theocratic approach combining religious beliefs and the law when he states, "while I speak God's law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering." Neither Hathorne nor he could ever consider anyone strong for admitting a mistake, no matter how heinous it might be. In their minds this would show weakness of character, never strength.

Reverend Hale shows his personal fortitude and admirable qualities when he returns to Salem after denouncing the court. He knows he was wrong not to fight for John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and Martha Corey and feels responsible for their death sentences. He tells Danforth he is in Salem because "there is blood on my head." He cares nothing about his reputation when he tells Elizabeth Proctor he cannot tell the three scheduled to hang to lie to save their lives, because "damnation's doubled on a minister who counsels men to lie." His concern is not for his earthly reputation, as it was when he stood on his knowledge of witchcraft, but for God's judgment. Reverend Parris shows a softer spirit when he offers a battered and weak John Proctor a cup of cider, but his insistent imploring for Proctor to sign the confession proves he is more worried about his reputation in the town than he is about saving an innocent man's life. After all, only 30 people had shown up for Proctor's excommunication from the church, and someone had hung a dagger over his door during the previous night, a sign some people blame him for instigating the whole witch hunt and supporting the court. His desire for approval in Salem is still his guiding force.

For his part, John Proctor has always aspired to earning an honorable reputation in the eyes of God and the people of Salem. Their respect for him has been obvious from the beginning of the turmoil, when the town supported his efforts to convince the judges of the vengeful and greedy motives of Thomas Putnam and Abigail Williams, as well as the girls' fraudulent behavior. He never balked from confronting the truth, even when his life was on the line. Proctor showed his integrity by admitting to an affair with Abigail, even though it condemned him, because it bought his wife some time. He even demonstrates the importance of his love for her over his caring about himself when he begs her forgiveness, saying he must lie because his sin of adultery makes him unequal to the godliness of Rebecca and Martha. In the end he cannot lie because this would go against his very beliefs. He cares only what God and Elizabeth think of him, and he wants to be able to look into his soul and not flinch because he tried to be a good and honest man. He shows his disgust for rumors like those behind the witch hunt and his adherence to truth when he says, "what others say, and what I sign to is not the same!" Although she desperately wants him to live, Elizabeth accepts her husband's decision because it reveals his strength of character. As he walks to the gallows she says, "he have his goodness now."

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