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I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons. . . .
John Proctor, a local farmer, enters Parris’s house to join the girls. Proctor disdains hypocrisy, and many people resent him for exposing their foolishness. However, Proctor is uneasy with himself because he had conducted an extramarital affair with Abigail. His wife, Elizabeth, discovered the affair and promptly dismissed Abigail from her work at the Proctor home.
Proctor caustically reminds Mary Warren, who now works for him, that he forbade her to leave his house, and he threatens to whip her if she does not obey his rules. Mercy Lewis and Mary depart. Abigail declares that she waits for Proctor at night. Proctor angers her by replying that he made no promises to her during their affair. She retorts that he cannot claim that he has no feelings for her because she has seen him looking up at her window. He admits that he still harbors kind feelings for her but asserts that their relationship is over. Abigail mocks Proctor for bending to the will of his “cold, sniveling” wife. Proctor threatens to give Abigail a whipping for insulting his wife. Abigail cries that Proctor put knowledge in her heart, and she declares that he cannot ask her to forget what she has learned—namely, that all of Salem operates on pretense and lies.
The crowd in the parlor sings a psalm. At the phrase “going up to Jesus,” Betty covers her ears and collapses into hysterics. Parris, Mercy, and the Putnams rush into the room. Mrs. Putnam concludes that Betty is bewitched and cannot hear the Lord’s name without pain. Rebecca Nurse, an elderly woman, joins them. Her husband, Francis Nurse, is highly respected in Salem, and many people ask him to arbitrate their disputes. Over the years, he gradually bought up the 300 acres that he once rented, and some people resent his success. He and Thomas Putnam bitterly disputed a matter of land boundaries. Moreover, Francis belonged to the faction that prevented Putnam’s brother-in-law from winning the Salem ministry. Giles Corey, a muscular, wiry eighty-three-year-old farmer, joins the crowd in the room as Rebecca stands over Betty. Betty gradually quiets in Rebecca’s gentle presence. Rebecca assures everyone that Ruth and Betty are probably only suffering from a childish fit, derived from overstimulation.
Proctor asks if Parris consulted the legal authorities or called a town meeting before he asked Reverend Hale to uncover demons in Salem. Rebecca fears that a witch-hunt will spark even more disputes. Putnam demands that Parris have Hale search for signs of witchcraft. Proctor reminds Putnam that he cannot command Parris and states that Salem does not grant votes on the basis of wealth. Putnam retorts that Proctor should not worry about Salem’s government because he does not attend church regularly like a good citizen. Proctor announces that he does not agree with Parris’s emphasis on “hellfire and damnation” in his sermons.
Parris and Giles bicker over the question of whether Parris should be granted six pounds for firewood expenses. Parris claims that the six pounds are part of his salary and that his contract stipulates that the community provide him with firewood. Giles claims that Parris overstepped his boundaries in asking for the deed to his (Parris’s) house. Parris replies that he does not want the community to be able to toss him out on a whim; his possession of the deed will make it more difficult for citizens to disobey the church.
Parris contends that Proctor does not have the right to defy his religious authority. He reminds Proctor that Salem is not a community of Quakers, and he advises Proctor to inform his “followers” of this fact. Parris declares that Proctor belongs to a faction in the church conspiring against him. Proctor shocks everyone when he says that he does not like Parris’s kind of authority and would love to find and join this enemy faction.