Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.
In the first act, John encounters Abigail on her own at her uncle’s house, a rare opportunity for them to talk together without anyone else around (except for Betty, who is supposedly unconscious on her bed). Here, John admits that he remembers his time with Abigail fondly, but that they’ll never be together again. In fact, he tells her to forget it ever happened.
Spare me! You forget nothin’ and forgive nothin’. Learn charity, woman. I have gone tiptoe in this house all seven month since she is gone. I have not moved from there to there without I think to please you, and still an everlasting funeral marches around your heart. I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies, as though I come into a court when I come into this house!
In the beginning of the second act, Miller shows the Proctors at home, revealing that John’s affair with Abigail is still causing a great deal of tension in their house. John pleads with Elizabeth to soften her stance and be kinder to him. This exchange foreshadows their final scene in the play, when she shares that she has realized she had been too harsh to him.
But if she say she is pregnant, then she must be! That woman will never lie, Mr. Danforth.
In Act 3, the action moves to the courthouse, where Deputy Governor Danforth is presiding over the trials of residents of Salem accused of witchcraft. Elizabeth has been accused by Abigail, but Danforth reveals that she’s told the court she is pregnant. Danforth is skeptical, but John is overjoyed, telling Danforth that she would never lie. This moment sets up the action of the rest of the scene, in which Elizabeth lies to protect John’s reputation.
A man may think God sleeps, but God sees everything, I know it now. I beg you, sir, I beg you – see her what she is…She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore’s vengeance…
In Act 3, John approaches Danforth in hopes of proving, through his servant Mary’s testimony, that Abigail is lying about witchcraft. When Abigail begins to call on God to help her, John loses his temper and confesses to Danforth that he had an affair with her. He explains the affair is the reason Abigail is after his wife’s life. John Proctor is willing to throw aside his good name to save his wife.
You are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!
John closes out Act 3 by yelling this at Danforth, who has allowed Abigail to seize control of the trials again. Throughout the first three acts, John has demonstrated that he does not blindly follow authority, whether of the church or state. This stance often puts him at odds with people who represent authority, such as Rev. Parris. Here, John seals his fate by accusing Danforth, Parris, and the other officials of acting against the will of God in believing Abigail. This scene also marks the moment that Reverend Hale abandons the trials, seeing them for the farce they are.
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
At the end of the fourth act, John confesses, falsely, to witchcraft, but he stops short of agreeing to let his signed confession be posted around town. He explains that his name is too precious for him to give up. His refusal ends up condemning him to death. The idea of personal integrity is an important theme in the play, and here it is paramount.
I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs.
Rev. Hale and Danforth cannot believe that John will not allow his confession to be posted in town, thus saving his life. But John tells them that he feels he is finally recovering from his many sins – he has found a “shred of goodness” in himself by refusing to falsely confess. He will die with other good people, like Rebecca Nurse.