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. . . .
This quotation is taken from Act III,
when Proctor finally breaks down and confesses his affair with Abigail,
after trying, in vain, to expose her as a fraud without revealing
their liaison. Proctor knows from the beginning that the witch trials
constitute nothing more than a “whore’s vengeance”—Abigail’s revenge
on him for ending their affair—but he shies away from making that
knowledge public because it would lead to his disgrace. This scene,
in the Salem courtroom, marks the climax of the play, in which Proctor’s
concern for justice outstrips his concern for his reputation. This
re-prioritization of values enables him to do what is necessary.
But he finds, to his horror, that his actions come too late: instead
of Abigail and the witch trials being exposed as a sham, Proctor
is called a liar and then accused of witchcraft by the court. His
attempt at honesty backfires and destroys him.