You have a faulty understanding of young girls. There is a promise made in any bed—
Elizabeth tells Proctor that by sleeping with Abigail, he made her think they were in love. Proctor doesn’t understand that even if he thought the affair was meaningless, Abigail ascribed her own meaning to it. By asking Proctor to “tell her she’s a whore,” Elizabeth wants him to correct Abigail’s assumptions because Elizabeth knows Abigail’s accusations against her are a plot to replace her. Even though Proctor continues to flirt with Abigail, he feels no responsibility for Abigail’s jealousy or vengeance. By denying his role in their relationship, Proctor can blame Abigail for the witch hunt without feeling complicit.
And why not, if they must hang for denyin’ it? There are them that will swear to anything before they’ll hang; have you never thought of that?
When Hale explains that allegations of witchcraft must be true because Tituba and Sarah Good “have confessed it,” Proctor implies that they only confessed to avoid punishment. Proctor then explains that he’s reluctant to testify against Abigail because the court already assumes that the accused are guilty. For those wrongfully accused, the consequence for honesty is death. Proctor, who doesn’t believe in witches, also worries “if my story will be credited in such a court” that only accepts evidence supporting the existence of witchcraft.
It is my third wife, sir; I never had no wife that be so taken with books, and I thought to find the cause of it, d’y’see, but it were no witch I blamed her for. He is openly weeping. I have broke charity with the woman, I have broke charity with her.
After Martha’s trial, Giles is racked with guilt for asking Hale about her books. Though he never accuses her of witchcraft, in Act I Giles implies that Martha’s reading is suspicious because her books are “strange” and “she hides them” when he walks past. He also claims they make him uneasy and interrupt his prayer, but the narrator clarifies that Giles never remembers his prayers regardless of Martha’s reading. Even though Giles’ comment has no bearing on Martha’s conviction, he feels guilt for telling the truth, whereas the accusers feel no guilt about lying.
Excellency, there are orphans wandering from house to house; abandoned cattle bellow on the highroads, the stink of rotting crops hangs everywhere, and no man knows when the harlots’ cry will end his life—and you wonder yet if rebellion’s spoke?
Hale returns to Salem in Act IV after a nearby town overthrew the court amidst a similar witch hunt, and he warns that riots in Salem are next. Salemites are constantly afraid that they will be the next accused, and the town has fallen into disorder because the arrests broke up families and destroyed farms. Not only are Salemites suspicious of each other, but they’re also surrounded by chaos, foul odors, and wild animals. Because the witch hunts hinge on a flawed justice system, the accusations have the unexpected consequence of entirely destroying the flow of everyday life.
There is blood on my head! Can you not see the blood on my head!!
When Danforth asks Hale why he chose to return to Salem, Hale explains that he feels personally responsible for the witch hunts. Upon arriving in Act I, Hale promises, “I shall not proceed unless you are prepared to believe me if I should find no bruise of Hell upon her.” He breaks his promise by not even inspecting the girls once Tituba confesses. Because he knew better than to “look to superstition,” Hale considers the witch trials a direct result of his irresponsibility. By putting faith in the girls’ accusations instead of looking for evidence, Hale misused his power.