Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 2
Mary Warren returns to the Proctor house. Proctor is furious that she has been in Salem all day, but Mary Warren tells him she will be gone every day because she is an official of the court. Mary Warren gives Elizabeth a poppet that she made while in court. Mary Warren tells Elizabeth and Proctor that thirty-nine people are in jail, and Goody Osburn will hang because she did not confess to witchcraft. Proctor becomes angry because he believes the court is condemning people without solid evidence. Mary Warren states that Elizabeth was accused, but she defended Elizabeth and the court dismissed the accusation.
Elizabeth tells Proctor that Abigail wants to get rid of her. Elizabeth believes that Abigail will accuse her of witchcraft and then have her executed. Elizabeth realizes that Abigail wants to take her place as Proctor's wife. Elizabeth asks Proctor to speak to Abigail and tell her that no chance exists of Proctor marrying her if something happened to Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Proctor argue again.
Scene 2 reveals the impact of the witch trials and the frenzy they have created in Salem, reinforcing the theme of how easily a mob can be influenced. Suddenly the townspeople revere the youth of the town, namely Abigail and the other girls, as instruments of God. Anyone who has crossed the girls lives in fear of being accused of witchcraft.
As the leader of the group, Abigail has finally achieved the power she desires, and now she can use it to obtain Proctor. The other girls have achieved new status as well. Prior to the witch trials, Mary Warren lived as a servant in the Proctor home. She was paid for her services, but she was also under the authority of Proctor and was required to follow the rules of the house. If Mary Warren did not fulfill her work obligations, Proctor could discipline her just like one of the Proctor children. This type of arrangement was acceptable and normal within Puritan society.
After the witch trials begin, the social hierarchy of Salem becomes unstable. Individuals who previously did not have power obtain it and refuse to submit to others who traditionally have authority over them. Mary Warren provides a clear demonstration of this when she refuses to take orders from Elizabeth and stands up to Proctor when he threatens to whip her for insubordination.
In Scene 2 Mary Warren begins to cry. Serving on the court all day has exhausted and upset her. At this point, Mary Warren attempts to convince herself and the Proctors that solid evidence exists against all of the accused. She secretly questions this, but feels she can only go along with Abigail and the others. She now belongs to a group, and does not want to be an outcast.
Abigail's scheme becomes apparent to Elizabeth and Proctor within Scene 2. This is central to the play because, up until this point, only the audience knows what is really happening. Now two of the characters accurately interpret Abigail's actions and her overall objective. Before Scene 2, Proctor and Elizabeth knew that Abigail had lied about the witchcraft incident, and both suspected that Abigail wanted to get rid of Elizabeth. Scene 2 confirms their fears. The poppet that Mary Warren innocently gives to Elizabeth foreshadows Elizabeth's arrest in Scene 4.
When Mary Warren tells them the court accused Elizabeth, Abigail's plan becomes clear. Time is now the most important element in the play. With each arrest for witchcraft, Abigail gains credibility. In addition, the courtroom fits, trances, fainting spells, and other demonstrations of "hard evidence" increase Abigail's authority. She is quickly becoming irrefutable in the eyes of the court.
Proctor only has two chances to save Elizabeth. Either he must speak to Abigail and convince her that her plan will not work, or he must speak to Hale before Abigail accuses Elizabeth. If Proctor calls Abigail a fraud after Elizabeth's arrest, he will appear to be lashing out. Proctor must act as quickly as possible because both Proctor and Elizabeth know that Abigail will continue to accuse Elizabeth until the court arrests her.
poppet [Obsolete] a doll.
hard proof undeniable, reliable, or actual proof; here, the phrase refers to solid evidence.
base having or showing little or no honor, courage, or decency; mean; ignoble; contemptible.