Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 2
Proctor and Mary Warren enter the vestry room. Proctor tells Danforth that Mary Warren did not see spirits. Although Danforth refuses to accept Mary Warren's signed deposition, he does agree to talk with her.
Danforth asks Mary Warren about the spirits that she saw. She tells him that she and the other girls only pretended to see spirits. Danforth also questions Proctor to find out if he is trying to undermine the court. He warns Proctor that anything he is hiding will come out. Proctor states that the court is condemning people solely on the basis of children's accusations.
Danforth informs Proctor that Elizabeth claims she is pregnant. Even though the court physically examined Elizabeth, it could not find any sign to prove her pregnancy. Proctor tells Danforth that she "will never lie." Danforth agrees to let Elizabeth live for another year, because of the unborn child.
Proctor gives Danforth a testament stating that Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey are good, upright women. Ninety-one people have signed the document. Parris argues that the court should summon these people because they question the court. Francis Nurse is upset because he himself promised them that no reprisal would come for from signing the document.
Danforth reads Giles Corey's deposition. Thomas Putnam is brought into the room. Corey accuses Putnam of prompting his daughter to falsely accuse George Jacobs of witchcraft. Corey claims that Putnam wants Jacobs to hang, because anyone hung for witchcraft loses all property rights. Putnam is the only person in Salem who can afford to purchase Jacobs' land once it becomes available. Putnam denies the charge and Danforth requires proof from Corey. Corey refuses to name the individual who overheard Putnam. The court arrests Corey for contempt of court.
Hale tells Danforth that people fear the court. Danforth becomes angry and states that only the guilty should be afraid. Hale disagrees and tells Danforth that not everyone who the girls accuse can be guilty.
Danforth reads Mary Warren's deposition. The deposition states that she never saw the Devil and that the other girls are lying. Hale states that a lawyer should present Proctor's important claim. Hale and Danforth argue over this. After reading the deposition, Parris demands that the court allow him to question Mary Warren. Danforth becomes angry with Parris and denies his request.
Danforth warns Mary Warren that she must tell the truth. He also informs her she will go to jail for committing perjury, whether during her previous testimony or now.
Tension arises when Danforth questions Mary Warren and she admits that she and the others have been lying. Danforth believes that he is a fair judge, open to the truth. However, Mary Warren's recant forces him to doubt his own actions. He agrees to listen to Proctor because his claim affects the entire court and its proceedings. His willingness to hear Proctor and render judgment after Proctor has provided his evidence demonstrates that Danforth strives for some amount of fairness. However, the situation troubles Danforth because, if Proctor proves that the accusations have been false, then Danforth must admit that the girls have deceived him. Such an admission would prove him to be a poor judge of character, if children can fool him. Also, the fact that he sent innocent people to the gallows would certainly demonstrate his failure as a judge.
A sharp contrast exists between Parris and Hale. Although not perfect, Hale centers his actions on others. Parris, on the other hand, is self-centered and narrow-minded. He is unbalanced during this scene, and, as the play progresses, he becomes fanatical as he attempts to preserve his position and authority within Salem. During this scene, Parris demonstrates that he still holds a grudge against Proctor. Rather than considering the implications of Proctor's claim that the girls are lying, Parris tries to discredit Proctor. Parris perceives Proctor as the chief member of the faction that opposes him within Salem. Parris will do anything to protect himself and his position as minister.
Greed and the quest for power also appear again with the exchange between Corey, Putnam, and Danforth. Danforth faces a difficult situation because yet another accuser has been claimed to be acting upon a hidden agenda. Corey has a witness who overheard Putnam talking about obtaining land as a result of his daughter Ruth accusing George Jacobs of witchcraft. This vital information reveals that Ruth is pretending that spirits attack her, and also casts doubt upon the Putnams' claim against Rebecca Nurse. Not only does this suggest that the Putnams fabricated their charge against Rebecca, but it supports the idea that they did it to obtain land. Putnam is opportunistic and willing to profit from the misfortune of others.
Irony emerges when Corey refuses to name his source. Corey's charge against Putnam provides enough information to end the witch trials, if Danforth would analyze the evidence. However, Danforth dismisses the charge against Putnam because of a lack of proof. Ironically, up until this point the court has been condemning people without proof, relying solely on the testimony of children.
deposition the testimony of a witness.
discontent dissatisfaction or restlessness. Here, the verb form is used, meaning to fail to satisfy.
sharp clearly defined; distinct; clear. Here, the word means decisive.
probity uprightness in one's dealings; integrity.
perjury the willful telling of a lie while under lawful oath or affirmation to tell the truth in a matter material to the point of inquiry.