Internal vs External Goodness – Elizabeth shows her sense of morality as she implies that John’s actions mean less than what is in his heart (i.e. how he is externally, is less important than how he is internally).
Later, John seems to suggest that his name, his outward appearance, is more important than inward goodness. On the other hand, he knows the consequences to others (his family and those who are condemned, or could be condemned in the future) for the use of this name. Remember that earlier in the play he states that what he does (attend church, baptize his sons) is not as important as what is in his heart (love of God, love of family, sorrow and regret for his sin of adultery).
Notice that Elizabeth takes blame for John’s infidelity? Should she? She says, “It takes a cold wife to prompt lechery” (137). This ties directly to the theme of repression, guilt and mass hysteria. Elizabeth and others of her Puritan community are repressed in many ways (in this case sexually). She feels guilt about her own behavior or lack of warmth and takes some of John’s sins upon herself.
The Crucible and connections to the 1950s USA: The final Act mirrors the procedures of the McCarthy trials, in which accused and/or confessed communists were required, on penalty of being charged with contempt, to “name names” or reveal the identities of other American citizens seen to participate in communist activities. After writing The Crucible, Miller was asked to do this and refused. Congress indicted him for contempt.
Moral Pride and Judgment: Unlike the citizens who claim to represent the will of God, Elizabeth refuses to play judge, even against the husband who betrayed her and ultimately caused her death. Like Giles, she cares about others even if it means the sacrifice of her own life. Elizabeth makes the important point to John that her forgiveness means nothing if he cannot forgive himself (137).
Later, Proctor has asked her if she thinks a false confession is evil and she responds that she cannot judge. Then John says, when refusing to give others’ names, “I speak my own sins, I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it” (141). This is in sharp contrast to all the girls and Ann Putnam earlier in the play who cannot wait to accuse others. John has attacked the court’s action in judging the spiritual goodness of others, a job reserved, in Puritan theology, for God alone.
At the end, Elizabeth seems to think that John has made the decision that he – as a man who judges himself harshly and who worries that he is evil at heart – had to make: “He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him” (145).
Central Question in Act Four: The central question in Act 4 is whether Proctor does the moral thing? Should he think of his children? Is he? Is it only pride? Or is his choice the only one available? His hanging, as Miller tells it, was a catalyst for the growing opposition to the court, which eventually ended the trials that spring.
John says, “Is there no good penitence but it be public?” (142) What do you think about this question?