The opening stage directions from this extract immediately show the mood of the play, and the extreme tension that the characters are under, “It is as though they are stood in a spinning world. It is beyond sorrow, above it.” This shows us that the play has reached the moment of crisis, and that the situation is now totally out of control. The metaphorical language Miller uses here emphasises the tension, and the huge emotion of the moment.
The first speech in the extract is a conversation between Proctor and his wife. The speech has a superficial tension to it, as they discuss Elizabeth’s pregnancy, although from this tension we can see that there is an underlying intimacy. Miller achieves this effect by using short sentences and responses such as “The child?” and “It grows.” This emphasises the tension between the two although the topic is one of unity showing their intimacy. While Elizabeth is talking to her husband she is desperately trying to hold back the emotion that she is actually feeling. This can be seen as when asked whether she has seen her children she replies, “I have not.
She catches a weakening in herself and downs it.” She is being non-committal towards Proctor in order to retain her nobility and not break down. Here Miller is emphasising Elizabeth’s goodness and dignity, and highlighting the gulf that Proctor sees between their moral standing. He does this as Proctor in this bit of dialogue is seeking Elizabeth’s approval so that he feels she has forgiven him for his adultery, and therefore be free to forgive himself. In response to this statement by Elizabeth Procter says, “You are a- marvel, Elizabeth.”
His short dialogue and pause in mid sentence shows the nervousness he is feeling at trying to come to terms with the “spinning world” in which he finds himself, and also emphasises the respect that he has for his wife. As Proctor admits that he has been tortured Miller writes “Pause. She will not let herself be drowned in the sea which threatens her.” The metaphorical imagery he uses here conveys the great emotion that they are both feeling for one another, yet are not able to express due to their history. The lack of adjectives and sparseness of language shows the discomfort they are feeling in the situation.
The dialogue finally changes from being sparse and brief when Rebecca’s fate is mentioned. As Proctor asks about her, Elizabeth replies “Not Rebecca. She is one foot in heaven now; naught may hurt her more.” The detail Miller goes into, the elaboration on Rebecca’s name, and the imagery of “one foot in Heaven” shows the importance to the audience of Proctor and Elizabeth’s respect for Rebecca. The dialogue then quickly retracts to the sparseness of the earlier piece as Elizabeth simply says, “Giles is dead.” The numbness of her emotion in this very factual sentence shows us that Death has become normality to her, and that she has to remain emotionally detached to avoid breaking down. Miller uses this to build the tension and emotion of his play to a climax, as Proctor decides what to do.
The background for Proctor’s announcement to his wife that he is considering confessing is the sentence by Elizabeth “Aye he were a fearsome man, Giles Corey.” This image of physical strength contrasts with Proctor’s apparent weakness as he admits that “I have been thinking I would confess to them, Elizabeth.” Miller uses this to steer the audience into believing that this is a dishonourable path to take, and emphasises the enormity of the decision that he has to face. In reply to this, Elizabeth says, “I cannot judge you, John.” Elizabeth now has an air of tenderness towards Proctor, which contrasts with her earlier coldness. The stage directions Miller uses for Proctor’s next speech are “simply- a pure question.” The lack of anger, guilt or implicit judgement here shows that the couple now have a sense of unity, and that past problems are now forgotten. In this moment of great emotion and mental turmoil, Proctor and Elizabeth are brought together.
Miller again steers the audience to see that Proctor will not confess when he gives the directions “pauses, then with a flailing of hope”. We are now led to believe that Proctor will be unable to bring himself to confess as he can see that it is morally incorrect behaviour. In the next speech by Proctor where he says, “I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint. It is fraud. I am not that man. She is silent. My honesty is broke Elizabeth; I am no good man.”
Here Miller portrays Proctor as not being afraid of death, but that he does not feel that he is worthy to die alongside the likes of Rebecca as he is a sinful man. He is also slightly seeking justification to live. Throughout this extract it is clear that Miller is judging himself and here he is still under the impression that he is not worthy of greatness, although he is not sure as he is mentally battling with himself to come to some sort of conclusion.