It may be construed also, from the quantity of religious language used by both characters, that the pressure of living in a religious community causes John to feel so condemned, though he places the blame on his wife. This could explain why he is so reluctant to fully accept God. Conversely, Elizabeth does subtly attack him by pointing out his lie: “Why, then, it is not as you told me.” By saying little and speaking “loftily” or “with a smile”, she is goading him and creating a sense of hierarchy between them, in which she is the superior moral authority.
The conflict itself starts quietly, and Miller uses structural dynamics to show that the couple are reluctant to speak about the topic of John’s adultery. However, “fearing to anger him” demonstrates that Elizabeth is fully aware that what she is about to say could spark an argument, and that John, while in the wrong, is still at liberty to take a defensive position.
Mode of address also plays a significant role in this scene, as the characters refer to each other by name whilst attempting to keep the peace. Elizabeth’s repetition of “John” creates an almost pleading tone, though John says “Elizabeth” only once, before his mode of address changes, in an attempt to pacify her. It is after Elizabeth exposes his lie that he tries to defend himself by addressing her as “Woman”, so as to establish his own authority and put the issue to rest.
The expositional utterance “I have gone tip toe in this house all seven month” also demonstrates to us the level of damage caused not only by John’s actions, but also by the couple’s seeming inability to resolve their own problems. John is presented as a rather hot-headed character, who frequently resorts to volume, violence, and large quantities of words to resolve matters and prove his innocence. He does not once say ‘sorry’, but instead uses aggressive imperatives such as “You will not” instead of backing down.
These features of John’s character could further suggest his incompatibility with Elizabeth, who is quiet and mild-mannered in her protestations, though her paralinguistic actions will tend to describe her as “cold” and John states that her “justice would freeze beer!”
There exists an intricate web of complexities within the Proctors’ relationship, and John and Elizabeth are figuratively presented by Miller as heat and cold, respectively. Despite this, there are clear indications that John does also care for his wife. He is unwilling to accept his mistakes, and has not appeared to apologise, but for a man of such a heated nature to speak in “violent undertones” and with “solemn warning” yet not resort to physical violence could suggest that even when angry he wishes to protect Elizabeth as much as himself.
This is not to say that, as was legal during the period in which the play is set, he may not have struck her if their conversation had not been interrupted by the arrival of Mary Warren. Even where the structural dynamics of the scene imply a progression towards violence, he does appear to restrain himself. However, “as soon as he sees [Mary Warren], he goes directly to her and grabs her by the cloak, furious,” then proceeds to attack her verbally whilst “shaking her” and threatens to “whip” her. Mary’s actions at this point are certainly not defiant enough to deserve this treatment, and it is stated earlier in the play that Proctor is frequently violent towards her. Therefore, it is plausible to conclude that, as a man who seems to need a physical outlet for his emotions, Proctor takes them out on his servants so as not to harm his wife.