Miller has chosen to use very direct language in the form of declaratives such as “They come for my life now. / I know it” to create a matter-of-fact tone, not because Elizabeth and John have accepted their situation, but because they wish to push it out of the way. The Proctors haven’t seen each other for months, yet their initial exchange, “The child? / It grows” presents to us that dying, their reputation or even each other are not their deepest fears when the safety of their children is at stake.
The welfare of their friends Rebecca and Giles quickly follows, of which Elizabeth speaks in religious terms to comfort John and remind both of them that doing the right thing as Rebecca did will put them“one foot in Heaven” and that “naught may hurt” them any more. Concerning Giles, Elizabeth swiftly returns to expressing herself with declaratives, perhaps because it would be more painful for her to attempt to decorate the fact that “Giles is dead”. By narrating his death “[quietly, factually]”, Elizabeth can distance herself from the emotional side of it so as to relay to her husband the appropriate information.
This side of Elizabeth is also shown in earlier stage directions: “[She catches a weakening and downs it]” and “[She will not let herself be drowned in the sea that threatens her]”, because if either one of them loses composure then they will both succumb to the fears that they are supressing.
However, it is also important for Elizabeth to get through Giles’ story as he has become an important example for them to follow in that he sacrificed himself for his children, as they are preparing to do. Not only that, but by using the elliptical imperative “More weight”, Giles does not just become a martyr, but also regains the authority he lost when the trials began by ordering his
assailants on his own terms.
Giles is the Proctors’ final topic of discussion before they address the real issue at hand, and this is because they needed to prepare themselves to make this decision. First they addressed the baby, then their current children, followed briefly by those who confessed, until the conversation reaches Rebecca and Giles. Proctor knows that the right thing to do is to let himself be hanged, as does Elizabeth. However, she only subtly manipulates the conversation to remind John of the three main reasons (their children, religion, and friends) to do the right thing in order to convince him, even though she also tells him that she “want[s him] living”.
Upon reaching the decision-making process, John’s interrogative “What would you have me do?” shows that he is afraid and uncertain. More concerned to please his wife than save himself, Proctor also depends on her to help him make the decision between saving his life or his immortal soul. At this point, Elizabeth is torn, because she wants to save him, but doesn’t want to live without him, and insists “As you will, I would have it”.
Finally, John starts to break, informing Elizabeth that “it is pretence”, revealing to her his fears through the emotive simile “I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint”, which precedes his explanation that he feels unworthy to die as Giles has. It is evident here that he is still plagued by the guilt of his infidelity to Elizabeth, though she responds that his actions “speak goodness”. The aforementioned reasons are all important, but John needs one more thing to inspire him to be brave enough to do the right thing: “I would have your forgiveness, Elizabeth”.