It is evident that the main cause of tension in the scene is the distrust that exists between John and Elizabeth. Miller shows the tension between them by the opening comment by Elizabeth “what keeps you so late? It’s almost dark.” John appears to ignore the hidden accusation “I went planting far out to the forest edge.” Elizabeth and john then proceed to talk about family matters, which are unrelated to Elizabeth first comment. I assume Miller staged this conversation to maintain the uneasy atmosphere in the room. Elizabeth continues to watch John as he eats. He compliments her on the dinner “it’s well seasoned,” as if to ease the tension, which seems to be successful until he says, “I wish to please you.” The comment seems to bring back the sour atmosphere to the room as if the comment hurt Elizabeth. The script says she finds it difficult to say, “I know it” John then kisses Elizabeth; she receives it but does not respond to the kiss with a kiss back. John reluctantly sees this resistance and returns to his seat.
The tension tightens again in the room until John, again making the effort, asks gently, trying not to offend, “cider?” Elizabeth, disappointed with herself for forgetting, gets up to fill his glass. The way she acts suggests that she is desperate to please him, but I think this adds to the already tense atmosphere. Again they continue to try and relieve the tension by talking about mundane farm matters. The atmosphere lightens as they continue talking, John is telling Elizabeth how beautiful the farm is “Massachusetts is a beauty in the spring.” However, as Elizabeth watches him she seems to want to speak to him but doesn’t want the confrontation. She moves to start cleaning up.
John watches her and comments, “I think you are sad again.” She doesn’t want the friction between them but cannot lie to him and repeats “you come so late I thought you’d gone to Salem” I believe that she would say this quite coldly to him, to almost prove to him that she was suspicious without having to say it. John gets very defensive at this point and says indignantly “why! I have no business in Salem.” Miller does this to show the conflict about this topic has been there before. The tone changes from awkward to angry as both characters discuss Mary going to Salem. This continues for a while until the anger quietens down but only for a short time, as Elizabeth gets more reticent. She asks him to go into Salem to prove that Abigail is committing fraud, but as Elizabeth keeps pushing, John gets angry ” I say I will think on it.” This creates a tension of hurt; this is shown in the play by Elizabeth starting to walk out of the room.
John tries to soften his last comment by telling Elizabeth that he has no proof over Abigail, which increases the tension when Elizabeth realises and says, “you were alone with her?” Elizabeth is suspicious again. John shouts at her, adding to the tension, “for a moment, aye.” As Elizabeth gets more suspicious, John’s anger increases. The argument has now reached its climax at this point. The atmosphere gets worse the more he shouts at her “you doubt me yet?” Elizabeth is trying to calm him down, reassure him and break the conflict between them “I do not judge you” she reassures him.
John has now become unpleasant and bitterly says, “Your justice would freeze beer!” Mary then breaks the atmosphere as she enters the room.
Miller has been successful in creating tension and conflict in this scene by showing the friction between two people when one person wants to discuss something, which is then ignored by the other. He shows this successfully when Elizabeth asks why john is late and he changes the subject to talk about the boys and the farm in general. John, at this point is not ready to prove the point that Elizabeth is making.
Late however Elizabeth mentions the matter again, and John responds with aggression and the uncomfortable atmosphere is established until the entry into the room of Mary.