In Act 1, Scene 2 of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, there’s an exchange between Elizabeth and John Proctor that goes like this:
PROCTOR: You will not judge me more, Elizabeth. I have good reason to think before I charge fraud on Abigail, and I will think on it. Let you look to your own improvement before you go to judge your husband any more.(Miller; my emphasis)
ELIZABETH: I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John, only somewhat bewildered.
That line, to me, has always been both the play right there and the most succinct demonstration of Miller’s craft as a playwright.
In contemporary usage, “bewildered” often means perplexed or puzzled.
In certain instances, the word could also refer to someone being confused as to the direction or situation they are heading or in.
In the case of The Crucible, it’s also instructive to return to the more archaic meaning of the word.
Miller aptly uses it, both in the context in which the play is set, as well as to describe Proctor: to be thoroughly led astray or lured into the wild.
To some extent, Elizabeth is describing Proctor’s dalliance with Abigail as an example of his being led astray by her. It’s also a reference to how he has been “bewitched” by her, hence his seemingly odd behaviour.
Yet, bewilderment goes beyond more than just the transgression of sexual and marital mores.
At its core, The Crucible is about identity, in terms of the individual, society and the individual in relation to society.
While the different characters each have their own struggles with identity, Proctor’s struggle is his search for who he truly is as a person.
His bewilderment, then, is not just about how Abigail’s womanly wiles have lured him into the wild.
Much like how Salem has, ironically, corrupted itself in its attempts to retain some semblance of goodness, John’s bewilderment is a result of how he has has lost his way in the wilderness of this corrupted society and, from which, he has to find his way out, if he is to hang on to his self, and all that is good about it.