The summer passes and autumn arrives. The witch trials have caused unrest in neighboring towns, and Danforth grows nervous. Abigail has run away, taking all of Parris’s money with her. Hale, who has lost faith in the court, begs the accused witches to confess falsely in order to save their lives, but they refuse. Danforth, however, has an idea: he asks Elizabeth to talk John into confessing, and she agrees. Conflicted, but desiring to live, John agrees to confess, and the officers of the court rejoice. But he refuses to incriminate anyone else, and when the court insists that the confession must be made public, Proctor grows angry, tears it up, and retracts his admission of guilt. Despite Hale’s desperate pleas, Proctor goes to the gallows with the others, and the witch trials reach their awful conclusion.
Miller is, of course, not alone in his misconceptions about the history of this episode. He was using it to make sense of his own life and times. Popular understandings include many general inaccuracies - for instance, that the witches were burned to death. People condemned as witches in New England were not burned, but hanged, and in the aftermath of the events in Salem, it was generally agreed that none of them had actually been witches at all. Some modern versions also cast the story as having to do with intolerance of difference - a theme that was in the words of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel at the dedication of the Tercentenary Memorial in Salem in August 1992, for instance - that the accused were people on the fringes that the community tacitly approved of casting out. In fact, most of the people who were accused, convicted, and executed by the court in Salem were remarkable by their very adherence to community norms, many were even fully covenanted members of the church. Such impressions that vary from the historical facts are more likely to come from pressing concerns of the time of the writer.