The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play about the Salem Witch Trials in the year 1692. Arthur Miller himself was one of the many people put before the congressional committee during the red scare and hunt for communists in the 1950’s. From that experience he brought to light the direct parallels and relationships between these two events in history. One of the characters he portrayed in his play was Abigail Williams. She was a young girl who provoked the search of witches to clear her own name after getting caught dancing in the woods.
Abigail needed to find a scapegoat to blame for her acts and she uses her credibility, jealousy, and selfishness to change the village of Salem to a place of wrongful accusations and back stabbings. Abigail Williams is the niece of Reverend Parris, and she uses her credibility to help be believed by the rest of the townspeople. Abigail uses the first part of act one to worry about the possibility of her being disgraced for being found to be dancing in the woods with a group of girls. She finds a way out though when Tituba confesses and is then blessed for going back to heavens side.
This offers Abigail a way out and she cries out I want to open myself!… I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osborn with the Devil! I Saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil! (45) After naming these names she is considered a credible source because she has a first count experience for being with the Devil and seeing who his other followers are. Immediately after saying this, another character Putnam proclaims “The marshal, I’ll call the marshal! (45) and Hale responds “Let the marshal bring irons! ” (45). The responses of these characters prove that the townspeople believe in Abigail’s accusations, because she has repented for her sins and is ready to help rid Salem of the Devil by naming these names. Later on in this play when the actual witch trials take place, Danforth the Deputy Governor says In an ordinary crime, how does one defend the accused? One calls up witnesses to prove his innocence. But witchcraft is ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime is it not? Therefore who may possibly be witness to it?
The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims- and they do testify, the children certainly do testify (93). This line epitomizes the fact that it is nearly impossible to catch and condemn a witch, so they must rely solely on hearsay from reliable witnesses testifying. In this case Abigail is considered this reliable witness. Later on in the court room Abigial says “I have been near to murder every day because I don’t my duty pointing out the Devil’s people-and this is my reward?
To be mistrusted, denied questioned like a-” (100) and Danforth immediately reassures her by saying “Child, I do not mistrust you-”(100). Abigail’s credibility in Salem not only persuaded the gullible townspeople, but also allowed her to be believed while naming “guilty” parties of witchcraft. Abigail’s jealousy is another character trait that led to her accusations to start flying. Her jealousy warps her mind into doing whatever is necessary to get John Proctor away from his wife Elizabeth. Before the setting of this play Abigail worked as a servant to the Proctors while Elizabeth was weakened and ill.
Her and John had an affair before Elizabeth sent her out on the highroad, and now Abigail will stop at nothing to get him back; including accusing Elizabeth of being a witch. Right off in the beginning Abigail describes Elizabeth as “She hates me, uncle she must, for I would not be her slave. It’s a better woman, a lying cold sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman” (11) and “Goody Proctor is a gossiping liar! ” (12). These sentences introduces the reader or audience to Abigail’s initial hatred and jealous of Elizabeth, but doesn’t t yet reveal the source for such hatred.
Her motives then become known when Abigail and Proctor are alone and she says I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew what pretense Salem was I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me rear the light out of me eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! (22) This quote shows that Proctor is trying to put Abigail into the past, while Abigail has no sense of this closure.
Her anger starts to show and we see the beginning of her targeted plan that if she can dispose of Elizabeth, John will be hers. Abigail does in fact go on to accuse Goody Proctor of witchcraft and walking with the devil. In a removed scene of the play John and Proctor meet in the woods after Elizabeth has been taken away. John tells her his anger and that he will ruin her in court and prove her to be the fraud she is even if that means admitting to his affair. Abigail in a jealous rage and delusion says Oh, how hard it is when pretense falls!
But it falls, it falls!… You have done your duty by her. I hope it is your last hypocrisy. I pray you will come again with sweeter news for me. I know you will- now that your duty’s done. Good night, John…Fear naught. I will save you (143). Abigail’s jealousy blinds her, and she will stop at nothing to get the man that she wants, even if it means innocent people getting hanged. At the trial Proctor recognizes Abigail’s motives once again and tells the court in his confession that “She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! ” (102).
In trying to accuse her ex-lover’s wife, Abigail shows extreme jealousy towards Goody Proctor and will stop at nothing until she takes her down, which eventually leads to John Proctors downfall instead. Lastly, Abigail’s selfishness caused her to make many immoral decisions, and she acted as a catalyst throughout the Salem Witch Trials. Many times throughout the play Abigail has the opportunity to tell the truth and save many innocent people’s lives. However, she only sees what is best for her situation, and does what will only benefit herself and her own motives, whether they be getting the man she wants or saving her own neck.
Right from the beginning she says to the Reverand “Uncle, the rumor of witchcraft is all about; I think you’d best go down and deny it yourself” (9). Abigail is just looking out for herself and wants to make sure her name stays clean. When she does get discovered she confesses and names others who are on the devils side as well, so the blame gets off her and gets put on others. Later at the trial she s given another chance when Danforth says to her Abigail. I bed you now to search your heart and tell me this- and beware of it, child, to God every soul is precious and His vengeance is terrible on hem and takes life without cause. Is it possible, child, that the spirits you have seen are illusion only, some deception that may cross your mind when- (100). At this moment Abigail is given the opportunity to save many lives at this one instance, but instead she acts insulted which makes the judge feel guilty about asking, and again saves her from any consequences she might have to face. Finally at the end of the play when she is scared of being caught lying, she steals all of her uncle’s money leaving him with nothing and runs away.
Selfishness is another important character trait of Abigail and helps to bring to the decadence of the entire community. Abigail’s credibility, jealousy, and credibility resulted in the many lost lives during the Salem Witch Trials. If Abigail just told the truth from the beginning, the deaths of the accused witches could have been avoided. Instead she put her needs before others to keep her reputation clean, and to try and get the man that she loves. Arthur Miller used his own experiences of the “Red Hunt” to highlight these qualities in Abigail and to show his views on naming names and using others as scapegoats.