Abigail Williams in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Abigail Williams in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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The Crucible is a powerful and disturbing drama based on a true event
from American history: The Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It shows how
weak the human beings really are, and how greediness and a want for
personal gain and power can become dangerous, out of control and can
stretch human beings to their limits. A similar thing to the Salem
Witch Trials happened again in the 1950’s in the USA, when the
Americans felt threatened by communism, and anyone suspected of
left-wing (communist) views was arrested for taking part in
‘Un-American Activities’.

People in the 1600’s believed that if you didn’t go to church every
week to worship God, then you must have been worshipping the devil.
There was no half-way point. The accusations of witchcraft and
dealing with the Devil in Salem were all started off by a group of
girls who were caught dancing in the woods. Dancing and partying was
forbidden under the strict rules of the theocracy that existed in the
town. There was one girl in particular who really tried to stir up
trouble, a seventeen-year-old girl called Abigail Williams. From her
first appearance in the play, we already know that she is special in
some way because in the very first scene direction where we first meet
Abigail, Arthur Miller tells us that she is:

“…a strikingly beautiful girl, an orphan, with an endless capacity
for dissembling…”

From this point onwards, Abigail’s superiority over older, more
respectable people is clearly shown. She has cleverly perfected the
skill of adjusting her mood and attitude to whatever the current
situation calls for. At the beginning of act one, she appears worried
and concerned for Betty Parris, but as the scene progresses, her
uncle, Reverend Samuel Parris becomes more and more interested in what
the girls were doing in the woods. So, Abigail starts to get angry
and starts to speak to her uncle as if he were her son, shouting at
him, ordering him around, telling him what to do and giving him
advice. But her uncle and his friends carry on questioning her, and
she feels like he is cornering her into confessing. She knows that if
she admits it or is found out she will be whipped and possibly hung,
and she will do anything to stay alive, so she starts accusing other,
innocent people of witchcraft instead. The other girls in the room
(Betty Parris, Tituba [the Parris’s slave-girl] and Mary Warren [the
Proctor’s slave]) follow her lead. This means that they already
recognise her as being superior and a leader for them. They start
accusing every person that comes into their heads: -.

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…Goody
Osborn….George Jacobs…Goody Howe…Goody Booth and some other people,
who we don’t hear of again throughout the play.

At the end of act three, we see what is definitely Abby’s most
dramatic and powerful scene, in the courtroom. We see Abby again
instantly changing her mood to lay the blame on someone else. All the
girls follow her lead as usual, and this time their victim is John
Proctor’s slave – Mary Warren. She claims that she can see Mary’s spirit
taking form as a yellow bird, sitting on one of the rafters and staring
at her, bewitching her. All the girls scream and stare at the ‘bird’
Abby saying things like:

“Oh, Mary, this is a black art to change your shape. No, I cannot, I
cannot stop my mouth; it’s God’s work I do” & “Oh, please, Mary! Don’t
come down!”

I think it’s obvious that Abigail knows she’s gone too far with the
accusations when she accuses John Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, of
witchcraft. She used to work for the Proctors, but she had an affair
with John, and he threw her out. Although she knows she has to stop,
if she does stop, then she faces giving away that she was lying,
effectively signing her own death warrant.

I think that Abigail is scared for her life and she will do absolutely
anything to avoid being found guilty of witchcraft and adultery, two
crimes for which she would certainly be hung. She knows she has done
a terrible thing though, when John Proctor is accused of witchcraft,
he refuses to confess and is therefore hung. People start to realise
that they have been tricked and it has all got out of control, so
Abigail runs away from Salem. That makes it easy to see that the
tragedy occurred, she had fought to get her way no matter whom she
hurt, and unfortunately in the end she got everything she wanted, but
it all got out of hand and she was forced out of the town.
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