Abigail Williams in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Abigail Williams in The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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The Character of Abigail in The Crucible

 

Abigail plays a very important role in The Crucible. In fact it is likely that without her the play would not exist. She is the source of everything that goes wrong in the play and her attempts to defend herself from the consequences of her own actions ruin many people's lives.

 

 

Abigail has a relationship with John Proctor before the play begins. This relationship results in her being dismissed from her job as a servant and it explains why Abigail targets Elizabeth Proctor later on in the play. The relationship also leads her to try Tituba's magic to win John Proctor's love. This involves the dancing in the forest that results in the trials that are at the centre of the play.

 

However, there is more to Abigail than simply a girl in love with John Proctor. We also get a feeling that the customs and behaviour expected of a young girl in Salem at this time were too restrictive for her. A note at the end of the play states that she eventually became a prostitute in Boston. This must have represented the ultimate rebellion for a girl from such a religious community.

 

The play shows Abigail's rise to power and influence. At the beginning of the action she is a young orphan girl with no work, living off the charity of her uncle. Her reputation in the community is not good because she has been dismissed from service by Elizabeth Proctor. Although the reason for this has not been made public, many people at that time would have assumed that there must be something wrong with the girl. When she and some of the other girls are caught dancing naked in the woods, it looks as though Abigail might be cast out of the community completely or even executed. Instead Abigail turns the tables on her accusers and, by confessing to witchcraft, she is able to develop a very strong position. At the height of the trial anyone she names as a witch falls immediately under suspicion.

 

Abigail also develops her personal power and influence over the other girls. She does this by using techniques of mass hysteria.

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Her public displays of hysteria make it difficult for anyone to attack her so that when Mary Warren tries to expose her lies she is able to use people's ideas about possession by the devil against her.

 

Abigail's power and influence are undermined by John Proctor, but in order to expose her, he has to pay a terrible price. By admitting to his affair with her, in court, John Proctor loses a great deal of respect in the community and, because Elizabeth tries to protect him by lying, he places her in danger as well.

 

One of the interesting things about Henry Miller's presentation of Abigail is that a great number of important events in her life take place offstage. The death of her parents, her affair with John Proctor and the dancing in the woods all occur before the action of the play begins and a great deal of her behaviour in court is reported by others. Her eventual 'come-uppance' similarly takes place after the action of the play finishes. This means that when Abigail is on stage her impact is all the more impressive. We see her mostly in moments of high tension such as the initial accusation of witchcraft and John Proctor's attempt to undermine her. She seems quick-witted, tough and more than able to get her own way.
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