An Abuse of Power Essay
An Abuse of Power
Abigail is the most prominent example of power and manipulation, with far worse repercussions, fooling the court and pretending to be God’s voice to get what she wants. Hale declares before the court that “private vengeance is working through this testimony,” (105) when Proctor attempts to show the court Abigail’s machinations. She recognizes the Puritan’s fear of God, and their fear of witches, to manipulate those in power, gaining her own strength in the court and causing mass hysteria to turn in her favor.
Her rise to power begins even before the hysteria, starting with the group of girls from the forest, but her tactics are no different: manipulate others to save herself. They fear being caught, and she plays to their terror, telling them if they “breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, [then she] will come to [them] in the black of some terrible night and [she] will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder [them]” (19).
This threat crafts her iron grip on the girls, allowing her to lead them against the town, lying and condemning folk to save themselves from strife over their actions. Abigail’s hold remains on the girls all through the play, forcing even the most honest to turn from truth and continue their lies “when people accused of witchery confronted [them] in court, [they] would faint, saying their spirits came out of their bodies and choked [them]” (98).
This is evident in the scene where Mary confesses their lies, admitting they “never saw no spirits” and “were never threatened or afflicted by any manifest of the Devil or the Devil’s agents” (98). Abigail manipulates the court, using the power she’s gained to say she does God’s work, and Mary falls back to her, carrying out Abigail’s wishes by condemning John Proctor. This is similar to how Abigail got rid of Elizabeth by accusing her in her newfound place of power, so she could be with John, a fact that he addresses, refusing to “give [his] wife to vengeance” (73) when they come to arrest her.
Abigail’s attitude of controlling the girls by vicious fear of witchery is easily comparable to that of the boy Jack in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Jack recognizes the weakness in the group of boys, using their gnawing fear of “the beast” to turn them to his side, against Ralph. Though much more direct, Jack uses his power to threaten the boys on Ralph’s side, such as Samneric, to hail to savagery and chaos, much like Abigail did to Mary.
He dominates the island, getting what he wants, and eliminating those such as Piggy and Ralph, who stand in his way. Abigail’s tactic of lying, manipulating fear and abusing her power in court grants her the same reward of getting her way, and pushing aside enemies like Elisabeth. The only difference is that Abigail’s actions come with far bigger consequences, more than Parris, Putnam or Danforth, fleshed out on a larger scale of victims who fell in the face of her machinations.
In the end, Arthur Miller’s Crucible is a fine study of manipulation and abuse of power, shown in various forms, through vicious antagonists, always exploiting Salem’s fear to achieve their own selfish goals and further themselves on the social food chain. What Miller is perhaps attempting to demonstrate through this play is that those in positions of power will always abuse it, especially when faith is involved, because of the “manipulation of that faith to create fear and control” (Bardem), as have done Danforth, Parris, Putnam and Abigail.