Abigail is one of the main characters in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, and is often depicted as the villain of the play. Some of her actions lead to the witch trials and the hysteria in Salem. This essay will analyse to what extent the character of Abigail is to blame for the events that occur in Salem, and therefore if the opinion that many people have on her is correct. On the one hand Abigail can be seen as she who starts and consequentially continues the hysteria in Salem. It is in fact from the start of the play, when she is found dancing in the woods with her friends, that her actions cause problems in the town, bringing the people to “mumbling witchcraft” (One, 17). The trigger to the witch hunt in the play is indeed the discovery of the girls and this event is caused by Abigail, which wanted to kill Elizabeth Proctor, “You drank a charm to kill John Proctor’s wife” (One, 15). Till then people in Salem had known about witches but had never thought of looking for them.
This action from Abigail immediately shows her cruelty, ready to kill people to have what she desires. Not only does Abigail cause the initial panic though, but she does not stop it when she can by lying with the other young servants and girls. It is once again hers decision to lie, obliging the other girls to do so too in order to avoid further trouble, “We danced. And Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sister. And that is all” (One, 15). By lying she does not stop the problem that then leads to all the other events happening in the play. For these reasons her attitude and actions initially in the play already have a great influence on the hysteria in Salem that follows. In Act One Abigail immediately starts to feel the empowerment that the witch trials can give her, with people listening to her and considering her opinion much more than when she was just considered a useless servant. This is another reason why she makes sure that the hysteria does not stop.
The power that she thinks she has is visible when she speaks, “Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word […] and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night” (One, 15). This quote is also an example of how violent and cruel she is, threatening her own friends, making her an even more dangerous character in the play. One of the main motivations that lead her actions in the play is the love for John Proctor and hate for Elizabeth. Soon in the play she understands how useful the witch trial can be for the purpose of eliminating Elizabeth and having John all for herself and this leads to her encouraging the hysteria even more. She shows her emotions for Proctor early in the play, “Give me a soft word, John” (One, 17), but their relationship is restrained by Elizabeth. Because of so she decides to “promote” the witch trial by accusing Elizabeth, “Why, Abigail Williams charged her” (Two, 60).
This quote once again shows how cruel and ruthless she is, ready to ruin a marriage to gain what she desires. Later in the play the advantages and empowerment that the witch trials give her become even clearer. In court her words become “God’s will” and none of her sins are considered. She becomes so powerful that she can behave how she wants with more important people, “[in an open threat] Let you beware Mr.Danforth” (Three, 87). She becomes, together with her friends, which were also servants, feared in Salem, “Abigail bring the other girls to court, and where she walks the crowd will part like the sea of Israel”. This simile with a reference to the Bible shows how powerful she has become. People in court will now get out of the way when she comes close, opening in two to let her pass, just like the red sea of Israel did with Moses.
On the other hand, though, not all that happens in Salem is caused by Abigail. An important aspect that causes the hysteria is the society itself. Salem is in fact a theocratic town, where everything is done according to religion and is either good or wrong. For this reason the situation in the town is already quite hysterical and people are just waiting for an excuse to solve their own grudges, such as Putnam who “was a man of many grievances,” (One, 11). For this reason something that will let them behave out of boundaries without actually making them feel guilty is accept by many. This leads to nobody trying to stop the problem immediately since everyone can gain something from the witch trials.
Also the other characters have a great influence on all the events that happen in Salem. A good example is John Proctor. He could stop the problem immediately because he knows the truth of what happened in the woods, “she told me in a room alone. I have no proof of it” (Two, 44). He does not though because people would know about his story with Abigail and his reputation, something very important in Salem society, would be ruined. “I have given you my soul, leave me my name” is a good example of how much Proctor cares for his reputation. Proctor is so leading to the events for his own personal reasons.
Another good example is Parris who uses the witch trial to improve his fragile reputation in Salem. Before the witch trial many wanted to overthrow him, but suddenly with the hysteria he too gained power and was able to keep his important position. From my points it is so possible to conclude that Abigail causes the events in Salem only to a limited extent. There are in fact various other reasons why hysteria disseminates in Salem. The society, being very easy to influence, is a great cause, and other character, each for their personal reasons, have a large influence on all that happens in Salem. Abigail cannot be completely blamed and is not the only villain in the play.