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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ABIGAIL WILLIAMS

If there is a "bad guy" in The Crucible, Abigail Williams
is it. She is the one who first led the girls to Tituba for
dancing in the woods and conjuring spirits. When Tituba
is forced to "confess," Abigail jumps right in and the
other girls follow her. During the witch trials she is the
girls' leader, bringing them into the court and presiding
over their "torments." She intimidates everyone-the
girls, the townsfolk, even the judges. And then, when it
begins to look as if the tide is turning against her, she
gets out while the getting is good, robbing her uncle,
Reverend Parris, before she goes.

Abigail is a lot like the little girl in the movie The Bad
Seed. In the movie, a nine-year-old terrorizes her family
and the whole community. She murders several people,
including her parents. She gets away with it because no
one can believe that a child could be so evil. Anyone
who does find her out, she kills.



Abigail lies without shame, threatens without fear, and
thinks of nothing of sticking a needle two inches into her
own belly in order to bring about the murder of
Elizabeth Proctor. And she gets away with most of it.

But Abigail isn't a child. She's had a grown-up love
affair with John Proctor, and has lost her childish faith in
"the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian
women and their covenanted men." A child, when hurt,
may strike back in anger. But only an adult could so
coolly plot and execute the ingenious revenge Abigail
plans for Elizabeth.

The important thing to decide about Abigail is whether
you think she's evil or not. Without doubt, almost all her
actions have evil consequences, and if there is good in
her, we don't get to see much of it. She takes the lead in
"crying out" witches; the other girls take their cues from
her. In a very short time she has the whole town at her
mercy, and she uses this power unscrupulously. In fact, a
real witch could hardly have done a better job of
destroying the community.

But is Abigail the only one to blame? if so, then what
happened in Salem was a fluke, a case of one bad apple
spoiling the barrel. Everyone else is therefore innocent;
they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong
time.

One thing that supports this idea is an old convention of
writing plays that goes back to the Middle Ages. Certain
plays called "moralities" always had a stock character
called the Vice. The Vice was a troublemaker; his whole
purpose was to stir things up, to set characters against
each other, and to try to destroy the established order of
things. Often the Vice was the Devil in disguise, but
since these plays were put on by the church, he always
lost in the end, most of the time by getting caught in one
of his own traps. Abigail certainly fits this description,
except for the last item-she doesn't get caught.

But some believe that considering Abigail the "bad guy"
misses Arthur Miller's point. These people think that the
real "bad guy" in The Crucible is superstition. With or
without Abigail, there'd have been no witch madness if
there'd been no belief in witches. If you look at it this
way, Abigail, although you'd hardly call her innocent, is
not entirely to blame either. Other girls cry out witches
too; and it looks as if they were prompted, not by
Abigail, but by their parents. If Abigail is evil, she's not
alone. The madness itself, caused by superstition, is to
blame. One person alone could never wreak such havoc.

But however you think of her, Abigail Williams is a
fascinating character. We see her only twice-in Act I
and Act III-but her presence and her influence dominate
the whole play.

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