A dynamic antagonist, Abigail Williams from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a great example of how a character can be molded by personal desires and a work’s setting to become a villain. Seemingly innocent, orphaned adolescent Abigail ultimately causes hysteria in the town of Salem from her frivolity and selfishness. The reasoning and origins of Abigail’s malice demonstrate the setting’s influence on the inhabitants of Salem during the 1962 witch trials. Abigail is introduced as Parris’ niece.
At the beginning of the play, Arthur Miller provides what might be an explanation to the start of Abigail’s needy nature as she relays the story of how she became orphaned to her friends. Abigail explains that she witnessed her parents being killed by indians when she was a child. This harsh past and lack of a good authority male figure (Parris is a character that is extremely paranoid and obsessed with his reputation; definitely not fatherly or nurturing) explains her initial attraction to John Proctor; her older, married, employer before the play begins. Abigail’s affair with Proctor is the fundamental start of the witch trials.
Had she never had the affair, she’d never have fallen for Proctor, therefore she wouldn’t want to kill his wife in order to have him back. The Puritan way of thinking and strict religious system in Salem paved the way for a villain to arise. Abigail’s villainy is significant because it helps the reader become familiarized with the environment of Salem Massachusetts, the Christian religion it thrived off of, and how these combined ultimately caused the witch trials. The people who practiced this intense Christianity had no spiritual method to relinquish guilt for their sins.
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In turn, this led to the people of Salem having to find their own outlets for their guilt. Along with the stress of guilt, the individuals of Salem have to worry about the constant need to make themselves adequate for the community. Reputation is extremely important, and being associated with anti-christ figures and ideas is completely unacceptable. These stresses combined raise the perfect type of people for Abigail to use to aid her in her plan to rid of Elizabeth.
After practicing witch craft with her, Abigail’s friends feel guilty for the sin. Abigail’s failure to feel guilt or this (or any of other sin she commits throughout the play) is what attains her success is causing havoc in Salem. After being found out for their anti-Christian activities in the woods, Abigail begins accusing other random people in the community of witchcraft. The other girls follow suit, shuffling their guilt to someone else to feel self assurance. By accusing other people the girls felt they had retrieved innocence. In a sense Abigail was able to use her friends without them noticing. Through her manipulation shows malevolence. Of course, Abigail didn’t mean to cause so much conflict.
She only wanted one person dead; Elizabeth. Had she not began accusing other people of witch craft to save her name, the problem wouldn’t have blown up to epic proportions. This doesn’t make her any less of a villain, however. Many of the townspeople were hanged because of her selfishness. Her naivety and fervent want for Proctor blinded her from consequences. Covering up herself snowballed to her friends and then out into the community. This is particularly interesting because in any other setting the word of these girls wouldn’t even be considered let alone used as solid judgement in court.
Abigail’s success in causing death to innocents in the community, despite her age and insignificant role in the community, further exemplifies the atmosphere of the Puritan religion. After analyzing Abigail’s character one can learn much about the behavior of other people as well. Everyone has desires that they wish to obtain. Some obstacles must be overcome in order to achieve these. Due to Abigail’s villainy conceit many people suffered. Not only were lives lost, but she never found the peace she wished for with Proctor. It’s important to realize that there are consequences for neglecting the well being of others for self gain.
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